Mistletoe Cactus (Rhipsalis)
The mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) is a cactus resembling a mistletoe of sorts, with long stems that droop elegantly and give it its trailing shape.
Also called chain cactus, this unique and interesting plant with attractive foliage would make an ideal choice for your hanging planters.
So, how do you care for your mistletoe cactus?
Caring for a mistletoe cactus is easy because it’s low-maintenance and has minimal requirements.
To keep it happy, you just need to plant it in well-draining soil, keep it moist, give it a humid environment, maintain its ideal temperature, fertilize regularly, and keep it away from direct sunlight.
In this article, we will talk more extensively about the mistletoe cactus, including its different characteristics and needs in terms of soil, water, temperature, humidity, nutrients and fertilizer, and lighting.
We will also talk about the best care practices for this plant.
Ideal Potting Medium
Proper care for your mistletoe cactus always starts with using the right kind of soil.
The mistletoe cactus is different from the usual types of cacti, so it wouldn’t do well in a typical cactus and succulents potting mix.
A cactus mix is more lightweight and does not contain the amount of nutrients it needs.
I recommend this wonderful soil mix by Foxfarm. Mistletoe cacti will do very well with this mix.
What the mistletoe cactus needs are a rich, well-draining, organic soil mixture that is slightly acidic.
It prefers its soil moist but not soggy.
This plant will thrive in many types of commercial organic potting mix as long as they are nutrient-rich, and they drain well.
Moreover, make sure to avoid those commercial potting mixes that heavily rely on peat because they tend to hold moisture in the soil longer than they should.
Many growers also prefer adding perlite and bark to make it breathable for the roots.
Smart Garden Guide, on the other hand, suggests any of these potting mix formulas:
- equal parts potting soil, peat, and sterile sand
- equal parts peat, compost, and sterile sand
- equal parts potting mix, sphagnum moss, and perlite
Mistletoe cactus is most often grown indoors, so you can simply mount it on a piece of bark as you would an orchid.
And if you do not tend to overwater, you can plant it in a regular potting soil mixed with sand or any gritty material.
Potting and Repotting
The mistletoe cactus grows best when it is slightly root-bound or when its roots fill up the container.
As such, it does not need to be repotted very regularly. For smaller-sized plants, you can repot them once every year or every 1.5 years.
Bigger plants, meanwhile, can be repotted every two years.
Remember never to repot the plants while they are blooming; wait until their spring flowers have faded.
For seedlings, you will know that it is time to transplant them to slightly bigger pots when their roots are already circling and growing around the bottom of their nursery pots.
When repotting, you should not make drastic changes in terms of the container size.
Make sure that the new pot is only slightly, or just a few centimeters, bigger than the current one.
Going for a much larger pot than the previous one could drown the roots of your plant and could negatively affect its growth.
However, if you prefer that your plant stays the same size, you can do away with transferring pots.
Simply give the plant some fresh new soil and trim away any excess roots and foliage.
And when you are repotting, do not forget to handle the mistletoe cactus carefully as their stems are fragile and could easily break off at the joints.
Hanging planters are the ideal choice for mistletoe cacti because of the plants’ long and elegantly drooping stems.
Water Requirement for the Mistletoe Cactus
Compared to other cacti, the mistletoe cactus generally prefers more frequent watering sessions.
It also grows best with slightly moist soil.
However, the plant is very forgiving if you forget to water it occasionally, and it does tolerate brief periods of drought.
You need to take note that specific watering requirements are seasonal.
In other words, how often you water your mistletoe cactus varies as its surroundings heat up and cool down along with the seasons.
Spring and summer are considered to be the growing season for the mistletoe cactus, so you would need to water the plant frequently.
It is important to keep the soil consistently moist.
As such, only wait for the surface of the soil to slightly dry out in between waterings, instead of waiting for both the topsoil and subsoil to completely dry out.
You should also keep your soil from getting waterlogged, so be careful not to let standing water remain on the soil’s surface.
This is why free-draining soil is essential.
During the cold seasons, or fall and winter, the mistletoe cactus goes through a dormancy period.
This is also the pre-flowering phase of the plant.
During this time, you only need to water it every couple of weeks, just to keep its stems from shriveling.
You should also not fertilize the plant during this time. Allowing the plant to rest also promotes healthy flowering in the spring.
You also don’t have to guess when the mistletoe cactus gets thirsty.
You will know because its tendrils will start to lose rigidity and pucker.
And if they turn crispy and brown, you would know that watering is long overdue. But because this cactus is very forgiving, it will bounce back to life.
When watering the mistletoe cactus, make sure to use room-temperature water.
The best kinds of water to use are distilled water, rainwater, and tap water that’s been left to sit out overnight.
The mistletoe cactus rarely needs fertilizing and doesn’t need a lot other than moisture and moderate light.
But feedings can still help keep your plant healthy and in tip-top shape.
Growers recommend that you fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer throughout the plant’s growing period, which is during spring and summer.
And during the winter, stop feeding to allow the plant its state of dormancy.
We recommend this fertilizer, designed specifically for cacti. Make sure to follow the instructions and not use too much fertilizer.
Most experts use a half dilution of cactus food or a balanced, general-purpose fertilizer once a month, specifically from April to September.
You can also use a tomato-type fertilizer when flower buds start forming.
Use this every two weeks throughout the flowering period.
The rest of the time, except during the dormant period, use it once a month.
Growers advise against using a fertilizer with high nitrogen content.
It is also recommended that you flush the soil periodically to remove the buildup of salts coming from the fertilizer.
You can do this every six months. Simply take your pot to the sink, or out to your yard if it’s too large, and allow water to gently run from the faucet or hose through the soil for five minutes or so.
Let the water drain and empty the catch tray before putting your plant back in its place.
Sun and Lighting Requirements
Unlike most types of cactus and succulents, the mistletoe cactus prefers a medium source of light all year round.
The most ideal is the morning sun.
It does not like to be exposed to full or direct sunlight.
Otherwise, its thread-like stems will get sunburnt, turning reddish, shriveled, and wilted.
Exposure to direct summer sunlight for a prolonged period of time can kill it.
As such, place your mistletoe cactus in a spot that gets sunlight only in the morning, or at least bright, filtered light.
A position by your east-facing window would be great as it gives the plant a sufficient amount of sunlight.
Your west-facing window would also work well as long as it gives the plant some light, filtered by a curtain or blinder.
Meanwhile, a north-facing window won’t be able to give your plant enough light while a south-facing one is too bright.
If you have no access to natural sunlight at all, you can get indoor grow lights:
We recommend this affordable indoor grow light that will work well for any cacti, if youdon’t have a lot of sun exposure in your indoor space.
You can take your plant outdoors once the weather starts to warm up in the spring.
But don’t forget to place it in a spot that gets plenty of shade so that its stems don’t get burned.
Wherever you place your mistletoe cactus, be sure to rotate it periodically, so it grows even on all sides.
Remember to dust the stalks regularly, too, so that it can photosynthesize efficiently.
Because its native habitat is tropical and subtropical rainforests, which are consistently humid, the mistletoe cactus thrives in a moderate- to the high-humidity environment.
Ideally, you should maintain a relative humidity of 50% around the plant.
A lack of humidity can cause problems with the plant’s growth, as well as its appearance.
In the winter, the air in your house can get very dry. So it would be a great idea to use a humidity gauge to make sure the humidity levels are just right.
Fortunately, there are different ways for you to increase humidity indoors in case it drops.
For one, you can arrange several plants around your mistletoe cactus to add humidity.
This would, however, depend on the type of pot you used.
For example, if your mistletoe cactus is in a hanging basket, doing this might be rather difficult unless you can also hang the other plants around it.
You can also try placing your cactus in a room that is capable of naturally producing humidity. This mostly refers to rooms where you constantly use water.
There’s the bathroom, for instance.
You can place your cactus there if you have extra space for it and if adequate light can get inside. Aside from the bathroom, there’s also the kitchen.
Another option is to place your standing pot of mistletoe cactus on a tray with pebbles.
This tray of pebbles will collect the water that has drained out of the pot. As this water evaporates, it creates humidity.
Regular misting will also benefit your mistletoe cactus and will promote healthy growth as it will compensate for the unfriendly dryness of the air in your home.
The mistletoe cactus loves its air warm most of the year. So when it is grown indoors, it is important not to place it in a cold or drafty spot.
Excessive coldness can negatively impact your plant’s growth and could even kill it.
You also shouldn’t place your plant near a heating vent as it can be too drying for this humidity-loving cactus.
Proper care for a mistletoe cactus means placing it indoors, where the temperatures range from 21°C to 24°C (70°F to 75°F ) during the day and from 16°C to 21°C (60°F to 70°F) at nights.
A mistletoe cactus will regularly bloom when you place it indoors, where the temperature is steady.
Just remember that you cannot move it to another location once it starts producing flower buds.
When outdoor temperatures have warmed up in the spring and summer, you can take your mistletoe cactus in a shady area outside.
Just make sure you bring it back indoors before fall and winter come.
To produce buds, the plant needs to be moved to an area that has slightly lower temperatures, usually below 18.33°C (65°F), for about a month or two after the previous flowering period.
You should not expose the Rhipsalis cactus to temperatures that are lower than 10°C (50°F).
How to Encourage Flowers
A mistletoe cactus does best if it gets a month or two of rest after the blooming season.
During this period of dormancy, the plant needs longer nights and lower temperatures to be able to produce new buds for the next flowering season.
If your plant does not bloom again, one of these elements may have been absent from its yearly routine.
More specifically, your plant won’t set buds if you kept it at normal household temperatures during the bud formation phase.
Using artificial light at night, like household lamplight, can also hinder flowering.
This is also the reason why the moment the buds are set, you shouldn’t move your cactus.
During flowering, keep temperatures above 16°C (60°F) and water as you normally would.
Your cactus will need about two months’ worth of rest following flowering.
During this period, the cactus needs to be watered less frequently, not fed and kept relatively cool.
After this dormancy, you can increase the temperature, water and re-start fertilizer feeding.
Additionally, when you place your mistletoe cactus outdoors, but in medium shade, during spring and summer, it will benefit from the air circulation.
This outdoor exposure will also help its stems harden, and you have better chances of seeing a strong flower display from your plant.
Propagating and Growing a Mistletoe Cactus
You can propagate a mistletoe cactus through seeds or stem cuttings.
This plant blooms and bears fruits, so you can wait for these fruits to ripen before breaking them open and harvesting the seeds.
You need to plant the seeds a little below the surface of your soil.
Make sure that you have prepared germination containers with drainage holes and fill them with well-draining soil or seed-starting mixture that is moist but not soggy.
It will take two to six weeks for the seeds to germinate.
Keep the seedlings in their container for several months and transplant them into larger pots only when they are large enough to have developed a stable root system.
One downside to propagating a mistletoe cactus through seeds is that the entire process takes too long.
You have to wait for your plant to bloom, then for it to bear fruit, wait for the fruits to mature, wait for the seeds to germinate, and then wait for seedlings to grow large enough.
The seeds will also need even environmental conditions to grow successfully.
However, seeds are great if you wish to share your mistletoe cactus with other people.
Seeds are easier to transport, and they can last for a longer amount of time in transit.
Propagation Through Stem Cuttings
A much easier and quicker way to propagate your mistletoe cactus is through stem cuttings.
It is recommended that you propagate new mistletoe cacti using this method any time from spring through summer.
Using pruning shears, cut off a section of the cactus.
Make sure the cut is clean, then leave it for a few days to allow the cut end to callus. Afterward, plant your cutting into a moist potting mix.
Bury the cut end of the stem around one to two inches deep into the potting soil and firm the soil around it.
Water the soil and put the newly planted mistletoe cactus cutting in a warm area that gets bright light but doesn’t get exposed to direct sunlight.
A mistletoe cactus stem cutting will start rotting four weeks after planting.
You can expect to have a plant with fully developed roots after several months.
Common Mistletoe Cactus Problems
Pests are the most common problems you will encounter when growing a mistletoe cactus.
The plant normally doesn’t have any real problems related to diseases, but it may have conditional issues such as wilting stems and root rot.
The only pests that could be problematic for your mistletoe cactus are mealybugs.
Mealybugs are small white bugs characterized by their waxy and fluffy white coating. Mealybugs suck plant juices and damage plant tissues. Its favorite feeding spots include stems.
These pests are quite easy to spot and identify since they appear like white cottony masses.
As soon as you notice a problem with mealybugs, treat your plant, so they don’t infest your other plants.
You can get rid of them by removing them by hand, by wiping them off using a cotton swab with rubbing alcohol, or by putting a systemic insecticide in the soil to poison them when they feed on the plant.
We recommend this affordable, yet very efficient natural pesticide.
Made with natural ingredients, it works very well to get rid of common pests on your cacti.
You can also use a product like a neem oil or insecticidal soap to kill the mealybugs.
If the base or perhaps the stems of your plant start turning mushy and black and then start dropping, that means it is overwatered.
You will need to cut back on watering too frequently or too much.
However, if you think you are watering your plant just right, another reason could be that your soil retains too much water.
So you may want to repot your cactus using a better and more suitable potting mix, which is fertile and well-draining. Then simply trim off any wilted stems or sections with clean pruning tools.
If the rot is too bad, you will need to trim the bad sections off to save the unaffected portions.
Repot your plant, then resume your normal watering practices, irrigating only when the surface of the soil goes dry.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions pertaining to the mistletoe cactus:
- Aside from its ornamental use, does the mistletoe cactus have other benefits? The mistletoe cactus is said to have medicinal properties and is sometimes used in remedies like herbal salves and balms to treat wounds.
- Why are the stems of my mistletoe cactus puckering? If you notice that the stems of your plant are starting to pucker, that means you are not giving your plant enough water. Unlike most other types of cacti, this one likes regular water applications to keep its soil slightly moist.
- Is mistletoe cactus toxic? Mistletoe cactus is not toxic to humans and other animals, including dogs, cats, and horses. Even its berry-like fruits are edible, and they taste sweet.
- Why are my mistletoe cactus’ tendrils falling off? If the tendrils of your plant are falling off, there is a good chance that your plant is not getting enough light. So try moving your plant to a brighter location, then see if there is any improvement. This problem could also be due to root rot, which is a result of overwatering.
- A mistletoe cactus takes some dormancy period. What does a dormancy period even mean? Dormancy refers to the period when a plant shows very little or no growth at all. It reduces any metabolic activity for a particular amount of time. So, during a dormancy period, you wouldn’t have to water or feed your plant at all.
How often does a mistletoe cactus bloom?
Your plant can bloom periodically all year-round if you grow it in preferred conditions.
Plant it in airy, well-draining soil, keep it moist, give it the right amount of water, keep it in a humid environment with just the right temperature, feed it, and respect its flowering cycles, and you will get a showy and strong flowering plant.
The Mistletoe Cactus in a Nutshell
The mistletoe cactus is a succulent that is native to tropical and subtropical rainforests, and it is originally found in places like Brazil, Mexico, and Florida.
And while most cacti thrive in sunny, hot, and dry regions, this one is unique in that it requires moisture, low light conditions, and a warm, humid environment.
It is an epiphyte, which means that it attaches to vertical surfaces, such as tree trunks and branches.
This cactus is characterized by leafless, thin, green branching stems that could reach 30 feet (9 meters) long in their original habitat.
But when grown as a modern houseplant, the stems can only grow up to half this length. This cactus can grow multiple stems that would make it look thick, lush, and bushy.
Although it does not have thorns on its body like other ordinary cacti, the mistletoe cactus does produce bumps on its surface that you can barely see.
It also produces tiny greenish-white flowers, as well as small, white cylindrical fruits that are edible and that reportedly have a soft texture and sweet taste.
In fact, the mistletoe cactus got its name from its little creamy-white fruits, which look a lot like the mistletoe berries.
Flowers and fruits only appear once your plant is more mature.
A Quick Care Guide
Here’s a quick guide to mistletoe cactus care:
- Soil: Use rich, slightly acidic, and well-draining potting mixture.
- Water: Water when the soil’s surface is dry to the touch. Keep the soil lightly moist during the growing season, and reduce watering during its dormant phase in the winter.
- Light: The mistletoe cactus needs bright, indirect light.
- Temperature: Keep temperatures at 16°C to 27°C (60°F to 80°F).
- Humidity: The mistletoe cactus needs moderate to high humidity.
- Fertilizer: Apply water-soluble fertilizer once a month during the growing season.
- Propagation: Quick propagation is through stem cutting during the growing season.
- Pruning: Prune only when necessary and to remove dead foliage and maintain a manageable size.
- Repotting: Repot only every few years to accommodate growth and refresh the soil.
- Toxicity: The mistletoe is not to humans and animals.
A mistletoe cactus is easy to care for, and it does not require too much from you. It simply needs favorable conditions, like airy, rich, and well-draining soil, moisture, humidity, the ideal temperature, and bright, indirect light. As long as you provide these things, you get a plant that shamelessly gives you lovely little blooms throughout the year, and bears your fruits, too. Needless to say, this plant would make your house look a lot brighter and more beautiful.
- Gardening Know-How: Types Of Epiphytes – What Is An Epiphyte Plant And Adaptations Of Epiphytes
- Smart Garden Guide: Rhipsalis Care – How To Grow Mistletoe Cactus
- NYBG: Mistletoe cactus and coral cactus (Rhipsalis)
- Plantify: Mistletoe Cactus Care Instructions
- Guide to Houseplants: Mistletoe Cactus
- World of Succulents: Rhipsalis baccifera (Mistletoe Cactus)
- Greenery Unlimited: Rhipsalis Care
- Plant Life: Dormancy