Coral Cactus Poisonous – True or False?
The coral cactus (Rhipsalis cereuscula) is one of the rod cacti. Due to its up to 40 centimeters long, hanging shoots, it is very popular as a house and terrarium plant, especially since it is also very easy to care for. But is the coral cactus poisonous?
Is the Coral Cactus Poisonous?
We often read that the coral cactus is poisonous. However, this statement is not correct, because the popular houseplant does not contain any toxic ingredients. Rhipsalis cereuscula poses no danger to humans or animals.
However, experts do not give the all-clear and classify the plant, also known as the rice cactus, as unknown toxic. The reason for this is probably the possibility of confusion with some poisonous succulent species, such as the Christmas cactus or certain succulents in the spurge family like the Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’, also commonly called the coral cactus! These secrete a milky sap that can cause skin irritation and other slight symptoms of poisoning, which is why we advise against consumption by children and animals.
However, the coral cactus (Rhipsalis cereuscula) only stores water in its leaves, which escapes in the event of an injury. According to experts, pets such as cats, who are known to like to nibble on indoor plants, are not at risk.
The coral cactus has a very unusual habit for cacti. This can easily be explained by its origin, because the cactus, which comes from the rainforests of South America, grows epiphytically there, i.e. as a epiphytic plant on the high jungle trees. Its up to 40 centimeters long, thin and branched shoots hang down, and the whole plant looks very densely bushy in its habitat. Another benefit is the lack of spines that are normally found on cacti and cause numerous injuries. Not so with the coral cactus, which is thornless and therefore does not pose a risk of injury to humans or animals.
Rhipsalis cereuscula is ideal as a hanging plant, but is also very popular with terrarium fans. There it is recommended to plant the hanging cactus in the upper third so that its shoots have enough space to grow and it is also shown to its best advantage. A culture in the rainforest terrarium together with reptiles and amphibians (vivarium) typical of the habitat, such as snakes, frogs and iguanas, but also tarantulas is unproblematic.
The coral cactus belongs to the family of rhipsalis or rod cacti, which includes around 40 different species. These leaf cacti are all very similar, typical are the hanging growth and the lack of thorns. Also characteristic are the numerous, small and often white flowers in spring, as a result of which berry-like fruits often develop up to autumn. However, these berries are not edible. All Rhipsalis species are considered non-toxic, which is why confusion is not a problem.
In addition to the coral cactus, these related and non-toxic species are often found in culture:
- Rhipsalis baccifera: up to four meters long, roundish shoots
- Rhipsalis burchellii: purple-colored shoots up to 60 centimeters long
- Rhipsalis crispata: pale green shoots up to 60 centimeters long, leaf-like
- Rhipsalis clavata: bell-shaped flowers, branched habit
- Rhipsalis crispimarginata: shoots up to two meters long
- Rhipsalis elliptica: shrubby hanging shoots, these are rather flat and separated from each other by constrictions
- Rhipsalis pentaptera: rod cactus, growing upright, very branchy
Precautions with Animals and Small Children
Despite its non-toxicity, parts of the Rhipsalis cereuscula should be avoided. In addition, it is essential to clarify whether it is not a very similar but poisonous spurge plant. Since many small children and pets like to nibble on accessible houseplants, it makes sense to position the coral cactus out of their reach. Since the plant presents its best as a trailing plant, simply hang the plant pot on the ceiling. Make sure, however, that the plant cannot be reached through nearby furniture (such as a wardrobe or bookcase). Cats in particular are resourceful climbers, which is why free-hanging planter is preferable.
Tip: If you keep free-flying birds, such as budgies, in your home, it is better to hang the coral cactus in a room to which the animals have no access. This not only serves the well-being of the feathered friends – who can seriously injure themselves in a collision with the freely hanging planter – but also to protect the plant. Budgies in particular like to nibble on plants, and their droppings can damage the cactus.
Risk of Confusion: Similar, Poisonous Species
As so often in nature, the coral cacti have very similar doppelgangers, some of which are highly poisonous. Therefore, when buying, you should always check carefully whether it is actually a Rhipsalis cereuscula (or another species of the Rhipsalis genus) or whether a confusingly similar, different species has been labeled as a coral cactus.
Particularly problematic in this context are various plants of the spurge family, some of which are considered very poisonous. The pencil cactus or firestick plant (Euphorbia tirucalli), which is also often cultivated as a houseplant, is very similar to the coral cactus. Also confusing is the Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’ which also bears the name ‘coral cactus’!
Their milky sap can cause severe symptoms of poisoning if only skin or mucous membranes come into contact with it. Under no circumstances should parts of the plant be consumed!
Tip: Despite the external similarity, you can quickly determine whether you have a coral cactus or a poisonous spurge plant on the window sill: Put on protective gloves and carefully cut a branch of the plant. If a milky-white liquid emerges, it is a poisonous Euphorbia. If the liquid is clear, however, it is just water and the plant is definitely a non-toxic cactus.
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata)
The popular Christmas cactus is also dangerous, but is classified as only slightly toxic. Nevertheless, children and pets can suffer slight symptoms of poisoning when eating plant parts, for example cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, as well as skin irritation due to skin contact with leaking plant sap. You can recognize a Christmas cactus by its long, overhanging shoots, but the leaves are wide and flat and the individual limbs are clearly separated from each other. The species is very similar to Rhipsalis elliptica, which, however, is considered non-toxic.
These Similar Species are Non-Toxic
In addition to poisonous ones, there are also numerous non-poisonous doppelgangers, which are just as unproblematic in a household with children and pets as the coral cactus itself. These include these genera or species: