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Rat Tail Cactus Care

Rat tail cactus care is similar to pretty much all other types of cactus–it’s easy! Learn how to take care of this unique trailing cactus, including how to see its gorgeous blooms!

How do you take care of a rat tail cactus?

Not long ago I posted a boobie cactus care guide and mentioned that I am not a huge succulent and cactus collector. But they are so easy! So I can definitely be tempted to grab the cool-looking ones.

And the rat tail cactus is definitely one of those. We had one of these growing up, so it definitely brings back good memories for me. Plus the flowers on this trailing cactus are awesome. So let’s talk about the plant.

rat tail cactus on a shelf with other plants

What is a rat tail cactus, aka aporocactus flagelliformis?

The rat tail cactus is from the aporocactus genus, flagelliformis species. So its scientific name is aporocactus flagelliformis. Flagelliformis is the most cultivated species in the aporocactus genus. (It is also known by an older name, disocactus flagelliformis. However, it has since been reclassified.)

The much easier to remember “rat tail cactus” name comes from the plant’s long, thin stems. The stems can grow up to several feet long on a happy, established plant. They branch out at the plant’s base, allowing them to create a “waterfall-like” effect spilling over the pot’s sides.

The stems are very prickly, covered entirely in sharp spines. The plant is green, but older growth can eventually turn a faded gray shade. Especially near the base of the plant as it matures.

Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, rat tail cactus was one of the first cacti to be introduced to Europeans in the 1600s. It can be found growing in the wild in dry forests in Mexico, often even growing in rock crevices or up along trees.

closeup shot of a rat tail cactus plant

Light needs

One of the reasons I don’t do too many cacti and succulents is because I just don’t have much space to accommodate their lighting needs. Rat tail cactus likes plenty of direct bright light. Don’t be worried about scorching or burning this plant.

It will also tolerate bright indirect light, but it probably won’t grow as prolifically. Because it enjoys direct sun, rat tail cactus enjoys summering outside in the long, bright days.

Soil needs

Any soil mix labeled as “succulent” or “cactus” will work fine. These soils are pre-mixed to include additives like sand and perlite. You can also make your own succulent mix like I often do.

Whatever you choose, make sure it is well-draining. This mimics the dry, arid soils of the environment the rat tail cactus is found in.

rat tail cactus plant in a white pot

How often should I water my rat tail cactus?

As with other types of cacti, rat tail cactus stores water in its stems and can survive long periods of neglect and drought. This doesn’t mean you should neglect it, but it does mean that it probably won’t be too mad at you if you occasionally do.

I recommend letting the top half of the soil dry out before watering the rat tail cactus again. The soil likes to be kept evenly moist, but you don’t want to risk overwatering it. This can lead to root and stem rot.

If you notice your rat tail cactus sprouting aerial roots from its stems, this could suggest that your plant isn’t getting enough water. Aerial roots can sprout as a way to take in more moisture from the air around the plant.

Make sure to back off of watering the plant in the winter when it goes dormant. Water it maybe once a month. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t need more. You just want to keep it alive.

hand holding a rat tail cactus plant

Temperature & humidity

Rat tail cactus tolerates all normal household temperatures and humidity levels well. If you move your plant outdoors for the spring and summer, make sure to bring it back indoors before temperatures drop below 40 degrees at night.

It will not survive freezing temperatures or even a light frost. Keep an eye on the plant if you live in a super high humidity area. The excess moisture in the air can lead to problems with stem rot. Remember, this plant is from a very hot, dry climate.

closeup shot of a rat tail cactus plant
rat tail cactus plant with hoyas on a shelf

How often does rat tail cactus bloom?

One of the most attractive parts of the rat tail cactus is its flowers! They are usually a couple inches long with a somewhat tubular shape at their base. They look a lot like Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus flowers if you’ve seen those. Except wider.

Generally they are red or pink, but they don’t stay open for a while before wilting. But they are gorgeous when they do bloom! Once they wilt, simply pick them off and throw them out. 

Rat tail cactus generally blooms in the spring and summer, but it can bloom all year round if it is in ideal conditions. The flowers need a lot of light to emerge. So if your plant isn’t flowering, it might need more direct sun.

rat tail cactus plant in a white pot

For succulents, see my guide for Echeveria Care & Growing Echeveria Succulents Indoors, my Burro’s Tail Succulent Care Guide, and my post on How to Care for the Striking Pickle Plant Succulent!

How fast does a rat tail cactus grow?

In ideal conditions, the rat tail cactus can grow quite prolifically! If you have the plant in a hanging basket, you’ll notice that its stems can grow up to a foot in a growing season. 

While it is a fast grower, that doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be moved into a bigger pot like some other house plants might. However, it will appreciate a spring soil refresh since it will need fresh nutrients. Just repot it in the same pot using fresh soil.

Use heavy duty gardening or work gloves to repot this plant. Its pricklies will lodge into your skin very easily!

closeup shot of a rat tail cactus plant
trailing rat tail cactus

Is the rat tail cactus poisonous?

I couldn’t find anything online about whether the rat tail cactus is poisonous to cats, dogs, or humans. However, the good news is that it would be incredibly difficult to ingest given the large number of very sharp pricklies on it!

For that reason, I would strongly recommend keeping this plant away from interested pets and kids. Even if it isn’t poisonous, it will really hurt pets and kids since it is so sharp.

rat tail cactus plant in a white pot

How do you propagate a rat tail cactus?

Propagating a rat tail cactus is a lot like propagating other cacti—including propagating a prickly pear cactus. To do so, simply take a stem cutting that is several inches long. 

Allow the cut end to harden/callus over for at least 24 hours. This will prevent too much water from getting into the cutting and rotting it.

Add succulent or cactus potting mix to a small container. Then use your finger to create a hole in the soil that is about an inch or so deep. Add the cutting, and fill in around it with soil to stabilize it.

Keep the soil moist for the first several weeks to encourage the rat tail cactus to root. After about a month, you can back off the watering and begin treating the plant as normal. It doesn’t take too long to root.

closeup shot of a rat tail cactus plant

Pin my rat tail cactus care guide!

collage of rat tail cactus pictures with text overlay that says how to care for rat tail cactus
rat tail cactus plant with text overlay that says how to care for rat tail cactus

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