Mistletoe Cactus: Learn How To Grow Rhipsalis Plants

Mistletoe cactus, Rhipsalis baccifera (RIP-sa-lis bak-IF-er-uh) belongs to the Cactaceae family and the genus Rhipsalis.

The plant is an epiphytic cactus (like Orchid cactus Epiphyllum and Hatiora) meaning it grows on other plants, drawing nutrients from the environment.

It hails from the rainforests of Central and South America with the common name mistletoe cactus because of the spineless appearance giving a drooped over effect.

The botanical name Rhipsalis comes from the Greek word ‘rhips’ which references to the plant’s pliable branches. ‘Baccifera’ means berry-bearing nodding to the plant’s white berries after the flowering season in early spring.

Other common names include:

  • Coral Cactus
  • Spaghetti Cactus

Mistletoe cacti are not easy to come across in the United States and may be difficult to get your hands on.

Rhipsalis cactus plant Mistletoe

However, once purchased, they will live for many years under proper conditions.

They require a little skill and will help any gardening-enthusiasts sharpen their growing skills.

Rhipsalis Care

Size and Growth

It is a slow-growing plant with naturally pale green stems, and a drooping and trailing growth. It can grow up to be 30′ feet long with narrow stems up to 0.2” in diameter.

This epiphytic cacti grows attached to other plants when in the wild.

It anchors itself to rotting leaves and moss when it grows up in trees in its natural habitat of the rainforest. At home, grow in soil that mimics those conditions.

Flowering and Fragrance

Rhipsalis cactus blooms in the first months of the year. The flowers don’t have any fragrance and are generally small at 0.25” wide, and white or cream color.

Following this, the cactus bears clear white berries about 1/4” wide. These berries are sometimes referred to as “glass beads” because of their translucent appearance.

Light and Temperature

This plant is sensitive to too much sun. Avoid full sun for best growth. A shady outdoor spot or a semi-shaded place indoors works fine.

This plant needs a fair amount of humidity; somewhere around 50% which would mimic the conditions of its natural habitat.

Epiphytic cactus grow best in USDA hardiness zones 9b to 11b and thrives best in temperatures between 25 degrees Fahrenheit to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Watering and Feeding

The watering needs of Rhipsalis cactus vary throughout the year. It should be watered more regularly throughout the growing months between February to July.

Allow the potting soil to dry out between waterings.

During the rest months in the fall, water it only sparingly when the soil starts to dry don’t let it dry out completely.

You can mist it regularly with cool water instead of watering thoroughly.

Begin watering again regularly from November to February when new buds appear.

Overwatering causes roots to rot. Once that happens, saving the plant is difficult. Be careful and pay attention to your plant’s needs.

The plant needs feeding with a weak phosphate fertilizer once between February and July.

Soil and Transplanting

Getting the soil right is crucial to get this plant to grow well. It requires an airy potting medium rich in humus. The best mixture is an airy sphagnum mixture with leaf mold or partial rotted compost.

Avoid standing water at the base of the pot. Make sure there is adequate drainage.

This plant should not be transplanted as it could ruin the tender roots.

Instead, top off the pot or basket with new soil.

Carefully, remove the old soil, making sure not to damage the roots and fill it again with moist sphagnum or coarse peat moss.

Grooming and Maintenance

This plant does not require a lot of grooming. However, if the stems begin to grow too long, trim back to give them a neater appearance.

How To Propagate Mistletoe Rhipsalis Cactus Plants

Propagate or grow mistletoe cactus through cuttings. Take a mature shoot and let it dry out for a few days until the cut surface has become callused.

Take a mixture of moist sphagnum and sand and plant the shoot a couple of inches down the surface.

The shoot will need adequate humidity to take root so it’s best to cover it with plastic until you can see it has taken root.

This usually takes around 2 to 6 weeks depending on growing conditions and seasons.

Mistletoe Cacti Pests and Diseases

This plant can experience a few pests. Mealybugs and scale insects are easy enough to get rid of and prevent.

They appear as white blobs or raised brown scales on the plant. You should remove them with tweezers and swab the area with alcohol to prevent future infestation.

Other pests such as spider mites or red spider mites are difficult to identify as they will become evident after making their first attack.

Get rid of them, spray your plant with Neem insecticide or a mix of systemic pesticide.

Uses For Mistletoe Cactus

Hanging Rhipsalis cactus growing at Disney's Animal Kingdom - Orlando, Florida March 2019

This plant is beautiful when grown as an ornamental, hanging accent plant. It is best grown near large west or west-facing windows, or on a shaded porch.

Because of its neutral colors, it goes beautifully with a number of different flowers.

If growing outdoors, add it to a shady spot like a porch as it will have ample space to grow and will not risk getting too much sun.

The plant is also edible. It has medicinal properties which make it popular for certain remedies such as herbal paths or as a salve to help treat wounds.

The small, orb-like fruit the plant bears in spring is also edible and tastes juicy in a way similar to small grapes when eaten.