Introducing the Spaghetti Cactus

Rhipsalis and Pseudorhipsalis species don’t look like cacti, but their somewhat tousled appearance gives them a rakish charm. Their name means “wickerware” in reference to their dangly reed-like stems. Those can cascade to great lengths like Rapunzel’s hair, so these cacti should be planted in hanging baskets or mounted on trees where they are hardy. Species with white berries often are compared to mistletoe.

The most common one of those, Rhipsalis baccifera, is hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11 and the only cactus that appears to grow wild both in the New World and in Africa. Some scientists still hold that it must have been carried from South America to Africa at some point in the 1600s, but they can’t yet explain how. Others believe it to be a leftover from when the two continents were joined, but that would make the plant very old.

Its white flowers, often tinged red or yellow, are only about 1/4-inch across and followed by pea-sized white fruits. The plant—sometimes also called spaghetti cactus—can bloom at any time during the year, but reportedly will do so most heavily in spring and late summer. Provided that it does flower! I found a reference to one otherwise healthy specimen that was producing posies for the first time in 40-some years. So it probably would be best to grow these plants for their funky foliage and to consider blooms a bonus.

Rhipsalis pilocarpa

Types of Rhipsalis

If you prefer a more showy type of Rhipsalis, you might want to try the one pictured above—Rhipsalis pilocarpa or hairy-fruited wickerware cactus. Its sweet-scented blooms aren’t as large as they look here, usually no wider than about 3/4 of an inch, but the "hairs" on the stems and maroon fruits may make you feel all soft and fuzzy! (The spines on Rhipsalis cacti generally are either fine or nonexistent.)

Most members of the genus, which includes about forty different species, are native to the jungles of Brazil as Christmas cacti are. Like the latter, they too grow on trees, though they sometimes plant themselves between rocks too. Because they are understory plants, they do best if given bright, indirect light or only morning sun. You may want to make an exception for the red mistletoe cactus (Pseudorhipsalis ramulosa), as its leaves reportedly glow the ruddiest when exposed to plenty of light.

Pseudorhipsalis ramulosa

How to grow Rhipsalis

Being jungle plants, these cacti appreciate high humidity, but can survive without it. Give them rich and fast-draining soil as too much sogginess can rot the plants’ roots. But you shouldn’t allow that soil to dry out completely either. As with most cacti, it’s best to leave a plant in place once buds appear on it, since any move at that time might cause it to shed those buds in protest.

You can sow Rhipsalis seeds on the surface of a cacti potting mix, barely covering them with a dusting of sand. If you keep them damp and at about 70 degrees, they should germinate in a month to six weeks.

Except for the white berries, mistletoe cacti don’t look all that much like mistletoe. But, then, they are unique enough that they don’t look all that much like anything else either!


Photos: The banner image is by synda, the second image by Todd_Boland, and the third image by giancarlo, all from the Dave's Garden PlantFiles.