Complete Guide to Rat Tail Cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis) and How to Care for It

Aporocactus flagelliformis Care Guide: A Guide to Growing a Rat Tail Cactus.

The Rat Tail Cactus “Aporocactus flagelliformis” is a flowering plant belonging to the family of Cactaceae. It is a popular plant in the genus Aporocactus. It has become a favorite among succulent growers for its display of colorful red, pink, or orange flowers that pop up anywhere along the length of the stems.

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This ornamental plant grows stems profusely at the base, extends above, and then cascades downwards in long strands, growing to about 4-6 feet in length at maturity. The stems are covered in spines that can be half an inch long and yellowish to brownish. The Rat Tail Cactus flower is 2 inches wide and is eye-catching in any setting. The beauty of the plant is in its long stems and the flowers, which are also quite plentiful during spring and summer. 

The stems are cylindrical and are covered in spines from the base to their tips. The flowers are funnel-shaped and bright in colors of red, pink, or orange hues in contrast to the green or brown background of the stems. 

Rat Tail Cactus
Rat Tail Cactus Flower

Cultivation and History.

This plant is native of Southwestern Mexico and some parts of Central America. They thrive in the dry forests of Hidalgo as lithophytic or epiphytic, which means they grow on the ground or on trees. In cultivation, the most popular planting mode is in hanging pots allowing it to freely cascade while keeping its thorny stems at a distance. The cactus blooms in the spring and summer. When the plants are well established in a place that receives ample sunlight, flowers appear throughout the growing season.

The life of the blooms is short, two to three days at most. They do not have any particular fragrance. The rat tail cactus flowers are produced abundantly throughout the plant stems, and its growth rate is about one foot per year given the right conditions. The plant is grown both indoors and outdoors. 

Propagation of rat tail cactus.

There are two methods of propagation of this plant. The first is the easiest and thus recommended. This is to grow from Rat Tail Cactus cuttings. The second is to propagate through planting seeds. This, however, is not recommended as seeds are not freely available and take a longer time.  

The more popular mode of propagation for this plant is by cuttings. When cuttings are obtained, your hands and forearms should be protected with gloves against the vicious spines. The cuttings taken from the mother plant with a clean, sterile knife are allowed to dry for about three days. The cutting should be about 6 inches in length. When the scab is formed over the cut area, it is ready to be planted. Use cactus potting mix in a pot large enough to hold the cutting.

Place the cutting in the middle of the pot and cover it with cactus potting mix. A wooden stake can help to prop up the cutting till it takes root and starts new growth. The soil should be kept humid but not wet during the propagation period. Too much water can cause root rot and mushy stems. 

Rat Tail Cactus
Aporocactus_flagelliformis

How to Grow and care for rat tail cactus.

These are hardy plants commonly grown in hanging baskets by home gardeners. Sphagnum moss or coconut coir can be used to line the bottom of a wire basket to ensure proper drainage. Fill it up with a basic potting soil mixture. Repotting your plants at least once a year, ideally in the spring, is essential because of the rapid growth of this species. They do not need regular care and will grow with minimum maintenance as long as their primary growth components are provided.

Sunlight is essential for growth and flowering; it grows well under direct bright sunlight year-round. Rat Tail Cactuses survive under near-drought conditions for long periods. These plants are planted in pots with a lining of sphagnum moss and potting soil mix filled to the top. Allow the plant to stay dormant over the winter months, mimicking its natural rest period. 

Pruning and Maintenance.

Pruning is not strictly required for this cactus. This plant grows well if all of its primary resources are provided and maintained. The only pruning or rather cleaning up can be easily done by clearing dead flowers from the plant. If you spot dead or diseased plant parts, they must be skillfully removed using a clean, sterile sharp knife.   

Rat Tail CactusCultivars to Select.

Varieties of Rat Tail Cactus grow comfortably almost everywhere that boasts bright sunlight. 

  • Aporocactus flagelliformis or Disocactus flagelliformis refers to the Rat Tail Cactus described above. 
  • Cylindropuntia leptocaulis (Desert Christmas Cactus, Pencil Cactus) is a close relative of the Rat Tail Cactus. It grows as a shrubby plant with thin long spiny branches. In December, red berries adorn the shrub and have proven to be intoxicating if consumed. 
  • Cleistocactus winteri (Golden Rat Tail Cactus) is one of the more sought-after plants. Besides having golden-color spines, this is the same as the Rat Tail Cactus. Golden Rat Tail Cactus grows in large tangles of stems and has salmon-pink flowers. 

All these plants are easy to grow and add charm to anywhere it is placed. The flowers of the Rat Tail Cactus and the other varieties do not have any noticeable fragrance. 

Aporocactus flagelliformis.
Aporocactus flagelliformis.

Light Requirement. 

This plant thrives under desert conditions. The main factor here is bright sunlight. If your plant is indoors, you must place it in a position that will get a few hours of direct sunlight. If that is not enough, indoor LED plant lights can be used to help create a warm sunny environment. Bright sunlight is a must if you want your Rat Tail Cactus plant to flower. 

Soil Requirements.

The Rat Tail Cactus varieties love well-drained acidic soil. Therefore, drainage is essential and should be consistently maintained in the lightweight potting mixture. The acidic pH level best suited for the plant is between 5.0 and 6.0. Commercially available potting mixes are designed to suit this level of acidity and can be used for Rat Tail Cacti. A rich potting mix consisting of four parts sandy loam and one part of equal quantities of crushed brick and sand is a good soil mix for the Rat Tail Cactus.

Flowering. 

In most cases, the blossoms are red, although they can also be pink or orange at times. The stalks produces gorgeous blooms. Each one is 2 to 3 inches long and shaped like tubing. Spring and early summer are the best times to see flowers bloom. The indigenous inhabitants of Central America have traditionally utilized dried flowers as medicine.

rat tail cactus

Watering.

Regular watering is required only during the growing season. This is only to keep the soil moist. In the autumn, watering is reduced significantly, and no watering is needed during winter. Check the soil with a skewer to assess its moistness. If it is completely dry, you can water it slightly. This is usually once in two months for Rat Tail Cactus plants. Overwatering should be avoided as this is the main reason for fungal infections. 

Temperature and Humidity.

Rat Tail Cactus loves stable warm temperatures. It can tolerate low temperatures up to 45 degrees Fahrenheit and high temperatures up to 90 degrees. These, however, are not frost-hardy. The plant cannot be exposed to freezing temperatures and should be taken indoors where there is a comfortable level of humidity. Too much humidity will cause the roots or stems to rot. On the other hand, excess dryness will bring about other problems like spider mite infestation.

Aporocactus flagelliformis.
Aporocactus flagelliformis.

Fertilizers and Feeding.

Rat Tail Cactus varieties need not be fertilized and will grow well in the potting mix they were planted in. However, fertilizer can be added for better growth during the growing period in spring and summer. Liquid fertilizer diluted to half-strength administered fortnightly will enhance growth. Fertilizer is not added during the winter when the plant is resting.  

Managing Pests and Diseases.

Even though these plants are hardy cactus varieties, they still risk being sapped off their juices by spider mites and scale insects. In addition, the plant will show signs of stress by white spots or dead plant parts. A neem oil spray or a mild insecticidal soap will help with this situation. Being vigilant about the condition of the plant and checking for root rot or pests will help manage Rat Tail Cactus problems. 

Common Problems.

Apart from being attacked by spider mites and scale insects, there are a few other problems cited by cactus enthusiasts. In its natural habitat, the Rat Tail cactus grows under desert-like conditions. In cultivation, the plants are susceptible to bad growing conditions. 

  • Overwatering: This is the main reason for root rot. Signs of overwatering are brown spots on the stems or mushy stems. This must be stopped immediately by repotting the plant after removing diseased parts. Repotting must be done in a new potting mix and a different container.  
  • Thinning plant: A thinning of the Rat Tail Cactus happens when it does not receive sufficient sunlight. A thinning and elongated plant can be rescued by repotting and fertilizing regularly till the plant displays thicker stems and more profuse growth.  
  • Aerial roots: This is a sign of insufficient water. The plant is trying to absorb moisture from the surrounding air. This can be easily remedied with a watering schedule to keep the plant sufficiently hydrated. 
Rat Tail Cactus
Rat Tail Cactus

Best Uses.

The Rat Tail Cactus “Aporocactus flagelliformis” is used mainly as an ornamental plant. It has long trailing stems growing up to 6 feet, and beautiful red, pink, or orange flowers adorn the stems. These qualities of the Rat Tail Cactus make it useful as a hanging plant or sprawling garden addition. The visual appeal of your garden can be improved by placing a Rat Tail Cactus where it can grow cascading freely. 

Conclusion: Aporocactus flagelliformis

Rat Tail Cactus “Aporocactus flagelliformis” is an easy plant to grow and propagate. It is ideally suited for indoor areas and outdoors, provided there is direct bright sunlight throughout the year. Maintenance is minimal and needs to be repotted only once in two years or when the plant is suffocating from overgrowth. Most people hang these plants on their patio or place them on window sills. The plant must be carefully placed out of reach of pets, children, and even adults, as the spines on the stems can be very dangerous. 

Rat Tail Cactus

Frequently Asked Questions.

Does the Rat Tail Cactus need sun or shade?

Bright sunlight throughout the day is a must for the Rat Tail Cactus. However, some shade for part of the day is acceptable. In its natural habitat, the Rat Tail Cactus grows with an abundance of sunlight throughout the year. Near arid conditions bring out the best in the flowers and the stems. 

What is the Rat Tail Cactus good for?

The primary use for the Rat Tail Cactus is as an ornamental plant for the garden or indoors. Usually, it is grown in hanging pots to accentuate the strands of cylindrical stems. 

How do you take care of a rat tail cactus?

The Rat Tail Cactus requires bright sunlight and the bare minimum of water. Water only when the soil is completely dry once every two weeks. Plant repotting is required every two years or so to ensure healthy growth. 

Is rat tail cactus an indoor or outdoor plant?

The Rat Tail Cactus grows well both indoors and outdoors. However, you will have to bring the plant indoors during colder weather as it cannot tolerate freezing temperatures and frost.  

Is the Rat Tail Cactus toxic?

It is not known to be toxic. However, the spines on the stems can be dangerous to anyone handling the plant without proper protection. 

Why is my Rat Tail Cactus turning brown?

The reason your Rat Tail Cactus plant turns brown is probably under watering. This can be regularized by checking the moistness of the soil and adding water as needed. 

How do I detect root rot in my Rat Tail Cactus?

Root rot is difficult to detect as it starts from within the plant and spreads to the outside. However, careful checking of the plant will show the onset of root rot. Soft yellowing stems or browning at the base of the plant indicate root rot. 

How do I repot my Rat Tail Cactus?

Take a sufficiently large pot and fill it with fresh potting mix. The main aim of repotting is to add nutrients to the plant. The plant can be divided and potted as needed

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