RHIPSALIS - MISTLETOE CACTUS
Available for sale at our store located at 3856 Fort Henry Drive, Kingsport, TN 37663.
When I go searching for plants, I love the ones that are odd and have a cool story, this is the case with the Mistletoe Cactus. It is native to the tropical and subtropical rainforest and coastal regions of Florida, the Caribbean, South and Central America, along with tropical regions of Africa stretching into Sri Lanka.
The various species of the Rhipsalis genus of cacti belong to a larger Rhipsalideae family. Rhipsalis is a genus made up of 35 different species and belongs in the same family as other types of cacti. Rhipsalis can come in all different shapes and sizes!
When most folks think of cactus, they conquer up the image of those fat plants growing in the hot deserts of southwest United Sates and central Mexico. Rhipsalis grow in the hot, tropical rainforest where they live in the canopy of large trees and prefer a warm but humid environment. 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.
Most of Rhipsalis are primarily 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. Rhipsalis can reach lengths of over 20ft in the wild. For this reason it’s a perfect cascading shelf plant. They grow slow, so be patient, but with proper care they get as long as you can probably handle.
Some Rhipsalis species, including Rhipsalis baccifera, Rhipsalis cassutha and Rhipsalis burchelli produce small, white cylindrical fruits after the blooms fade, which look visually similar to mistletoe, hence the name. Not all species within the Rhipsalis genus produce these characteristic white fruits. But all Rhipsalis gift us with their gorgeous, wax-like blooms.
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.
Light - Naturally found in the understory of trees, Rhipsalis is accustomed to receiving light that has been filtered through dense, overhanging tree branches. They prefers bright, indirect light and can tolerate direct morning and evening light. The best place to put it is at least a few feet back from a window, but Rhipsalis is an extremely hardy plant. It can survive well on minimal light for extended periods, especially when it is fed properly. We’ve even seen it grow on fluorescent light alone! However, if you go the low-light route we recommend recharging your plant in a higher light area every once in a while.
Keep in mind, if your Rhipsalis is grown in low light, she will probably not have the energy to produce flowers. If you move her outdoors in the summer months (which she will love!) keep her out of the direct sun as she will burn quickly.
Temperature - Don’t forget that Rhipsalis plants call consistently warm and humid subtropical and tropical locations home. Therefore, when grown indoors, don’t situate the cactus in cold or drafty rooms. Excessively cold conditions can negatively affect your rhipsalis and possibly kill it.
Additionally, you don’t want to place your Rhipsalis near a heating vent that is too drying for this humidity lover. To provide good rhipsalis care, place your Mistletoe Cactus in an indoor location where temperatures range between 60°F and 80°F.
Mistletoe cactus will bloom regularly when placed in an indoor site where the temperatures are steady. Once it produces its flower buds do not relocated the cactus or you risk all the blossoms dropping from the plant.
In spring and summer when outdoor temperatures have warmed, you can give your Mistletoe Cactus a break from indoors by placing it in a shady location outside. Just be sure to bring it back inside to its protected location before winter comes around.
Water - Despite being native to tropical rainforests, Rhipsalis are a type of cactus and are sensitive to overwatering. Compared to other cactus types, Rhipsalis are thirstier and prefers more frequent watering with slightly moist soil to grow best. However, if you occasionally forget to water your Rhipsalis, no sweat...it is forgiving and tolerates short periods of drought.
Spring through summer is considered the growing season, so plan to water your Mistletoe Cactus at least weekly or when the surface of the soil dries out. They prefer lightly moist, but not wet soil, but ensure they have ample time to dry out to avoid water buildup in the soil that can rot the roots. During the cold seasons of fall and winter, your Mistletoe Cactus goes through dormancy and growth slows. Allow the top few inches of soil to dry out before watering. You may only need to water every couple of weeks.
Rhipsalis will let you know when it’s thirsty because its tendrils will start to pucker and lose rigidity. If the tendrils turn brown and crispy, you’ve waited too long since last watering, but don’t despair — Rhipsalis are very forgiving plants and will usually bounce back. Rhipsalis appreciate a good misting now and again.
Humidity - Another characteristic that makes Rhipsalis care differ from the vast majority of other cactus species is its need for humidity. Remember, Rhipsalis is native to subtropical and tropical regions that are constantly humid. A lack of humidity causes problems with growth and appearance. Try grouping your plants together by light and watering needs so they can help each other raise the humidity around them or use a pebble tray.
Soil - Good Rhipsalis care starts with choosing the right soil for your plant. Unlike most species of cactus, Mistletoe Cactus will grow best in a well-drained, rich, and slightly acidic soil mixture and not in a cactus mix, which is more lightweight and doesn’t contain the same amount of nutrients. Many types of commercial potting mixes will work well to plant and grow rhipsalis, as they drain well and contain the desired amount of nutrients for good growth.
Although it prefers moist soil, it won’t tolerate soggy soil, and prolonged waterlogged conditions will result in root rot and plant death.
Fertilizer - To keep your Mistletoe cactus looking and performing at its best, it requires periodic feedings throughout the growing seasons of spring through summer. Feed monthly during spring and summer with a high phosphorus water-soluble blend for houseplants. This will help promote flowers. Stop feeding in winter while your Rhipsalis takes a rest.
When it comes to feeding your cactus, more fertilizer is not better than using less and can create problems. The included salts in the fertilizer can cause the stems to look brown and burnt. For this reason, I tend to make fertilizer up at half strength, to reduce the risk of problems.
Re-pot - Your Rhipsalis should grow well for quite some time in its present container and you will only have to repot every few years to refresh the soil or plant in a larger container, if it’s outgrown its present one. Select a draining container that is one size larger than the original one, if your Mistletoe Cactus has outgrown its present container.
Maintenance - Rotate your plant periodically to ensure even growth on all sides and dust the stalks often so the plant can photosynthesize efficiently. When dusting the leaves, also take the opportunity to inspect the undersides and keep an eye out for pests.
My preferred way to dust my Rhipsalis is to place her in the shower and soak her down well. This not only removes any dust, it gives her the moisture she loves on her leaves.
Rhipsalis are very low maintenance and do not require much pruning to shape. About the only time you will find yourself needing to give the cactus a trim is if you find broken stems or if the plant is getting a little too large for your liking.
Pests - 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.
Rhipsalis plants don’t have any serious problems with diseases. However, the biggest problem you’ll run into is root rot caused by conditions that are too wet. Watch out for discolorations on their foliage, dark spots, or falling leaves, all of which can signify root rot issues.
Propagation - Mistletoe cacti are easy to grow from cuttings. Take a few cuttings and let the severed end callus for a few days. Plant the callused end in a cactus mix or sand that has been lightly moistened. Cuttings root in two to six weeks. Spring to summer is the best time to propagate these plants.
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.
Potential Problems - If you notice the stems on your Mistletoe Cactus beginning to pucker you aren’t giving it enough water. Unlike the vast majority of cacti, Rhipsalis plants like regular water applications that keep the soil slightly moist.
Dropping stems from your Mistletoe cactus means it’s being overwatered. Allow the soil to almost dry before you water again. Only water when the top of the soil starts to dry out.
If sections of your Rhipsalis are turning black and mushy and it is starting to affect the entire plant, you have a root rot problem due to too wet conditions. Prune off any healthy stems that aren’t affected and repot into a rich potting mix that drains well. Discard the remainder of the plant as it’s dead and can’t be saved.
The Mistletoe Cactus is receiving too much light if the stems turn red and should be placed where there is bright filtered light. This a stress and is sometimes done intentionally to gain the stunning color.
Special Notes - Mistletoe Cactus plants are non-toxic to dogs, cats, horses and humans and in fact, the ripe berries are edible and sweet tasting.