Rhipsalis is a low-maintenance hanging house plant that's perfect for beginners. Although it has no prickles, it's a cactus, also known as the mistletoe cactus. This may be because the tiny white flowers that appear along its stems through winter into spring are followed by small white or pale pink berries or because its spineless foliage looks a little like mistletoe.
The long stems of this tropical plant make it a good choice for adding greenery to a shelf or mantlepiece. In the wild, rhipsalis is an epyphitic plant, which means it grows on trees. It's found in tropical jungles in South America.
How to grow rhipsalis
Rhipsalis is an easy plant to look after. Hang it up or place it on a shelf in a bright spot out of direct sunlight. Its long stems can reach several metres in length and it has small flowers, often through the winter, but occasionally year round.
Where to grow rhipsalis
Mistletoe cactus does best in bright, indirect light. It can tolerate an hour or so of sun in the morning and afternoon but too much direct sun may scorch its leaves. Place it on a north- or west-facing windowsill or in a bright spot that doesn't get direct sun.
How to plant rhipsalis
Use a peat-free cactus potting compost when planting your mistletoe cactus. Using a specialist compost that is free draining will help prevent root rot. Rhipsalis does better when slightly pot bound, so only move it into a bigger pot, one size up, every three or four years.
How to care for rhipsalis
Rhipsalis is an easy plant to look after and will cope in the humidity of an average room, but when the heating is on and the air is drier, try raising the humidity around your plant by misting it regularly or placing it on a saucer of wet pebbles.
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Although rhipsalis is a cactus, it's native to South American rainforests and needs more watering than a regular cactus. How much you water depends on its position. In a shady spot, keep the compost fairly dry. In a position where the plant gets sunlight, water until the water runs out of the bottom of the pot and then don’t water again until the top few inches of compost dries out. Stick your finger into the pot to see how dry it is. Reduce watering through the winter when your plant is dormant.
Look out for drying leaves or lack of growth – this could mean you are not watering enough. If leaves are yellowing or dropping off, you could be overwatering. Overwatering can lead to root rot and again, you’ll notice a lack of new growth. To check for root rot, remove the plant from its pot and inspect the roots at the bottom. If they are brown instead of yellow, this indicates root rot.
In the wild, rhipsalis plants grow in the crevices between tree branches and so do well from being a little pot bound. It will need repotting roughly every three years. When you do repot, use a peat-free cactus potting compost.
Pruning mistletoe cactus
Mistletoe cactus is a trailing plant and doesn’t need to be pruned, but it can be cut back if the stems become too long for its space. Use a clean, sharp pair of snips or a knife.
How to propagate rhipsalis
Mistletoe cactus can be propagated by sowing seed or taking stem cuttings.
To take stem cuttings from your mistletoe cactus:
- Cut a piece of stem from your cactus that is about 10cm long
- Fill a small pot (7 or 9cm) with cactus compost
- Insert the cutting deep enough so that it can stand upright
- Water well and put in a bright spot, but not in direct sun. It should root within a month. Water when the compost feels dry
Pests and diseases
Rhipsalis baccifera is prone to mealybugs. These are often found on greenhouse plants and are attracted to cacti to feed on their sap. Look out for bugs covered in a white, waxy substance. They're often found in tight spaces on plants such as leaf axils, in between the leaf and the stem. Get rid of any fallen leaves that could harbour eggs or pests. Organic solutions include predatory ladybirds or spraying plants with fatty acids or plant oils. Mistletoe cactus is generally disease free.
Advice on buying rhipsalis
- Mistletoe cactus is available online either as Rhipsalis baccifera or the cultivar Rhipsalis baccifera ‘Oasis’
- Always check plants for signs of damage or disease before planting. Look underneath the leaves and inbetween the leaves, where pests may be hiding.
Where to buy rhipsalis plants
More rhipsalis varieties to try
Rhipsalis baccifera subsp. horrida – this is a succulent with bristly stems that's easy to grow and perfect for beginners. Known as the mouse tail cactus, its stems will trail over the side of the pot and may produce yellow flowers.
Height x Spread: 2m x 60cm
Rhipsalis paradoxa – this is a different species of rhipsalis, but another one that's great for beginners or those short on time. It's a low-maintenance trailing plant that can be displayed in a hanging basket or placed on a shelf where it's stems can hang freely.
H x S: 2m x 40cm
Rhipsalis pilocarpa – grow this rhipsalis for its spiky stems which produce white flowers at the ends, followed by red berries. It's also known as the hairy-fruited wickerwork cactus, because of the way the branches form.
H x S: 45cm x 45cm