Rhipsalis - Hatiora/Mistletoe Cacti


Rhipsalis baccifera

Top Tips

  • Water once the few inches of the soil dries out, reducing this further in the autumn and winter.
  • For those that have a heavy-foliaged base (pictured above), water using the bottom-up method of submersion. Rehydrate the soil once the pot begins to feel light again.
  • Provide a humid location. Introduce a humidity/pebble tray to keep the surrounding moisture high during the winter to avoid dry air. The use of artificial humidity is not needed in the summer.
  • Provide a bright location. Avoid more than two hours of direct sunlight, as well as away from excessively dark settings.
  • Supplement with houseplant feed or a general plant fertiliser, at monthly intervals.
  • Regularly check for pests, most notably Mealybugs.
  • Keep the ambient temperature above 10℃  (50℉)  throughout the year, especially if placed outdoors in the summer.
  • Repot every three years using a Cactus & Succulent potting mix.

•Water - πŸ”ΈπŸ”Έ

The rule of thumb with Rhipsalis is to allow the top third of the soil dry out in between irrigations - if the pot feels light when lifted, it's time for another water. Reduce this further during winter to replicate their dormancy period. Instead of pouring water directly through the foliage, irrigate using the bottom-up method by placing the pot on a saucer of water (25% of the pot submerged) until thorough absorption. Saturating the foliage every time you come to hydrate the plant will allow excess moisture to settle, causing the leaves to yellow and rot away. If this has happened, take vine cuttings to root in water, before placing back into the soil to promote a bushier appearance. Under-watering symptoms include little to no new growth, a much-needed transplant, and drying leaves - remember, although they're in the cactus family, they originate in tropical locations meaning soil moisture and humidity should be generous. Over-watering symptoms include yellowing leaves that soon drop off, no or little growth and root rot. These are common with too much soil moisture, an improper soil medium or too low light.


•Humidity - πŸ”ΈπŸ”ΈπŸ”Έ

High humidity should be at the forefront of cultivation. A weekly mist, or introducing a humidity/pebble tray will help replicate its natural habitat in the Brazilian forests. Botrytis petal blight and southern blight are caused when excess moisture (from misting or messy irrigations) is allowed to settle in the cubbyholes of the flowers or stem.


•Location & Light - πŸ”ΈπŸ”Έ

Bright, indirect light is favourable; however a darker location won’t do too much harm. A position that offers more than two hours of strong direct light must be kept off the cards, due to their susceptibility to sun-scorch. A location within three metres of a north, east or west-facing window, or below a skylight window are the ideal areas.


•Fertilisation - πŸ”ΈπŸ”Έ

Supplement monthly using a houseplant fertiliser. Potassium-based feeds may be used during the blooming process in the spring months to promote longer lasting flowers.




Common Issues with Rhipsalis

Root rot is a big issue; typical symptoms include yellowing lower leaves, stunted or softened growth often accompanied by vine collapse. Take the plant out of the pot and inspect its root systems. Yellow roots symbolise good health, however, if it's brown and mushy with the soil being quite soggy, action must be taken immediately. More information about addressing root rot can be found on this link.

Yellowing leaves or a naked base are products of excess moisture being allowed to sit on the foliage, commonly sped up by too little light or poor air circulation. Although watering from the top is best, it's recommended to use the bottom-up method if you're a messy waterer. For specimens that have a bare head, improve growing contains by using this method and increasing light levels slightly. Promote a bushier appearance by taking vine cuttings and placing them halfway down into the soil. Immediately remove yellowed or rotten debris as this will harbour both bacterial and fungal diseases that can both spread across to other sections of the plant.

Failed leaf or stem cuttings are a common issue among amateur gardeners, with damaged wounds or too small vines being the usual culprits. Although propagating all tropical cacti is relatively easy, people still find it hard to ace. Not only will the size of the vine dictate its success, damaging the leaves or vine can also hurt the chances of it rooting. For more information about how to take vines, scroll to the 'Propagation' section of this article.

Too much sunlight will cause a red tinge to the foliage. Although Rhipsalis are best grown in locations offering bright light, prolonged periods of intense rays cannot be tolerated. Although the new growth will develop into its original green texture, sunburnt leaves will remain red or yellow for the rest of its functioning life.

A lack of flowers is caused by a insufficient dormancy period, served in the winter months. Locations that offer near-similar temperatures all year round won't allow the plant to go dormant, resulting in poor spring growth. To achieve, situate in a location that dips to around 12°C  (54°F) with fewer waters. Allow the majority of the compost to dry out, and provide a humidity tray while the radiators are operating.

Always use lukewarm water, and if you choose to use tap water, allow it to stand for at least 24hrs before application. Tropical cacti tend to be quite sensitive to temperature change, so pouring cold tap water immediately into the pot will not only ionise your roots but could even cause yellow edges, sudden flower loss and stunted growth.


Rhipsalis trigona
Promoting Annual Blooms

Established specimens (2yrs +) will easily bloom during the spring if its previous dormancy period has been served well in the winter. As ukhouseplants been challenged many times on this subject, we've created an acronym to help you through this process - SHORT. The combination of drying soil, cooler temperatures and dark nights will contribute to better flowers in the following season. Repotting isn't mandatory, but instead might hurt the chances because of transplant shock and stress. The following steps must be taken from autumn to winter, to provide the best possible dormancy period.


Sunlight

Provide a bright location with a splash of winter sun. Darker settings will significantly reduce the chance of flowers.

Hydration

Reduce watering so that the soil almost becomes, for the prevention of root rot and to replicate its dormancy period.

Occasional Feeds

One or two feeds using Cactus & Succulent Fertiliser is all that is needed for supplementation over this period, as too nutritious soil will reduce the chance of blooms in the spring.

Reduce Everything

This one is a reminder to reduce everything - especially the temperature.

Temperature

Reduce the temperature by around 5℃ or place in a room which is within 15℃ - 18℃  (59 - 65℉).  As most houseplants are sensitive to temperature change, we can't empathise how important this is to replicate their dormancy period. If all of the steps are fulfilled, an established specimen could produce beautiful clusters of flowers in the spring, lasting several weeks.

Time of YearCare Requirements

January & Early FebruaryResting/Dormancy Period. Reduce irrigations and fertilisation.
Late FebruaryEnd of Resting/Dormancy Period. Increase waters and feed using a nitrogen-based fertiliser at monthly intervals.
MarchPre-Flowering Period. Use a potassium-based feed fortnightly during this period. Water once the top their of the soil dries out.
AprilFlowering Period. Maintain moist soil and fortnightly potassium-based feeds.
MayEnd of the Flowering Period. Gradually decrease both water and fertiliser intake in the soil. Remove spent flowers as they wilt.
June - AugustWater once the top third of the soil dries out. Supplement using houseplant feed or a general plant fertiliser, at monthly intervals.
September - December Resting/Dormancy Period. Reduce irrigations and fertilisation.


An Absence of Flowers

If yours hasn’t flowered during the spring, it's most likely due to incorrect care and its environment throughout the year. During the winter, reduce irrigations so that the soil almost dries out, along with reducing the temperature a few degrees. Provide an area that has at least twelve hours of complete darkness, with an absence of artificial light during the night. The buds may start to drop off if it endures persistent droughts or has been relocated in another room. The table above shows a basic timetable in which you can follow to significantly increase the chance of flowers during the spring.




Origins

Rhipsalis consists of thirty-five species that originate from tropical or subtropical locations around central America, and in isolated parts of Western Africa. They can either grow on trees (epiphytic), on rocks (lithophytic) or rarely on the ground (terrestrial). The genus was first formally described back in 1788 by Joseph Gaertner (hybridiser of the Easter Cactus) who initially classified it as part of the Cassytha. The scientific name, Rhipsalis, comes from the Greek word for 'wickerwork', referring to its morphology.


Temperature

10°C - 26°C   (50° - 78°F)
H1b - can be grown outdoors in summer in a sheltered location, but is fine to remain indoors. If you decide to bring the plant outdoors, do not allow it to endure more than an hour of direct sunlight a day as this will burn the leaves. Regularly keep an eye out for pests, most notably aphids and mealybugs.


Spread

Up to 2m in length with its width solely relying on diameter of the pot that it's in. The ultimate height will take between 5 - 8 years to achieve, but can live over twenty-five years or more in the right care.

Pruning

Remove yellowed or dying leaves and plant debris to encourage better growth and improve the all-round appearance. Vine cuttings can be taken to halve the vine-length of the specimen, as well as doubling your stock.


Propagation

Via seed or leaf/stem cuttings. To learn about the essentials with sowing seeds, be sure to click on this link - Seed Propagation Tips.

Some successfully rooted Rhipsalis baccifera among other tropical cacti cuttings, such as the Fishbone Cactus and R. trigona (not pictured).
Soil Propagation of Leaf Cuttings

  1. Choose which leaves to use. The ideal candidates are those that show no sign of damage, pests or diseases, and have small wires roots already-attached. Cuttings that don't have any roots will still root, but it may take a little longer for its propagation.
  2. Delicately prune the whole leaf off from the plant, making sure the cutting has at least an inch or two of stem.
  3. Prepare the pot and soil. Choosing a free-draining potting mix, for example, Cactus & Succulent Compost, provides a nice balance of moisture-retention and well-drainingness. Of course, most soils are acceptable (Houseplant or Multi-purpose compost), but try to add some extra ingredients like grit, sand and perlite to help loosen it up. If you've got any shallow and wide pots, for example a Bonsai pot, this is the time to use it. Propagating tropical cactus cuttings won't require deep soil, so try and avoid pots that are too big. Terracotta and plastic pots are both acceptable in this instance.
  4. Place the cuttings ON TOP of the moist soil. Allowing both the plant and it's wound to callous over (dry up) will kick-start the rooting process, along with the prevention of rot. Keep the cuttings on top of moist soil for a week, misting the soil and foliage on opposite days.
  5. Provide a bright, indirect location with temperatures above 18°C  (64°F) throughout this period.
  6. Then, place the cuttings into soil, submerging the bottom third. Make sure you don't set it too deeply into the soil, as this may lead to 'Blackleg' (the rotting of its base).
  7. Do NOT pat down the surrounding soil to aid support. The ideal soil conditions need to be fluffy and oxygenated, so compacting the soil will result in the suffocation of roots that'll lead to root rot. If support is needed, use a small stick or cane, but be sure NOT to condense it.
  8. Aftercare - Maintain evenly moist soil, allowing the top third to dry out in between waters. The ideal location would be in a warm, humid room within a few metres of a window, but out of direct light. After another month or two of being in the soil, treat it like a normal houseplant.


Flowers

Rhipsalis will flower each spring with small rosette-shaped blooms, that sport either red, yellow, pink or white appearances. Each flower will take several weeks to develop, lasting up to two weeks whilst open.


Repotting 

Repot every three years using Cactus & Succulent Compost and a larger pot, during the spring. This is an excellent time to check the roots' condition, as well as division. As all tropical cacti are prone to root rot, have a look around the bottom half of the root ball for any brown or broken down roots. If this is the case, remove the affected areas with clean utensils and ease off with the irritations. Click on this link to learn about how to perform the perfect transplant.


Diseases & Pests

Typical diseases associated with Rhipsalis are root or leaf rot, leaf-spot disease & powdery mildew. Keep an eye out for scale, aphids, spider mite, mealybugs & vine weevils. For more information on how to address any of these issues, click on this link.  Identifying Common Houseplant Pests & Diseases


Toxicity

This genus is classified as non-poisonous. If large quantities of the plant are eaten, vomiting, nausea and a loss of appetite could occur.


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