This tribe of South American cacti is typically found in Bolivia, although one species, R. baccifera, also occurs across the Atlantic. This species, the mistletoe cactus, is an epiphyte with a peculiar growth habit and distinctive appearance. The only cactus to occur in the Old World, scientists believe it may have been brought across by birds. Rhipsalideae genus as a whole contains four genera, of which the most prevalent is probably Rhipsalis.
These cacti can be either lithophytic or epiphytic, and Rhipsalis are typically epiphytes that grow in the rainforests of South America. They also have small flowers which open in the day and have a pleasant appearance. Another small genus in the tribe is Hatiora, or the Easter cactus, which grow upright and have small colored flowers. As tropical plants, these require care that mimics that of their natural habitat: lots of warmth, lots of sunlight. Also, note that there is some taxonomic confusion that surrounds this genus.
At various times, different genera have been considered a part or not a part, including Schlumbergera, or the Christmas cactus, which has bright pink flowers that make it a great option for succulent gardeners. These plants are fairly rare in cultivation, and you’d likely need to consult a specialty source to find them. However, if you get your hands on a specimen, these are a good option for tropical cactus gardeners because of their bright appearance and relative ease of care.
Keep an eye out for them in special collections of tropical plants and nurseries.
- Light: As tropical plants, Rhipsalideae specimens require hours of sunlight every day to thrive. Keep an eye out for pale leaves, which could mean the plant needs light.
- Water: Keep moist, but do not allow to sit in standing water, which can rot the roots. Falling leaves can signify that the plant is overwatered.
- Temperature: Warm tropical temperatures above fifty degrees. Rhipsalideae plants are not tolerant of frost.
- Soil: A typical cactus potting mix should be fine, ideally one that contains some organic material.
- Fertilizer: Feed regularly with a balanced, diluted fertilizer like a 20-20-20 for best results and up their feeding if blooms are insufficient.
These cacti can be propagated by division, in which a piece of the plant is separated and replanted in warm, moist soil. Make sure and use a sterilized tool so as not to contaminate the plant and consider bagging new cuttings to seal in heat and moisture, which can increase the chances of survival.
It’s not a bad idea to repot these cacti annually to make sure their medium stays fresh, and also that their drainage stays good. To repot a cactus, make sure and use gloves so as not to damage your hands and lift the plant as a whole, then replant it in a larger container and backfill the pot with soil.
The four genera within the Rhipsalideae tribe are Hatiora, Lepismium, Rhipsalis, and Schlumbergera, and the most prominent are Rhipsalis, which is prized for its wicker-like structure. Many of these species, however, are essentially obscure tropical cacti that exist only in the rainforest and are never found in domestic cultivation.
The prettiest houseplants, though, are probably the Christmas cacti, which have the brightest colors of any plants in the genus.
As with all tropical plants, mimicking the conditions in which they naturally grow is the most important thing to keeping them alive. It’s necessary to keep a balance of elements – they need their sunlight and water to offset each other, and need a well-aerated area that also doesn’t dry them out to the point of damage. Keep an eye out for common pests like scale and spider mites, which can be taken care simply with a wet cloth in small-scale infestations. Larger infection, however, might require the use of an eco-friendly pesticide. Watch out for discolorations on their foliage, dark spots, or falling leaves, all of which can signify some problem.