A Stress-Free Guide to Rhipsalis Plant Care

About Rhipsalis


Rhipsalis is a genus of jungle cacti. This special category of cacti doesn’t look much like the classic spiky orb or cylinder, but tends to be much thinner. A lot of them (like Epiphyllum, particularly the popular fishbone cactus) actually have leaves, and few have serious spikes.

Rhipsalis is characterized by its hanging nature. A multitude of segmented stems (the exact appearance of which depends on the species; we’ll get into that below) spills downward and can grow incredibly long. It’s the perfect species for a hanging planter—especially if you expose your plant to a bit of direct sun, which causes the leaves to take on a lovely reddish to orange stress coloring.

Although this cactus doesn’t flower quite as lavishly as some others in the Cactaceae family, the abundance of little white to yellowish blooms it produces are still a lovely bonus. There’s one species with red flowers, called Rhipsalis hoelleri, a relatively rare variety.

Natural habitat

The members of the genus Rhipsalis are naturally found in Central America, parts of South America and some of the Caribbean. Here, they grow in (sub)tropical rainforests in an epiphytic manner (not unlike Schlumbergera x buckleyi, another jungle cactus, or Hoya kerrii, a succulent-like vine), using trees as support rather than rooting in the soil.

Combine that with the typical berries and it’s not surprising the genus received the common name of “mistletoe cactus”!

Interestingly, Rhipsalis species have also been found in some countries in Africa and Asia. This is quite unsual given that cacti don’t naturally exist outside of the Americas!

It has been theorized that maybe the seeds were spread by migratory birds, although some authors think that human activity is probably a more likely culprit. Or maybe some seeds just floated across the ocean, something that does happen sometimes?

Whatever brought them east, once they were in, their hardy nature made it easy for Rhipsalis cacti to establish themselves in their new home. Rhipsalis baccifera is the most common example of a traveling cactus: It can be found throughout much of the Americas, central to southern Africa, Madagascar and even Sri Lanka.

Rhipsalis varieties

When it comes to Rhipsalis cacti, there are enough varieties to keep you busy collecting for a very, very long time. Consider that there are currently 35 recognized species spread across three subgenera (Rhipsalis, Calamorhipsalis, and Erythrorhipsalis). Many of these, in turn, have subspecies.

And then there are all the cultivars and hybrids created by nurseries through selective cultivation and crossing different species… you get my drift.

Here’s a long (though by no means exhaustive) list of the types of Rhipsalis found in the houseplant hobby (some rarer than others):

  • Rhipsalis baccifera: By far the most common of the genus when it comes to houseplants, this one is “the” mistletoe cactus. It has stringy, long stems. The ‘Horrida’ subspecies is fuzzy and thick-stemmed.
  • Rhipsalis cereuscula: A more compact species with shorter stems, which can produce pretty white flowers. 
  • Rhipsalis paradoxa: With its thicker, segmented stems, this Rhipsalis is almost reminiscent of a Christmas cactus. 
  • Rhipsalis pilocarpa: Hairy Rhipsalis alert! This one is known for its pretty white blooms and small, bright pink fruits.
  • Rhipsalis burchellii: Another typical many-stemmed Rhipsalis, the tips of R. burchellii turn a bright pinkish-red when exposed to a lot of light.
  • Rhipsalis capilliformis: Weeping, thin stems that can grow incredibly dense and long. 
  • Rhipsalis ewaldiana: This one has thicker, angled stems. A hairy version exists!
  • Rhipsalis elliptica: Are we looking at an Epiphyllum oxypetalum cactus here? Nope, just another Rhipsalis. The difference is in the flowers, which are tiny and white on this broad, flat-leaved species.
  • Rhipsalis micrantha: This Rhipsalis has several subspecies. The leaves can be thin and angled or ticker with scalloped edges. 
  • Rhipsalis pachyptera: Easily confused with R. elliptica, R. pachyptera has scallop-edged segmented leaves that turn a pretty dark red in the sun. 
  • Rhipsalis clavata: Another typical thinner-stemmed Rhipsalis, this one’s quite similar in looks to R. baccifera.
  • Rhipsalis cereoides: Thicker, angled and segmented stems.
  • Rhipsalis mesembryanthemoides: Try saying that three times fast! This one produces a multitude of compact little leaf segments on longer main stems. 
  • Rhipsalis pentaptera: Stiff, elongated leaf segments. The Latin name refers to the fact that it usually has five (penta) leaf ribs. 
  • Rhipsalis agudoensis: One of my favorites in the genus, this one has scalloped, thick leaf segments. The foliage can be flat, although the leaves closer to the base usually have three ribs.
  • Rhipsalis crispata: Another specimen with flat, broad leaf segments that are nicely scalloped at the edges. 
  • Rhipsalis oblonga: Pretty similar to the aforementioned R. crispata, but the leaves are a little longer. Turns a nice orange in the sun. 
  • Rhipsalis sulcata: Medium thickness (for a Rhipsalis), angled leaves. Plants can become quite full, which makes for a pretty decorative look. 
  • Rhipsalis teres: Another species that’s quite similar to R. baccifera, with lots of thin, weeping stems.
  • Rhipsalis campos-portoana: Typical Rhipsalis with many fine, extensively branched stems and small, white flowers.
  • Rhipsalis hoelleri: As mentioned, this Rhipsalis is the only one in its genus that produces red flowers. It sports long stems that don’t tend to have as many side branches as those of most other Rhipsalis species.
  • Rhipsalis neves-armondii: Although this species produces regular white flowers, the berries that pop up afterward are a bright pink in color.
  • Rhipsalis rhombea: Also known as the copper branch, this is one of the more leafy Rhipsalis species. Its foliage can indeed take on a nice reddish color in the sun. 
  • Rhipsalis trigona: A relatively thick-stemmed Rhipsalis known for its pretty, bright pink berries. 
  • Rhipsalis floccosa: Pretty standard-looking for the genus, this one has thin stems that hang downward and can grow very long.
  • Rhipsalis grandiflora: Unlike what the name suggests, this uncommon Rhipsalis produces the same small white flowers that most of its cousins do. It has relatively stiff stems that make for a wild look.
  • Rhipsalis puniceodiscus: This one grows slightly larger blooms than is usual for a Rhipsalis, and its flowers have a slight pink tinge to them.
  • Rhipsalis occidentalis: Another beautiful leafy species that can grow very large and full. It blooms extremely abundantly.

Caring for Rhipsalis

Light and temperature

Unlike desert cacti, which naturally tend to grow in areas without much in the way of tree cover and have evolved to love full sun as a result, Rhipsalis calls the forest its home.

Water and humidity

Jungle cacti like this one like a little more water than their desert counterparts, but that doesn’t mean they appreciate constantly wet feet. I can’t give you an exact watering schedule because a lot of it depends on factors like light and temperature, but here are some basic indications:

  • During the warm summer growing months, you can water your Rhipsalis once the top inch or two of the soil has gone dry. 
  • In winter, it’s best to let the soil dry halfway or more before giving your plant another drink. 

This plant isn’t overly fussy about humidity, although it does grow better if the air moisture level is 50 percent or more. 

Soil and planting

Because Rhipsalis doesn’t deal well with being in constantly wet soil, it’s important to choose a well-draining medium. It doesn’t have to be quite as gritty as soil for desert cacti (which sometimes consists of only grit and no potting soil at all), but adding a handful of perlite and/or orchid bark really helps to prevent accidental overwatering.


Rhipsalis cacti aren’t heavy feeders. However, if yours is happily chugging along and growing well, and if it’s been a while since you last repotted it, you could consider applying a diluted liquid houseplant fertilizer on a monthly basis. 

As always, don’t use fertilizer during winter or in an attempt to revive a dying plant. Unfortunately this only makes things worse!

Dividing or repotting

If your Rhipsalis is starting to outgrow its planter, you’ve got two options. Either you repot the whole thing, or you split the plant and place part of it in a different planter.