Rat Tail Cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis) How to Grow and Maintain

Rat Tail Cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis)

You may hate rodents, but you will love to grow Rat Tail Cacti.

A trailing succulent plant with long stems and fine, short spines that grow to about 4 feet and have made this plant unique in appearance. It looks great in a hanging basket with its attractive floral displays of red-violet, pink and orange.

How to Grow Rat Tail Cactus

Just like all cacti plants, the Rat Tail Cactus does not need much attention to grow and thrive. Being drought-resistant, this plant can survive with little care as long as it is grown in the right growing conditions.

This strange-looking succulent plant is a well-loved houseplant. Its unique texture and sprawling never seize to draw attention.

It is a versatile plant, too, because it can grow indoors and outdoors under the right growing conditions.

Soil Requirements

The rat tail is typically grown in hanging baskets. A hanging basket made of wires is a great option because it provides perfect drainage.

Fill the hanging basket with four parts loam, one part perlite or vermiculite, and one part sand or regular potting soil.

Line your hanging basket with organic materials such as coconut coir or sphagnum moss for better drainage and to allow your plant to thrive better.

This is a succulent desert plant that naturally grows in dry settings with minimal or no soil. When grown indoors, you get amazing results with it getting extra nutrients from the soil.

Light Conditions

The Rat Tail Cactus flourish in desert conditions and require bright, direct sunlight even during dormancy. Place it in a west-facing or south-facing window where it can receive direct light.

If there is no spot in your home with enough sunlight, you can use indoor LED plant lights to increase the small amounts of natural sunlight your plant can get.

When taking your plant outdoors during the summer, place it in a sunny spot.

Without ample sunlight, the leaves of your rat tail will fall off. The plant will also have difficulty thriving. It is best to position it less than on a south-facing window to maximize its growth potential.

Making sure your rat tail gets enough sunlight during the growing period will encourage it to bloom.

Temperature Requirements

The Rat Tail Cactus are used to higher elevations. Thus, it prefers cooler temperatures. This plant can endure temperatures up to 900F, but the best temperatures for this plant is 450F to 500F.

This plant will do thrive under average room temperature during the summer, early autumn, and spring.

You can transfer this plant outside in the spring when nighttime temperatures are over 400F. Bring it back indoors when nighttime temperatures drop to 400F.

The rat tail becomes dormant during winter and should be transferred to a cooler setting (about 500F) where it can rest.

The Rat Tail Cactus can generally withstand temperatures as low as 400F and as high as 900F. Make sure, though, it does not freeze because it is not frost-hardy.

The rat tail’s stems may rot due to high humidity levels, and problems with spider mites are a possibility when exposed to extreme dryness.

Water Requirements

You will need to regularly water the rat tail during its active growing season – spring and summer. Soak your rat tail deeply, so the soil is slightly moist.

Soak again when the soil dries out. Water it less as it matures.

Water your rat tail less during fall. This plant will be dormant in winter, so never water it. Dampen the soil when it gets excessively dry, though.

This will allow blooms to appear in spring.

Increasing the frequency of watering during the growing season can encourage this plant to bloom. Be careful, though, not to overwater it.

Let the soil completely dry before watering, even during its growing season.

Fertilizer Requirements

Use liquid fertilizer on the stems of your rat tail. Dilute the fertilizer to half its strength. Apply fertilizer every two weeks in spring and summer (growing season). Do not apply fertilizer during the winter.


Propagate your Rat Tail Cactus If you want to increase your collection or gift a friend with this gorgeous succulent.

You can propagate your rat tail through stem cuttings. It is a prolific plant to propagate because it has numerous stems you can cut for propagation every season.

Most gardeners start propagating their rat tail when it starts to outgrow its container. 

  • Cut a stem from the mother plant. You can cut the entire stem into one-inch sections to propagate various new plants.
  • If you only want a single rat tail, cut off only the tip of a stem.
  • Allow the stem to callus (dry and harden). Place the cuttings on a tray and allow it to air dry for a few days.
  • Allowing the stem cutting to callus will protect your new plant from insect infestation and disease when it starts to root.
  • Place in rich, organic soil into a container or pot. Water the soil before planting your stem cutting.
  • Watering after planting the stem cutting will wash out the soil and stem cutting out of the pot.
  • Insert the bottom end of the stem cutting into the soil (about 1/8-inch deep). Add some kind of support to the stem cutting so it will not fall over before it grows roots.
  • Place the container or pot in a spot where it can get enough sunlight. Make sure to keep the soil moist.

Your new Rat Tail Cactus should form new roots within a few weeks.  Make sure to keep your new plant in a humid place and where it can get direct sunlight.

Spring and summer is the best time to get some stem cutting from the mother plant for propagation because this is the time when your plant is actively growing.

Propagating mature plants can be challenging because of their spikes. Remember to always wear garden gloves as the thorns of the rat tail are prickly.

You can propagate this plant by seed but it will take quite some time for it to grow, thus this propagation method is not recommended.

Should you like to give it a try, you can plant the seeds in a well-draining potting mixture.

Propagating rat tail cacti from seeds should only be for the outdoors. It is not recommended to grow rat tail cacti from seeds indoors.

How to Repot Rat Tail Cactus

Your Rat Tail Cactus is fast-growing. It will need to be repotted every year or when it outgrows its basket or pot. When the red tail plant is too big, it can be difficult to manage.

Repot your rat tail after its growing season and when it is done flowering.

A mature rat tail will need a larger basket (a 6-inch or 9-inch basket or pot of the same size)) and new potting soil.

Mature rat tail cacti use nutrients fast and repotting will help it get new nutrients. Repotting also allows this plant to produce more blooms in spring.

How to Maintain Rat Tail Cactus

Any novice gardener can cultivate and grow a red tail cactus. This is so because it can grow indoors without any special care.

This plant is generally resistant to diseases and pests, but you need to watch out for scale insects and spider mites. These pests tend to puncture the plant extract its juice.

You can easily spot scale insects because of they come in a dome shape. They tend to attack the surface of the plant.

To get rid of scale insects, dip a cotton swab in alcohol and wipe off or forcibly scrape the scales insects off your rat tail.

Spider mites, on the other hand, are so tiny, they are barely visible to the naked eye. They can, however damage the tissues of your rat tail by sucking its leaves’ sap.

Apply some insecticidal soap on the plant to treat spider mite infestation. You can also apply a mixture of soapy water and Pyrethrum (an insecticide) for a few days or weeks to get rid of all pests.

If you notice webbed nests in your red tail, it means it has been attacked by spider mites.

Snails also tend to attack red tail cacti, despite their spines, when they are grown outdoors. Snails that get to your red tail will remain on the plant forever and will not heal.

You can, however try to use a product with iron phosphate to dehydrate the snails and make them leave the plant.

Root rot is another thing you need to watch out for. The roots of your rat tail will root when it is overwatered. Poor draining can also cause root rot.

Other Facts About Rat Tail Cactus

The Rat Tail is green when young and when mature, its stems turn to beige. It comes with long stems that get to be as long as six feet with half an inch diameter at maturity.

The excess growth of stems is typically trimmed and pruned to encourage the growth of new cactus.

Each stem is covered by sharp spines that can hurt your hands. Thus you should always handle this plant with garden gloves.

Flowers of this succulent plant are rare, but when they bloom for several days in spring and early summer, they are bright pink or red.

The blooms are long and tubular-shaped. They arise from mature stems of the plant. They can be about 3 inches wide and long.

Most gardeners grow the Rat Tail Cactus in hanging planters or a hollow cow’s horn to highlight its stems that are as thin as pencils. This succulent plant has a USDA hardiness zone of 10a-11.

If you hang the red tail cactus, make sure to place it in a secure spot as its spiky tendrils can accidentally hurt anyone.

Choose a spot that is out of the way of family members and pets. Make sure, though, it is a spot that receives plenty of sunlight and warmth.

Origin and Common Names: Rat Tail Cactus

The Aporocactus flagelliformis or Rat Tail Cactus is a flashy and unique-looking plant native to some parts of Central America and southwestern Mexico.

It is typically found in higher elevations. Thus, it thrives in cooler temperatures.

The name Aporocactus flagelliformis is derived from the Greek word “aporia” which means “impenetrable.”

The name flagelliform comes from the Latin word “flagellum” and “forma” which means “whip and “form” referring to the shape of the plant’s stems.

This plant is related to several species of ornamental cactus, including the Disocactus phyllantioides or German Express that come with pink flowers.

This plant is a perennial cactus species belonging to the Cactaceae family; sub-family Cactoideae; tribe Hylocereeae; and genus Hylocereeae. 

Over recent years, the rat tail has grown immensely in homes than in the wild. It is one of the most grown household cacti. It has been a popular houseplant since its discovery in the 17th century in Europe.

The Rat Tail got its name from the manner in which it grows. Its thin stems grow downwards instead of upwards and look similar to a rat’s tail.

In the wild, it grows in the spaces between two or more tree trunks or limbs, of trees or climbing on rocks.

This is the reason why most gardeners grow this plant in hanging baskets so its long stems can drape from their edges. As an epiphyte (air plant), it does soil to grow in the wild.

The Rat Tail Cactus is also sometimes called Snake Cactus, and Whip Cactus due to its trailing stems.

They are considered to be a near threatened cactus variety in Mexico (since 2018) because of the destruction of cloud forests in the states of Veracruz, Puebla, and Hidalgo.

Final Thoughts

It is easy to grow Rat Tail Cacti. Thus it has become an attractive floral display and ornamental plant in many homes. It is one of the most attractive hanging plants you can have in your home.

Despite its thorns or spikes, it is still easy to care for.

You can grow your Rat Tail Cactus in a hanging basket. You can also use this plant as ground cover for your desert garden. They will also do well sprawling about in your rock garden.


Jenny Marie

Tribal Writer


Edited By

Patricia Godwin


Patricia Godwin

Patricia has many years of experience as a content writer on various subjects, but her first love is gardening. She’s never met a plant she didn’t like and, consequently, she writes about every type of plant you can think of. Once an avid gardener with a herb garden, a succulent rockery, and a rose garden – to mention a few. Nowadays, she’s constantly on the move searching for interesting plants to bring to your attention; and explain to you all the details you need to grow, care and maintain these plants.

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