The various species of the Rhipsalis genus of cacti belong to a larger Rhipsalideae family that includes three other genera. These are somewhat different than most cacti, as they are without spines, do well without any direct sun, and need a good amount of water. These draping, cascading cacti have long, thin, intertwined stems, an unusual trait among cacti.
Further, most of these species are primarily either lithophytic (growing on rocks) or epiphytic (growing on trees) rather than terrestrial plants that grow in soil. When grown as houseplants, however, they are usually grown indoors in a cactus potting mix as hanging or draping plants. It is rare to grow them as garden plants, though a potted Rhipsalis can be moved outdoors in summer to a patio or deck that's out of the direct sunlight.
Plants in the Rhispalis genus include several species that are common houseplants, but for many people, a single species, R. baccifera (mistletoe cactus), is the only species they'll ever encounter. This single species is unusual since it is the only member of the Rhipsalis genus that is also found growing in tropical Africa—the other species are all South American natives. Some botanists conjecture that seeds of mistletoe cactus were originally transplanted across the Atlantic by migratory birds.
Rhipsalis cacti are quite slow-growing species, which is fortunate since some specimens can grow up to 20 feet long after many years.
|Botanical Name||Rhipsalis spp.|
|Common Name||Mistletoe cactus|
|Plant Type||llthophytic or epiphytic cacti|
|Mature Size||1–20 feet (depends on species and age of plant)|
|Sun Exposure||Part shade to full shade|
|Soil Type||Porous cactus potting mix with organic matter|
|Soil pH||5.0 to 6.5 (acidic)|
|Bloom Time||Year-round when grown in ideal conditions; varies by species.|
|Flower Color||White or creamy yellow|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||South America, tropical, Africa|
Rhipsalis Cactus Care
As with all tropical plants, mimicking the conditions in which they naturally grow is the most important thing in keeping Rhipsalis cacti thriving. It’s necessary to keep a balance of elements—they need bright light (but not too much direct 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.
If you get the light exposure and watering schedule perfected, these are very easy plants to grow, and they will thrive for many, many years.
Rhipsalis are plants that are native to the understory level beneath towering jungle trees. Thus, they require plenty of bright filtered light, but should not burn in the bright direct light of midday or afternoon sun. Some morning sun is ideal. Keep an eye out for pale leaves, which could mean the plant needs more light.
A typical cactus potting mix should be fine for a Rhipsalis cactus, ideally one that contains some organic material. They can also do well with a standard potting mix blended with even parts of sand. As epiphytic plants in their native habitat, Rhispalis cacti do not require a lot of soil—only enough to allow the shallow roots to anchor the plant.
Keep these plants moist, but do not allow them to sit in standing water. Falling leaves can signify that the plant is overwatered.
Temperature and Humidity
These plants like warm tropical temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Rhipsalis plants are not tolerant of frost, and they like considerably more humidity than the typical desert cactus. During the dry months of winter, some growers like to provide extra humidity with a room humidifier.
Feed regularly with a balanced, diluted fertilizer like a 20-20-20 for best results and up their feeding if blooms are insufficient. Feeding every two weeks is a normal routine.
The four genera within the Rhipsalideae tribe are Hatiora, Lepismium, Rhipsalis, and Schlumbergera.
The most prominent genus is Rhipsalis, comprised of more than 40 species prized for their thin intertwining stems Most of these specie are obscure tropical cacti that exist only in the rainforest and are never found in domestic cultivation. But some common Rhispalis species often grown as houseplants include:
- Rhipsalis baccifera (mistletoe cactus or spaghetti cactus) is characterized by long thread-like stems and creamy-white flowers that give way to mistletoe-like fruits. This plant forms hanging clusters that are typically 3 feet long or greater when mature. This is by far the most commonly grown cacti in the genus.
- R. cereuscula (coral cactus) is a shrubby or bushy plant with branhes up to 2 feet long. Many long cylindrical stems emerge from the ends of long slender branches that form hanging clusters and flower with small, creamy-white blooms.
- R. clevata has a pendulous habit with many branches and white bell-shaped flowers. It makes a good hanging plant.
- R. pirocarpa is another tropical epiphytic from Brazil. It has long hairy cylindrical stems and fragrant white flowers about 3/4 in diameter. The shoots have reddish/purple edges, making this a very attractive species.
- R. pachyptera is a semi-erect plant that droops with sturdy stems that are flattened in a manner that resembles elliptical leaves with joints. These "leaves" are leathery in texture and pale to deep green in color, sometimes with reddish tinges. This is a very attractive plant that produces creamy yellow flowers.
Potting and Repotting Rhipsalis Cactus
Rhipsalis cacti are best planted using a standard cactus cutting mix, preferably with some extra organic material, such as peat moss, mixed in. As epiphytic plants, the roots are fairly shallow and serve mostly to simply anchor the plant. Containers can therefore be fairly small and shallower than you would normally use for a houseplant. Some growers say that terra cotta pots, because they "breathe," will help prevent root rot with these plants.
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.
Propagating Rhipsalis Cactus
These cacti can be propagated by division, in which a piece of the plant is separated and replanted in warm, moist soil. Spring to summer is the best time to propagate these plants.
Take 3- to 6-inch long cuttings from healthy stems. Let the wounds dry for few days, then plant the cuttings in a pot filled with cactus potting mix. Space the cuttings in a cluster at the center of the pot. Place the pot in a bright but not sunny location, in a location that is between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Put a large transparent plastic bag over the pot to hold in the moisture, and keep the soil damp but not sopping. Once a day, remove the bag for a few minutes to provide ventilation. Within three to four weeks, the cuttings should develop roots, and you can remove the plastic permanently and continue to grow the plant as a new specimen.
Rhipalis cacti can also be propagated by collecting the tiny seeds from the fruits and replanting them, but this is a tricky, time-consuming process that is not really necessary, given the ease with which cuttings take root.
Common Pests/ Diseases
Keep an eye out for common pests like scale and spider mites, which, if the infestation is small, can be taken care of simply with a wet cloth. Larger infections, however, might require the use of an eco-friendly pesticide. Mealybugs are another common problem, evidenced by tiny web-like structures on the leaves. A systemic pesticide is the best treatment for mealybugs.
Watch out for discolorations on their foliage, dark spots, or falling leaves, all of which can signify root rot issues.