If you’ve been looking for a houseplant that’s a little different, Rhipsalis pilocarpa is well worth checking out.
This hanging cactus not only looks fantastic, but it’s also a piece of cake to grow at home.
In this guide, our gardening experts describe the ideal growing conditions, discuss Rhipsalis pilocarpa propagation, and troubleshoot some common issues. Let’s find out more.
What Is Rhipsalis Pilocarpa?
Rhipsalis pilocarpa is a tropical epiphyte from the cactus family, endemic to Brazil. It belongs to the Rhipsalis genus, a group of 35 species of succulents commonly known under the name of mistletoe cacti.
This hanging cactus produces long, cylindrical stems, which can grow up to 20 inches (50 cm) in size and branch out as the plant matures.
The stems are grayish-green and covered in fine, white hairs, giving them the appearance of spidery tendrils. Each stem has several small bumps called areoles, from which the flowers emerge.
Rhipsalis pilocarpa flowers are small, usually white or peach-colored, and have a mild, pleasant fragrance. This plant usually blooms in mid-autumn and early winter.
After the flowers wilt, they will produce small pink or red berries, which are also covered in fine bristles. In fact, it’s the shape of the stems and fruit that give this plant the name of hairy-fruited wickerware cactus.
Easy to care for, Rhipsalis pilocarpa can add a touch of exotic fuzz to any corner of your home. We recommend growing it in a hanging basket paired with a macrame hanger, where the plant’s unique stems, flowers, and berries can be admired in all their glory.
Is Rhipsalis Pilocarpa Toxic?
Yes. Rhipsalis pilocarpa stems contain calcium oxalate crystals. If they’re eaten, they can cause nausea, difficulty breathing and swallowing, and painful mouth and throat irritations. Make sure to keep this plant out of reach of pets and children.
Rhipsalis Pilocarpa Care Guide
Rhipsalis pilocarpa grows best in partial shade. This plant is an epiphyte, using its roots to attach itself to trees, but then it develops a hanging growth habit.
Unlike other epiphytic species, such as philodendrons, it doesn’t use its roots to climb in search of more sun and is happy with the low amount of light coming through the canopy.
If you have a room with northern or northeastern exposure, it will be perfect for your Rhipsalis pilocarpa. A room that’s facing east or west is also fine, but make sure the plant is at least 3 feet (90 cm) away from the window.
Any amount of direct sun will scorch the stems. If you notice that the stems are turning pink, that indicates sun stress, and although they look pretty, they’re essentially telling you that your rhipsalis is struggling.
This Brazilian cactus prefers growing in slightly cooler temperatures compared to other succulents. The ideal temperature range for Rhipsalis pilocarpa is between 64 and 75 F (18 to 24 C), which is what most homes fall under.
Avoid exposing it to temperatures below 41 F (5 C), as this can permanently damage the stems. If you plan to grow it outdoors in your garden, you can do so in USDA zones 9 to 10.
Providing your Rhipsalis pilocarpa with the right temperature is also important if you want it to bloom. To encourage flowering, we recommend keeping it in a cool room throughout winter and making sure that temperatures don’t exceed 50 F (10 C) during the night.
Even though Rhipsalis pilocarpa is a tropical plant, it doesn’t need high humidity to grow. The average home humidity, which is around 30 to 40 percent, is perfect for this succulent.
The thin hairs on the stems prevent the plant from losing moisture too quickly, which means you don’t have to worry about misting it or placing it on a pebble tray.
Rhipsalis pilocarpa needs to be watered regularly. Although it can store water in its succulent stems, this plant is not drought tolerant and should never be allowed to go completely dry.
On the other hand, giving it too much water can result in root rot, so finding the right watering schedule can be a bit of a balancing act.
We recommend watering your Rhipsalis pilocarpa when the top 2 inches (5 cm) of the soil feel dry to the touch. Then, simply give the plant a deep soak until you see water pouring through the drainage holes.
On average, you will need to water it once every 7 to 10 days during the growing season and once every 10 to 14 days in winter.
Plant your Rhipsalis pilocarpa in a potting mix that is very well-draining, aerated, and with a chunky consistency. The plant’s shallow root system is very susceptible to rot, so make sure that it’s never allowed to sit in water.
As tempting as it is, we don’t recommend potting this plant in cactus soil. Rhipsalis is a tropical epiphyte, and most cacti mixes you’ll find are designed for species that grow in the desert.
Creating the ideal potting soil for Rhipsalis pilocarpa is surprisingly easy, which is why we encourage you to make your own. A great combo you can try is mixing equal parts peat moss, perlite, and orchid bark.
This blend of organic and inorganic potting media will ensure the much-needed drainage, as well as keeping the roots aerated.
Rhipsalis pilocarpa is a light feeder. Throughout the growing season, you can use a liquid fertilizer once a month, then cut back on additional feeding in winter. A cacti fertilizer with a nutrient ratio of 1-2-2, diluted to half strength, is perfect for the job.
Pruning and Maintenance
You don’t need to worry about pruning Rhipsalis pilocarpa too often. If some of the stems get a bit too long, you can simply trim them to size, preferably in spring. Always use a sharp, sterilized blade for pruning to prevent the spread of pathogens from one plant to the other.
Repotting Rhipsalis Pilocarpa
Rhipsalis pilocarpa has a slow growth rate and only needs to be repotted once every three to four years. Even though the stems can grow up to 20 inches (50 cm) long, the roots remain small and shallow. If you notice that they start coming out of the drainage hole, then it’s time to move the plant to a container that’s one size larger.
The best time to repot Rhipsalis pilocarpa is in spring, as the plant enters its growing season. Gently remove the plant from its container, and avoid disturbing the roots too much to minimize the chance of transplant shock.
What type of container should you use for Rhipsalis pilocarpa? We recommend a terracotta pot. This material is porous, allowing air circulation to the roots and also wicking out the excess moisture from the soil.
Avoid planting your Rhipsalis in a container that’s too big. Large pots hold a lot more soil than the roots need, and the excess soil will also hold on to the water for longer. And when you’re dealing with a delicate root system like the one Rhipsalis has, that will cause health problems later on.
Rhipsalis Pilocarpa Propagation Guide
You can propagate Rhipsalis pilocarpa using either stem cuttings or seeds. Let’s take a closer look at each method.
– Rhipsalis Pilocarpa Stem Propagation
- Use a sharp, sterilized blade to cut a few side stems from where they connect to the main stem. If you can find stems with thin, aerial roots, even better — your propagation is already halfway done!
- Keep the stem cuttings in a dry, well-ventilated room for a few days until they develop a callus at the bottom. Avoid exposing them to direct sunlight, as they will dry out very quickly.
- Fill a small, wide container with a well-draining potting mix, and use a spray pump to moisten it.
- Place the cuttings upright in the potting mix to a depth of about half an inch.
- Keep the soil lightly moist by misting it regularly.
- Rhipsalis cuttings root very fast, and the shallow root system should take less than a month to develop. After that period has passed, you can care for your new plants as usual.
– Rhipsalis Pilocarpa Seed Propagation
Seed propagation is slower than using stem cuttings, yet it’s worth giving it a shot if you have a Rhipsalis pilocarpa that has developed fruit. Here’s what you need to do.
- Cut the fruit from the plant using a sharp, sterilized blade.
- Take the seeds out of the fruit, removing as much of the pulp as you can. You can use your fingers to pop the fruit and spread the seeds on a sheet of paper towel to wipe off the sticky pulp. Each fruit can produce around a dozen small, black seeds.
- Leave the seeds on the paper towel until they feel dry and not sticky to the touch.
- Fill a shallow propagation tray with a well-draining potting mix, and sprinkle the seeds on top.
- Use a spray pump to gently moisten the soil. We also recommend covering the propagation tray with clear plastic wrap to help retain moisture and help the seeds germinate faster.
- Rhipsalis pilocarpa seeds germinate at a temperature of around 59 to 68 F (15 to 20 C), so you don’t need to worry about providing them with too much warmth.
The seedlings should make an appearance after two to three weeks. Keep them in the propagation tray until they are at last an inch tall. Once they get to that height, you can gently take them out and transplant them into individual pots.
Common Pests and Problems
Rhipsalis pilocarpa is a hardy, resilient, and virtually pest-free plant. However, it can suffer if it’s provided with incorrect water and light levels. Here are a few signs that your plant is unhappy in its current growing conditions.
– Pink, Discolored Stems
This is a sign of sun stress. The stems will gradually start drying and falling off. Keep your Rhipsalis pilocarpa in partial shade to prevent permanent damage to the delicate stems.
– Soft, Yellowing Stems
Your Rhipsalis pilocarpa is most likely overwatered and could even be at risk of developing root rot. Allow the top two inches of the soil to dry out before watering it again. If the soil is soaked, it might be worth repotting the plant into a substrate that drains better.
– Shriveled, Drooping Stems
The stems of Rhipsalis pilocarpa will start to shrivel up and droop when the plant is thirsty. This succulent is not drought tolerant, so remember to water it regularly when the top two inches of the soil feel dry to the touch.
– Bits of Stem Falling Off
This could be a sign of either too much or too little water. However, the fact that your Rhipsalis is dropping bits of the stem may not always indicate a problem.
In the wild, the plant uses this method to self-propagate vegetatively, and the stems that fall off will simply grow roots. So if your Rhipsalis pilocarpa is otherwise healthy, don’t worry about it shedding some stems. In fact, why not use them to propagate the plant?
If you’re looking for a succulent that combines low maintenance, pest resistance, and the cutest, fuzziest look, then Rhipsalis pilocarpa is the plant you didn’t know you needed. Let’s do a quick recap of why this cactus ticks all the right boxes for us.
- Rhipsalis pilocarpa is a trailing succulent with long, fuzzy stems and is best grown in hanging baskets.
- From mid-autumn until early winter, it produces small, white flowers and pink berries.
- To keep it healthy, use a very well-draining potting mix, and avoid direct sun exposure.
- This plant is easy to propagate through both seeds and stem cuttings.
- Rhipsalis pilocarpa stems contain toxic calcium oxalate crystals, so keep this plant away from pets and kids.
Now that you know how to make the amazing Rhipsalis pilocarpa happy, all you have to do is get your hands on one!
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