The Aporocactus flagelliformis, or rat’s tail cactus, is a showy cactus native to southwestern Mexico and parts of Central America. It is distinctive for its long, trailing stems, which grow to about four feet at maturity and give the plant its nickname. Rat’s tail cactus flowers in spring and early summer and its blooms are usually violet-red; however, the plant will sometimes grow flowers in idiosyncratic colors like pink and orange. Its flowers are tubular and fairly large, about two inches wide. Though it produces quite a few flowers during its bloom in the late spring, each flower only lives for a couple days at most.
In the wild A. flagelliformis is either lithophytic or epiphytic, meaning it grows on the ground or on larger structures like trees; however, in cultivation, it is usually grown in hanging pots or baskets because of its trailing stems. There are numerous varieties of the rat’s tail cactus, some of which have deeply ridged stems: the parent plant, however, has stems with shallow ridges. It is very easy to propagate by cuttings because its stems grow so copiously. Though its stems can be aesthetically beautiful, beware: they grow spines that can ruin your day.
- Light: This is a cactus used to desert conditions: bright, direct sunlight year-round will help it thrive.
- Water: Water regularly during the growing season. Its water can be scaled back during the fall and winter, though.
- Temperature: Regular room temperatures are just fine, but this is a fairly hardy cactus that can tolerate temperatures as low as 40 degrees and as high as 90. Keep it out of frost.
- Soil: Rich potting soil is best: any good organic potting mix should be just fine.
- Fertilizer: Use liquid fertilizer diluted to about half strength about once every two weeks during the growing season in spring and summer.
Though it can also propagate by seed, the A. flagelliformis propagates best by stem cuttings: sever any part of a stem then repot it in rich, organic soil after allowing it to dry for a few days. It should root within a few weeks: make sure it gets lots of sun and is kept humid. This is a fairly prolific plant due to its large number of stems, and new specimens can be propagated every season.
Rat’s tail cactus grows fairly quickly and should be repotted every year once the growing season is over and it’s done flowering. It may need a larger pot or basket, depending on whether the plant has fully matured, but it definitely needs new potting soil. A. flagelliformis quickly uses nutrients and repotting it will help it replenish.
Also known as the Disocactus flagelliformis, the rat’s tail cactus is one of the most popularly cultivated cacti. It is closely related to several other species of ornamental cactus, such as the German Empress (Disocactus phyllantioides), which has showy pink flowers. There has been a great deal of confusion in the botanical world about the rat’s tail’s name, due in part to its longstanding popularity. It has been cultivated domestically since the 17th century and its synonymy is quite extensive. You could see rat’s tail referred to as Cereus, Disocactus, or Aporocactus, so make sure and do a little research if you’re adding one to your collection.
The rat’s tail is particularly pleasant when grown in hanging baskets, and if the basket is lined with sphagnum moss or other organic material before it is filled with potting mixture it will help the plant thrive. It is drought-tolerant and can tolerate long periods with little care. Make sure to repot annually and give it lots of nutrients and it should produce pleasant pink blooms in spring.