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Rhipsalis Cactus Care

Learn about rhipsalis mistletoe cactus care, it isn’t just for the holidays!

How to care for the rhipsalis mistletoe cactus

Hey all, welcome to my guide on caring for rhipsalis, also known as “mistletoe cactus.” It’s a cool trailing cactus that you can grow in hanging baskets, making it a bit more versatile that a more traditional cactus. My husband got me my first rhipsalis plant for mother’s day many years ago—t’s a rhipsalis campos-portoana.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about keeping your rhipsalis happy and thriving. From finding the perfect spot for it to watering just right and even how to propagate more of these awesome plants, I’ve got you covered. So let’s get started.

rhipsalis plant
Rhipsalis campos-portoana

Rhipsalis cactus care overview

  • Rhipsalis plants are epiphytes; they grow on other plants, using them for support.
  • Prefers bright, indirect light; tolerates medium light levels.
  • Allow the top few inches of soil to dry out before watering again.
  • Plant in well-draining cactus or succulent soil.
  • Appreciates extra humidity but does well in typical household humidity levels.
  • Propagate easily using cuttings in water or soil.
  • Generally not known to be toxic.

What is a rhipsalis cactus?

There are quite a few varieties of rhipsalis that you might find in your local nursery, so I’ll talk generally about the rhipsalis genus. Its lineage looks like this: cactaceae family > cactoideae subfamily > rhipsalideae tribe > rhipsalis genus. And there are loads of different species in the rhipsalis genus—about 35.

Plants from the rhipsalis genus are often referred to as “mistletoe cactus,” though generally this refers to rhipsalis baccifera, which is the variety of rhipsalis you’re most likely to encounter. I have a Mine isn’t a campos-portoana and a baccifera—you’ll see some of the differences in this guide’s photos.

rhipsalis leaves hanging

How much light does it need?

Rhipsalis plants are native to tropical areas in Central America, the Caribbean, and some areas of South America. That means that they are happiest growing in bright, indirect light. This is the best way to mimic the light they’d receive in nature while growing under a dense rainforest canopy of trees that blocks out direct light. 

Rhipsalis plants can also tolerate surprisingly lower levels of light. While it isn’t ideal, they will be relatively happy in medium light levels. Though keep in mind that it is still a cactus, so I’d probably recommend adding a small indoor grow light if it’s too dark and it appears the plant is suffering.

rhipsalis plant in a hanging basket
Rhipsalis baccifera

Like this? Check out the easiest succulents for beginners, my DIY succulent soil recipe, and how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings!

How often should I water it?

All rhipsalis varieties enjoy a bit of a dry-out between waterings. Even if the soil feels dry on the surface, make sure to check that it isn’t wet a few inches below the surface. This means that the plant isn’t ready to be watered yet.

Generally I water my rhipsalis every 1.5–2 weeks during the spring, summer, and early fall. Even less in the winter. But the amount of water your plant needs does depend heavily on the conditions it is growing in. That’s why checking your plant’s soil moisture is always better than relying on what a stranger on the internet says she does with her plants 🙂

rhipsalis plant in a hanging planter

What is the best soil?

When it comes to soil, I opt for a well-draining mix that mimics its natural habitat. I usually go for a blend of cactus or succulent potting mix with added perlite or pumice to amp up the drainage. This combo helps prevent water from pooling around the roots, which rhipsalis isn’t a fan of.

Plus, it gives the roots enough aeration (oxygen flow) to keep them happy and healthy. Remember, rhipsalis prefers slightly acidic to neutral soil. Just think loose and gritty, and your watering routine will help you round out the rest.

Humidity & temperature needs

Although this plant doesn’t love being over-watered, it does like a bit of humidity. You can mist it with plain water in a spray bottle to help keep it happy. However, this provides only a very temporary rise in ambient moisture levels. Adding a humidifier is a better choice.

Don’t fret, though—in my experience, it has done just fine in normal household humidity levels. I don’t provide any extra humidity for my rhipsalis plants, and they are thriving. As a cactus, it is relatively hardy!

Rhipsalis varieties can generally be grown outdoors only in USDA zones 10 and 11. They are not cold or frost hardy. Indoors, you should generally keep them above 50 degrees Fahrenheit to be the happiest. That means they accept a wide variety of normal household temperatures.

mistletoe cactus care

Growth patterns

Rhipsalis plants are epiphytes, which are a type of plant that grows on other plants. However, it doesn’t take nutrients from them or harm them in any way—they just use them as support while growing.

They have a fascinating growth pattern that sets them apart from many other succulents and cacti. They typically exhibit a trailing or pendulous growth habit, with stems that cascade down gracefully. The stems are often segmented and cylindrical, sometimes resembling long, slender leaves.

As rhipsalis grows, it tends to produce new stems from the base or along existing stems, creating a lush and sometimes beautifully tangled-looking mess of greenery. This growth pattern makes Rhipsalis an excellent choice for hanging baskets or elevated planters.

You can encourage fullness by pruning your plant, rooting the cutting, and replanting them into the same pot. This will help create more of a critical mass at the base of the plant, growing out and maintaining its fullness as it branches.

rhipsalis plant
closeup of rhipsalis leaves

How to propagate rhipsalis

Propagating rhipsalis is really easy. You can do it in water or directly in soil. To propagate a rhipsalis cutting in water, simply take a snip with clean scissors and put it in water. It will begin to root after about a week or so. Once the roots are a few inches long, you can plant it.

To propagate a rhipsalis cutting directly in soil, let the cut end of the stem dry out for a day or so. Then plant it directly in a moist cactus soil mix. Water a bit when the soil dries out. After a few weeks, you should be able to tug at the cutting and feel resistance. That means roots are developing and your propagation is a success.

rhipsalis cutting rooting in water
Cutting rooting in water
Rhipsalis soil propagation
Soil propagation in progress

Is it toxic?

Rhipsalis plants are generally considered safe to have around pets and kids (the ASPCA cites at least one type as being non-toxic). However, it’s always wise to monitor your pets and small children around any plant and discourage them from chewing on foliage, as ingesting any plant material in large quantities can still cause mild gastrointestinal upset.

In conclusion…

Caring for a rhipsalis mistletoe cactus is a bit different from more traditional cactus care, but it is a worthwhile endeavor. With their adaptability to various light conditions, minimal water requirements, and easy propagation methods, these plants are great for both novice and experienced plant enthusiasts. 

Their unique trailing growth means you can display them hanging from ceilings or sitting on top of high shelves to fully enjoy the great lengths they can grow. As you integrate these care tips into your routine, remember that the key to a thriving rhipsalis lies in understanding its natural habitat and mimicking those conditions as closely as possible.

Do you have any rhipsalis care tips of your own or a story about your plant you’d like to share? Drop a comment below—I’d love to hear from you. Happy planting!

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collage of plants that says all about caring for rhipsalis

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  1. Doctor Spaceman says:

    That would make a lovely Mother’s Day gift

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