An atypical cactus, because it is epiphytic and humid, the rat tail cactus (Disocactus flagelliformis) remains very easy to grow and offers undeniable floral appeal with magenta flowers that open successively along the long stems.
This is a drooping plant (or falling), which makes it ideal to be placed in hanging pots, in a veranda, a balcony or within an interior.
Rat Tail Cactus: Origin and Characteristics
Its name comes from the Greek “aporia” meaning “impenetrable” and from the Latin “flagellum” and “forma” meaning respectively “whip” and “form”, with reference to the shape of its stems.
The geographic origin of the rat tail cactus is endemic to Mexico, in the producing regions of Hidalgo, Puebla and Veracruz, above 2000 m altitude, in areas with a lot of fog. It has a distribution around dry forests, at the level of the cloud belt. Lithophyte or epiphyte in these dry forests, it seems rare and rarely collected in the field.
The stems of the rat tail cactus are first ascending, then curving to become pendulous, with numerous branches at the base. An epiphytic culture in a hanging basket is therefore the best way to benefit from Disocactus flagelliformis. The long, drooping cylinders can reach 1 m (sometimes more) long, for only 0.8 to 2.4 cm in diameter. The epidermis is green and then gray later.
The flowers have a beautiful magenta color, curved, up to 7.5 cm long and up to 3.8 cm in diameter, with a tubular shape. Flowering usually occurs after mid-spring for up to 5 days of lifespan per flower. Many flowers will bloom along the stem.
Note: This species is threatened in some parts of its range by the conversion of forest habitats to agriculture (mainly coffee and maize) and to a lesser extent, by cattle breeding. The species is legally protected in Mexico, included in the national list of endangered species where it appears in the category enjoying “special protection”.
Rat Tail Cactus: Planting
Where to plant
Disocactus flagelliformis is easy to grow and is relatively fast-growing. With its drooping stems, the rat tail is ideal for a hanging basket. It needs well-drained soil, requires full sun to part sun, as it needs to be protected from drying out in summer.
Average temperatures of 15 to 24°C are ideal, but do not drop below 5°C and avoid freezing.
The substrate in the hanging basket will simply be a mixture used for cacti with a pH value between 5.0 and 6.0 rich and well drained, preferably mixed with coarse sand.
When to plant
Seeds are hard to come by, and you’ll find this cactus as a cutting in stores. The beginning of summer is the most favorable period.
How to plant
Ideally, keep the root ball from the sales pot intact when repotting in the hanging basket.
Rat Tail Cactus: Care and Cultivation
The rat tail cactus is one of the plants most commonly cultivated by non-specialists. There are good reasons for this: The rattail cactus accepts being neglected and it grows well indoors on a sunny window sill.
It also thrives in a hanging basket with its long cylindrical stems that can reach 2 m long. Many hybrids of this species have been created, which produce very large flowers of slightly different colors.
During the growing period, abundant water supplies are necessary , so that the substrate becomes completely soaked, but it must also be allowed to dry out between waterings.
During the winter rest period, keep an ambient humidity, and not soak the substrate, just keep the mixture moist from time to time. So water sparingly during the winter months.
Repotting every 2 to 3 years is recommended if the soil tends to deteriorate, or if the basket appears to be filled with tight roots. However, this does not mean using larger pots.
In winter, old or discolored stems can be cut off at their base to encourage new spring growth.
Warning: As with most cacti, the thorns can be prickly, so you must wear protective gloves when handling anything.
Rat Tail Cactus: Pests and Diseases
Disocactus flagelliformis is easily attacked by pests, such as spider mites and mealybugs:
- The spider mites cause the yellowing of needles. A spray of cold water makes it possible to eliminate them in the event of a minor attack.
- The first sign of the presence of mealybugs is the appearance of cottony, mealy or fatty lumps on the plant. Learn how to kill mealybugs to resolve this problem.
The plant can also be rotten when excess water is found. Don’t forget to read our article on “How Often Do You Have to Water a Cactus?“.
Rat Tail Cactus: Propagation
The propagation of this cactus is done mainly by cuttings of cut stems from spring to autumn.
How to propagate rat tail cactus
- Cut a stalk with a sharp pruning shear or knife.
- Let the cutting dry for 2 weeks.
- Plant the cutting in a suitable substrate, in the ground or in a pot.
- Keep the substrate slightly moist and place the plant in a warm and bright place.
- Water normally after a few weeks.
Propagation by seeds is also possible, especially for hybrids.