The mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) is a tropical epiphytic plant in the cactus family that is beloved as a houseplant for its unique pencil-thin foliage and trailing growth habit. Native to tropical and subtropical regions in South America, Central America, and Africa, the mistletoe cactus grows naturally on tree branches beneath the forest canopy, pulling moisture and nutrients from the air around it and the host plant. Like other epiphytic plants such as orchids, air plants, bromeliads, and some types of ferns, the mistletoe cactus has adapted well to indoor growing and is popular as a houseplant. Its trailing stems look great in hanging baskets and its striking foliage is sure to liven up any room.
|Botanical Name||Rhipsalis baccifera|
|Common Name||Mistletoe cactus, chain cactus, spaghetti cactus, Rhipsalis|
|Mature Size||6 ft. long, 2 ft. spread (indoors), 30 ft. long, 5 ft. spread (outdoors)|
|Sun Exposure||Partial, shade|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer|
|Flower Color||White, green|
|Hardiness Zones||9a, 9b, 10a, 10b|
|Native Area||South America, Central America, Africa|
Mistletoe Cactus Care
The mistletoe cactus is generally low-maintenance and easy to grow indoors. In contrast to desert cacti and succulents, this tropical cactus prefers indirect light and moist, humid environments. While other epiphytic cacti such as the fishbone cactus and Christmas cactus are primarily grown for their flashy blooms, the mistletoe cactus is primarily grown for its foliage as its blooms are small and fairly insignificant—occurring during the spring and summer each year. That being said, you will notice small white fruit following the blooming period which can provide some visual interest to the plant.
Unlike desert cacti, the mistletoe cactus is sensitive to direct sunlight and prefers a location that receives bright to medium indirect light. It can even do well in lower light locations, although you won’t see as much growth.
The mistletoe cactus requires a moist but well-draining potting mix, and prefers soil that is slightly acidic. While it will likely survive in a standard commercial potting soil, it will thrive in a potting mixture that is designed for its specific needs. Try combining one part regular potting mix, one part orchid bark, and one part perlite together for a potting mix that is rich, airy, and well-draining.
This tropical cactus prefers that its soil is kept evenly moist, and should not be allowed to dry out completely. At the same time, avoid waterlogging the soil by ensuring that your pot has proper drainage and your soil mixture allows water to flow through it. Allow the top 1-2 inches of soil to dry out between waterings.
Temperature and Humidity
Given that the mistletoe cactus is native to tropical and subtropical regions, it thrives in warm, humid conditions. For the most part, average household temperatures work well for the mistletoe cactus which is why it is so popular as a houseplant. Just ensure that temperatures stay between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit (16-27 degrees Celsius) and it will be happy. However, you may need to provide some extra humidity for your mistletoe cactus to ensure that the stems don’t start to dry out. Try placing a pebble tray filled with water beneath the plant, or place a small humidifier nearby.
The mistletoe cactus appreciates regular fertilization throughout the growing season, although it is considered a light feeder. Apply a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength to your mistletoe cactus once a month during the spring and summer.
Propagating the Mistletoe Cactus
Like most succulents, the mistletoe cactus can be easily propagated by stem cuttings. Not only is propagating your mistletoe cactus an easy way to create new plants, but it will also encourage your plant to branch out and become more bushy over time. It is best to propagate your cactus during its active growing period, so avoid taking cuttings during the fall and winter when the plant has gone into dormancy. Here’s how you can propagate a mistletoe cactus by stem cuttings in a few easy steps:
- Using a sterilized pair of sharp scissors or pruning shears, take 3-4 inch cuttings from your plant.
- Set the fresh cuttings in a cool, dry location for 24 hours so that the cut end can callous over before planting.
- Prepare a potting container with a mixture of regular potting soil and perlite, and lightly moisten the soil.
- Press the end of the cuttings into the prepared soil, ensuring that the cuttings are facing the same way that they were growing before (i.e. don’t plant them ‘upside down’).
- Place the freshly potted cuttings in a location that receives medium indirect light and keep the soil lightly moist until you see signs of new growth.
- Once the cuttings are growing they are considered established and regular care can be resumed.
Common Problems With the Mistletoe Cactus
For the most part the mistletoe cactus is easy to grow indoors and growers don’t usually run into that many issues. That being said, if you do notice problems with your mistletoe cactus, it is likely a result of either over watering, or under-watering.
Wilting, Mushy Stems
Wilting stems that are showing signs of becoming mushy at the base are a sign of overwatering, and usually root rot. Unfortunately there is no way to cure root rot once it has started, so you will need to remove any affected pieces and cut away any rotted roots. Ensure that your potting container has adequate drainage and that your soil is well-draining to avoid root rot, and allow the top 1-2 inches of soil to dry slightly between waterings.
Stems that are turning brown and crispy at the tips are usually a sign of under-watering or a lack of humidity. Ensure that your mistletoe cactus is exposed to adequate humidity and avoid placing it next to an area with dry air, such as near a heating or cooling vent. Avoid under watering your plant by keeping the soil evenly moist and only allowing the top inch or two of soil to dry between waterings.
Is The Mistletoe Cactus Toxic to Cats and Dogs?
According to the ASPCA, the mistletoe cactus is non-toxic to dogs and cats.
My Mistletoe Cactus Is Covered In Small White Balls—What Are They?
Congratulations, your mistletoe cactus has produced fruit! While it can look a little alarming at first if your cactus has never fruited before, this is actually a great sign that your plant is happy and healthy.
When Should I Repot My Mistletoe Cactus?
Mistletoe cacti are quite happy to grow in the same container for a couple of years at a time, so you shouldn’t need to repot your plant very often. Once you find that your mistletoe cactus is running out of space in its pot (or roots are growing from the drainage hole) you can upsize its potting container and give it some fresh soil.
How Fast Does the Mistletoe Cactus Grow?
The mistletoe cactus is considered a slow-growing cactus, so it will take a few years for you to establish a large bushy plant. That being said, its growing conditions will influence its growth rate; so, a plant grown in bright indirect light and watered properly will grow faster than a plant grown in low light that is not watered often enough. Regularly propagating the plant will also help to create a fuller look over time.
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "Mistletoe Cactus." Aspca.org. N.p, n.d. Web.