Plant and Garden

Rattail Cactus (Disocactus flagelliformis) Care and Information

Rattail cactus (Disocactus flagelliformis) is native to Mexico. It is an epiphytic plant, which means it grows naturally in low soil cracks such as tree crotches and rocky crevasses.

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The plants are desert dwellers, which means gardeners only in the warmer zones can grow them outdoors.

Do not worry because rattail cactus houseplants thrive in the interior landscape. Rattail cactus care is uncomplicated and the plants add interest and texture to any decor.

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Rat Tail cactus is a trailing plant that sends out long stems with short, fine spines. The overall color of the plant is green while young but the stems age to an almost beige color.

Flowers are rare but when they arrive they are a glorious bright pink to red hue. Blooms are tubular, crimson-pink flowers about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide.

The bloom only appears on mature growth. Flowers are produced profusely in spring. The flowering season lasts for about two months and individual blooms can last for several says.

Many gardeners choose a hanging planter or unusual container, such as a hollow cow’s horn, for growing rat tail cactus. The unusual appearance of the plant is set off by simple container forms that accent the lovely pencil thin stems. Rattail cactus can get 6 feet in length.

Growing Conditions

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Light: It requires full sunlight. Hang the pot or basket in the sunniest window available. If possible, hang the plant outdoors in summer to give it fresh air and extra light.
Soil: A good draining soil mix that is gritty is advisable to use, which is sold and used for cacti and succulents.
Temperature: During the active growth period normal room temperatures are suitable. In winter these plants should be rested at 45 to 50 °F  if possible, but they tolerate temperatures up to 59 to 61 °F.
Watering: During the active growth period water plentifully, keeping the potting mixture thoroughly moist, but do not let plants stand in water. During the winter rest period just keep the mixture from drying out.
Fertilizing: Use half-strength liquid fertilizer sprayed on to the stems of the plant once every 2 weeks during the active growth period only.

Do Not Overwater!

During the summer, you should water your plant frequently enough to keep its soil moist, while in the wintertime you should cut back on watering.

The rat tail cactus slows its growth during winter months and doesn’t require frequent watering.  I would only lightly mist the soil during this time.

Remember underwatering is far better than overwatering, especially during the winter

You should always ensure that your plant’s soil is draining properly and remove any standing water that collects in its pot tray. This is especially important during summer months when insects and other pests are at their most active.

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In winter, keep the plants cold and dry to encourage blooming.

In Mexico, they grow at high altitudes where the night temperatures are very brisk.

In rural areas, the dried flowers are used medicinally. They are often planted in the open end of a cow’s horn, making an interesting decoration.

Is Your Cactus Sick?

The best way to keep your cactus from turning brown is to ensure that its environment is one that’s conducive to growing a healthy plant.

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Quarantine new plants and inspect them for pests and disease before exposing them to your other plants. Provide loose, clean, well-drained soil. Underwater, don’t overwater, your plants.

If the base of your Rat Tail cactus is turning brown and the stems are soft and yellow, it could be a sign of root rot.

Plants with root rot can be hard to save because the rot starts inside the cactus and works its way out, so symptoms aren’t usually noticed until the rot is advanced.

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Stop watering plants with early rot, and try repotting them in well-draining soil. You can try saving a plant with advanced root rot by cutting away all signs of rot along with some of the healthy tissue surrounding it to ensure that it doesn’t spread.

Use a clean knife and wipe it with alcohol in between cuts. Apply sulfur powder to the wounds. Overwatering or damaged roots can cause root rot.

Cultivation and Propagation

Rat Tail Cactus is one of the most popularly cultivated cacti. It is closely related to several other species of ornamental cactus, such as the German Empress (Disocactus phyllantioides), which has showy pink flowers.

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There has been a great deal of confusion in the botanical world about the rat’s tail’s name, due in part to its longstanding popularity: it has been cultivated domestically since the 17th century and its synonymy is quite extensive.

You could see rat’s tail referred to as Cereus, Disocactus, or Aporocactus: make sure and do a little research if you’re adding one to your collection.

Rat Tail Cactus is easy to cultivate and relatively fast growing cactus. Their trailing stems make these cacti ideal plants for a hanging basket. Line the basket with sphagnum moss before filling it with the potting mixture and make sure it is hung where the prickly stems will not pose a treat to the unwary.

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To propagate, use either 6 inches (15 cm) tip or 6 inches of a segment on any part of the stem. Allow each cutting or segment to dry for three to five days. Then insert it about 0.8 inches deep in a small pan or pot of the recommended potting mixture for mature plants.

Be sure that any stem segment is planted with the bottom end down. If this shallowly inserted cutting tends to fall over, it can be supported by being gently tied to a small wooden stick.

Rat Tail Cactus and rooting will occur within a few weeks. Rat Tail Cactus can also be grown from seed.


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