The Rat Tail Cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis) is a species of cactus from the genus Aporocactus, previously categorized as a subgenus in Discocactus. It is native to Mexico and parts of Central America, where it typically lives in dry forests. Almost no specimens can be located in the wild, lending to the belief that the cactus is of garden origin. Without a cultivating hand, this cactus grows as a lithophyte (plants that grow on rocks) or an epiphyte (plants that grow on the surface of other plants). It takes up nutrients from the air and rain in both cases, making for distinct care requirements.
Rat Tail Cacti are easily identifiable from the long trailing stems that give them their moniker. Depending on the variety, the ridges on the stems can be shallow or deep but always sharp. It’s best to remember that these spiny stems are always a hazard no matter how unassuming, so handle with care. Given the proper care, the ends of the stem bloom with vividly colored flowers that last for a few days before fading away. The flowering season extends from late spring to early summer.
Rat Tail Cactus Main Characteristics
|Common Name||Rat Tail Cactus|
|Botanical Name||Aporocactus flagelliformis|
|Synonyms||Aporocactus leptophis, Cactus flagelliformis, Cereus flagelliformis, Disocactus flagelliformis|
|Native Range||Mexico and Central America|
|Mature Size||Height: up to 4 Inches; Spread: 3 to 6 feet|
|Bloom Time||Spring, Summer|
|Propagation methods||by seeds, by stem cuttings|
Rat Tail Cactus Care
Aporocactus flagelliformis is a popular choice for gardeners because it is drought tolerant and easy to care for. In addition, its low maintenance allows for even amateurs to try their hand at cultivation without much hassle. Coupled with its succulent nature, it can thrive in environments where traditional houseplants can’t.
Light and Location
Like most other succulents, this cactus does best in bright, direct light. In order to thrive, it needs someplace sunny. Place it near a window that gets the most daylight, and you’ll be good to go.
Their trailing habit makes them perfect for hanging baskets. While they can be used as standard fare potted houseplants, you won’t be taking full advantage, aesthetically speaking.
Watering the Rat Tail is fairly straightforward. Water moderately and regularly in the growing season but wait for the soil to dry out before the next session. In winter, the plant enters dormancy and doesn’t need as much water.
The Rat Tail Cactus grows best in warm temperatures in the summer and somewhat colder in winter. 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit are optimal temperatures in the summer, easily achievable in most homes. Interestingly, these succulents prefer slightly colder temperatures in winter, somewhere between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Moderate to low humidity levels are the sweet spot for these cacti. Unless your home is particularly dry, there is no need to fuss over moisture levels. But too much humidity can result in root rot.
Try to use a slow-release liquid fertilizer that provides nutrients over time. This will prevent the plant from being overfed and potentially causing root damage or even death. Also, make sure to only feed in the growing season; fertilizing during the dormant phase only causes stress.
Propagating Rat Tail Cactus
Aporocactus flagelliformis can be propagated by either cuttings or seeds. You can take cuttings from any part of the stems. These cacti are prolific growers, and propagation is very easy. Here’s how to propagate Rat Tail Cactus using stem cuttings:
- Use a sterile knife to make a clean cut.
- Allow the cut end to callus over and replant in moist, rich organic soil.
- The cutting will root readily in humid and sunny conditions. Use plastic wrap to help with humidity.
Seeds can be planted in well-drained soil and kept moist until germination occurs. Although it’s technically possible to propagate by seeds, they are generally not recommended as cuttings are so much easier and more readily available.
Potting and Repotting Rat Tail Cactus
The potting soil should be a sandy loam with good drainage and should be mixed with some organic matter. These cacti love rich organic soils as houseplants, and you don’t need a specific mix of potting soil as long as it’s nutrient-rich. You want good drainage in your pots as standing water can cause significant problems down the line.
These plants are aggressive growers, but most of that growth is in the stems. Once mature, the roots don’t really spread out any further, but they take up nutrients like nobody’s business. So much so that you’ll have to repot every year to replace the soil. Good practice dictates checking the soil quality often to see if it hasn’t become too nutrient deficient for use.
The most common pests of Aporocactus flagelliformis are mealybugs, spider mites, and scales. You want to control these infestations as soon as they occur because they can wreak havoc left unchecked. If possible, use horticultural oils to avoid damaging the plant, but you can also use insecticides if wiping off the pests isn’t an option.
Note: Avoid very low humidity levels to prevent spider mites from nesting.
How to Take Care of a Rat Tail Cactus (Aporocactus Flagelliformis) (Video)
How to propagate Rat Tail Cactus?
You can propagate Aporocactus flagelliformis by seeds and cuttings. Propagation by cuttings is easier and generally preferred. To do this, cut off a piece of the stem and pot it in fresh potting soil. Keep the cutting warm, humid, and moist, and the chances of success are high.
How to care for Rat Tail Cactus?
Caring for these succulents is easy. Place them somewhere sunny where they get plenty of direct sunlight. Water them thoroughly from spring to fall and sparingly in winter. Give them average room temperatures and humidity, and they’ll thrive. Repot them yearly, and you’ll have a plant that’ll last years.
How often to water Rat Tail Cactus?
Water the plant freely in the growing season. This season lasts from spring to autumn. Then, the plant enters a dormancy phase in the winter when it becomes inactive. Don’t water during this phase unless the soil is completely dry, and even then, water sparingly.