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Dog Tail Cactus Care

Dog tail cactus, aka Strophocactus testudo, is a unique trailing or climbing cactus that produces lovely fragrant flowers. Learn more about this cool variety here!

All about the cool trailing dog tail cactus

If you’re looking for a unique cactus that can soak up the sun, look no further. The dog tail cactus enjoys full sun and humidity, and it grows skinny, spiny tails that can climb or hang. It’s not often you see a cactus that grows like a vine!

Dog tail cactus background

The scientific name for the dog tail cactus is Strophocactus testudo, or sometimes called the Puppy dog tail cactus for younger plants, which I think is the cutest thing ever. This species has changed genuses a few times throughout the years.

Why? Because botanists couldn’t agree on how to categorize its unique stems and flowers. It was first described in Western culture by Joseph Zuccarini in 1838, but it has since been re-described by many others. As of 2003, the dog tail cactus belongs to the Strophocactus genus.

This cactus is native to southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras where it can grow a whopping 9 feet tall. As a climbing cactus, it grows around forest trees and can be found hanging from tree limbs. 

It’s characterized as epiphytic, meaning it grows on top of other plants. It’s also polymorphic, which was a new word for me! That means it changes shape as it matures.

dog tail cactus aka Strophocactus testudo

Does dog tail cactus flower?

If the stars align, the dog tail cactus might just bloom for you. When they bloom, they produce gorgeous, fragrant flowers that look almost like orchids. They are nocturnal bloomers (much like the night-blooming cereus plant), so flowers won’t open until late afternoon and stay open through the night, releasing a faintly sweet aroma.

In fact, they are closely related to the night-blooming cereus/queen of the night plant. And their flowers are super similar from what I’ve seen. My night-blooming cereus blooms like crazy, and I hope my dog tail does, too!

dog tail cactus

How much sun does a dog tail cactus need?

The dog tail cactus grows best in full sun. Yes, that’s right, FULL sun! It seems like every houseplant we read about requires bright, indirect light. That isn’t always possible for those of us who live in sunny places, or just don’t have the right window space!

Bright sunshine promotes healthy, short spines as opposed to long, hairy spines. Thin, pale stems are also signs that your cactus isn’t getting enough light. If you live in a place that gets plenty of sunshine, it might be easier to keep your dog tail outdoors (depending on temperatures).

If you’d rather keep it indoors and away from the elements, consider a south- facing window for the most light. And you may want to rotate it every few weeks if it’s getting light from only one side.

I love a plant that can do full sun because I love moving things outside for the summer. My shaded space is limited, so a full-sun plant is great. I can throw it anywhere and watch it thrive.

Strophocactus testudo

Want more sun lovers? Check out my post about Echeveria Care & Growing Echeveria Succulents Indoors, my Burro’s Tail Care guide, and my post about How to Care for the Striking Pickle Plant Succulent!

How often do you water a dog tail cactus?

If you’re like me, you probably thought this is a cactus so it won’t need much water. Well, I was wrong! The dog tail loves water more than most cacti, and needs moisture. Especially during summer. 

Water the soil deeply, and avoid wetting the stems since water can get trapped between the spines. Make sure the soil dries out entirely between waterings. But remember, that won’t take too long since this plant should be in full sun.

If you have the plant outdoors and it is in full sun, you may have to water it every day or so if temperatures are super high. Indoors, the soil will take longer to dry out—and you do want to make sure it dries out completely.

dog tail cactus on a table

Soil needs

This cactus is not picky about soil, thankfully. Any fast-draining cactus mix will work well to prevent excessive moisture retention. Make sure the pot you use has proper drainage holes at the bottom so that water can seep through without making the soil soggy.

A good cactus mix should have ⅔ sand, rocks, or gravel, and ⅓ soil or organic matter for nutrients. I’ve also done succulent mixes that are ⅓ soil, ⅓ perlite, and ⅓ sand. Or you can keep things easy and just grab a bag of cactus or succulent soil at your local nursery.

dog tail cactus

Can a dog tail cactus live outside?

The dog tail is a hardy cactus that can tolerate a very wide range of temperatures. We’re talking anywhere from in the 40s up to the 90s Fahrenheit! That means I could keep it outdoors considerably longer than most of my other houseplants (where I live at least).

It has no frost tolerance, though. So it will probably need to spend winters indoors depending on your climate. If it never gets below freezing where you live, you should be fine to leave it outside. Otherwise, just bring it in during the frosty period.

dog tail cactus stems

Does dog tail cactus like humidity?

Unlike other cacti, dog tail cactus thrives on humid heat. Humidity is a little harder to control outdoors if you don’t already live in a humid place like I do (at least in the summer). So this is where you’ll find better luck keeping it inside. 

As long as the humidity level is around or above 50%, the dog tail will do just fine. It will also probably be fine in slightly lower household humidity levels. What happens if the dog tail cactus doesn’t get enough humidity? You’ll notice slower growth and weak stems with darkened tips.

Want more? Check out my Calico Kitten Succulent Care guide, my Haworthia Care Guide, and my Xerosicyos Danguyi (Silver Dollar Succulent Care guide.

Propagation steps

Using stem cuttings is the fastest and easiest way to propagate a dog tail cactus. All you need is a healthy stem and you can grow a brand new plant! Remember to use gloves when handling this cactus as it can prick and poke you. 

Using sharp scissors, cut a healthy stem at least 5-6 inches in length. Place this stem aside and let the cut callus over for a few days. (This is very similar to the prickly pear cactus propagation process.) 

You can place the dried stem cutting callus-side down in fresh soil. Place the plant in bright, indirect light and water frequently to keep the soil damp. Once rooting has taken place, you can water less frequently and monitor for new growth.

sprout on a cut dog tail cactus stem

Is dog tail cactus poisonous?

I couldn’t find anything from a primary source noting if dog tail cactus was toxic or not. However, it is covered in very prickly spikes, so I wouldn’t handle it. Much less eat it. And I would definitely keep it out of reach from pets and kids.

Pin this care guide!

collage that says growing dog tail cactus with pictures of the plant

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