For People Who Want to Know More About Rhipsalis

Rhipsalis is a group of succulent, trailing plants that grow in the cracks and crevices of trees and rocky areas in and near rainforests.

These plants make lovely, unique houseplants that are relatively low maintenance and super rewarding.

Rhipsalis are true cacti, despite looking totally different from the spiny, desert plants we first think of when discussing cactus.

Today we will take a deeper look at the genus Rhipsalis while learning how to grow these plants and exploring the vast variety of interesting (and sometimes bizarre) growth forms within the Rhipsalis genus.

If you like other jungle cactus, hoyas, or hanging and trailing succulents, you might just love Rhipsalis!

Table of Contents

Where are Rhipsalis found in the wild?

The Rhipsalis genus contains about 40 species and features many physical characteristics and growth habits.

This group of plants is commonly referred to as Mistletoe cactus because some species bear a slight resemblance to mistletoe.

Other species look kind of like hanging spaghetti or ropes that occasionally branch. There are also species that look like chains and sport thicker stems. Still others look very similar to orchid cacti or holiday cacti with flattened segments.

Here’s one of the spaghetti-like varieties hanging from a tree in Brazil:

Rhipsalis in tree
Rhipsalis hanging from a tree in Brazil, Photo by Diego Monsores, iNaturalist, Source

Rhipsalis are considered epiphytic or epilithic, meaning that they can be found growing on trees or rocks, their roots clinging in a crevice mostly exposed.

They grow in tropical areas where humidity is high and rain is frequent. This allows the plant to get frequently watered as rain washes over its mostly exposed roots.

Below is a photo of a different type of Rhipsalis sporting flattened segments, hanging from a tree. The segments that make up these plants are called phylloclades as these segments are modified stems that photosynthesize like leaves and store water to survive some dryness.

The typical flattened photosynthetic organ of a vascular plant is the leaf, but some plant groups instead have flattened green stems (Fig 1.) as the chief photosynthetic organs. These are called either cladodes (Fig. 2) or phylloclades (“leaf-like branches”). […]

Flattened green stems also appear in more than a dozen genera of cactus epiphytes and hemiepiphytes.

Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, UCLA, Source
Rhipsalis with flattened stems
Rhipsalis russellii with flattened cladodes in Brazil, Photo by: geffc, iNaturalist, Source

Rhipsalis develop flowers along the stem that turn into little berries. You can see some of these berries on the plant in the photo above.

Rhipsalis flowers and berries are found in a variety of colors, the most common (it seems to me at least) to be white, yellow, or pink.

Many sources say the berries of Rhipsalis are edible and delightfully sweet, but I haven’t tested this one myself! Please do your own research if you decide to give them a try. 🙂

The vast majority of Rhipsalis species are found in South America, specifically Brasil. You can find some growing in Central America as well, though not nearly as prolifically or diverse.

Strangely, there is also one species (Rhipsalis baccifera) that is native to Africa, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka, very far from the Rhipsalis epicenter in South America.

Rhipsalis floccosa with blooms
Rhipsalis floccosa with blooms, Photo by: Micael De Bona, iNaturalist, Source
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How to care for Rhipsalis as a houseplant

Rhipsalis Care Summary

In-depth care is below this chart

Humidity:Prefers high humidity, but can often do fine in normal household levels
Light:Bright indirect light
Pot:Any pot with a drainage hole
Potting Mix:A well-draining mix
Water:Water when nearly dry
Fertilizer:Fertilize at a diluted strength at least once in the growing season

Temperature and Humidity

Because Rhipsalis grow in the tropical jungles of South America, they are used to receiving lots of warmth and humidity.

Having said that, I am not amending my humidity for them in any way and am still able to grow these plants successfully. I have no doubt, however, that they would be growing faster if they received more humidity and heat.

Light Preference

Rhipsalis are used to receiving dappled light through the tree canopies of the forest, which means they get lots of light throughout the day that is indirect.

I grow my Rhipsalis in front of East- and West-facing windows with open blinds decreasing the light a little as tree branches would.

A couple of my Rhipsalis are pulled several feet back from very large East-facing windows and are growing successfully. If the window wasn’t so large and letting in so much light, I would expect the plants to not do as well unless moved closer to the window.

Potting Mix and Planter Preference

Rhipsalis do well in chunky mixes that provide lots of air around the roots. I personally use a 3 part mix that includes equal parts orchid bark, pumice/perlite, and standard potting mix.

It is super important to ensure that Rhipsalis roots do not sit in excess water. They aren’t accustomed to being wet for long since their roots are typically exposed while clinging to a tree or rock surface.

To help prevent excess moisture around the roots, use a planter with drainage holes.

I grow almost all of my Rhipsalis in plastic pots so it doesn’t dry out too quickly on me. However I do have R. pentaptera and R. paradoxa in terracotta.

When does Rhipsalis need to be watered?

Rhipsalis like to have a little moisture at all times but never be wet for long. I would recommend watering them when they are almost dry.

They will also be okay if allowed to dry out completely, but may not grow as well and may experience some dieback if left dry for long.

The more succulent and fleshy the plant is, the more it can tolerate drier conditions and the more rot prone it is.

How to Fertilize Rhipsalis

Rhipsalis can be fed lightly during the growing season.

Fertilizing once or twice throughout the growing season is sufficient.

An organic cactus fertilizer would work well.

Rhipsalis and ID Frustration for Houseplant Lovers

Rhipsalis are often sold with labels such as “assorted succulents” or “assorted Rhipsalis.” This can make it very difficult to identify the species you find and it also creates a lot of confusion for sellers too.

How can you identify a plant? The best way is to wait until it flowers and then post the photo in an online forum where knowledgeable folks can tell you for sure which plant’s flower it is.

You can also try to compare photos of the plant with online resources, but not all of them are accurate because there is some confusion out there AND there are many plants in this genus that look very similar.

Having said all that, if you are like me and it bothers you when you don’t know the exact plant you own, I feel you. The good news, though, is that it is still a beautiful plant regardless of the label!

Rhipsalis paradoxa

Rhipsalis paradoxa is a gorgeous, very succulent species that features a chain-like appearance. It is a relatively slow grower, in my experience.

I have R. paradoxa growing in both an East window and a West window. The West window plant seems to be growing faster, which I’m sure is a testament to higher light levels there. The East window plant has grown, just not as much or as quickly.

I have rotted this plant by accident before. I think I let it dry out too much for too long causing some of the roots to die back and then rot when introduced to water again. I lost a couple of the stems in the pot when this happened, but was able to save the rest!

Rhipsalis campos portoana

Rhipsalis campos portoana has very thin stems in a lighter green color. The effect, with a full pot, is very much like a full head of hair.

I have this one growing near an East facing window. It dries out much faster than the more succulent varieties, so I try to check this one more frequently. The stems will begin to die back if left dry for long.

Rhipsalis pilocarpa

Rhipsalis pilocarpa is a gorgeous species featuring tiny tufts of white hair all along the stems. This gives R. pilocarpa a snowy appearance, which makes it stand out among many of the other common Rhipsalis.

Rhipsalis baccifera

Rhipsalis baccifera has a similar stem thickness to pilocarpa. Unlike pilocarpa, however, its stems are a bright, glossy green without any tufts of hair.

Rhipsalis pittieri

Rhipsalis pittieri has much thicker stems with a more matte appearance than R. baccifera. These two differences give R. pittieri a prehistoric look that I really love!

Rhipsalis pentaptera

Rhipsalis pentaptera is a really odd-looking plant that some people think looks like licorice. It features a five-pointed star-like shape to the stem in rich green color with a very succulent nature.

I grow this one in a West window in terracotta because it seemed to stay too wet in plastic and I wanted to make sure it was receiving ample light. This is one of my absolute favorites.

Rhipsalis septentrionalis – Dwarf Paradoxa

As the name implies, R. septentrionalis looks like a thinner stemmed and smaller segmented version of Rhipsalis paradoxa.

It doesn’t seem to branch as freely as R. paradoxa and isn’t as succulent.

Rhipsalis neves-armondii

This one is obviously a tiny little guy and a newer plant to my collection. However, there is something very pleasing to me about the minimalist nature of the plant and I am excited to see what it looks like in time.

Rhipsalis cribrata

Rhipsalis cribrata reminds me a lot of campos portoana. I find the structure very pleasing to the eye and you can see how the plant grows in a messy, but aesthetically beautiful manner.

Rhipsalis pachyptera

I just love the glossy, thick segments of this Rhipsalis. It looks very different than the other varieties we’ve covered in my collection and I love that it is such a departure from the rest.

Having said that, there are several varieties that are closer in appearance to this one. I just don’t have them in my collection currently. 🙂

Do you like Rhipsalis? What plant is your favorite?

Happy Growing!

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