Aporocactus flagelliformsi (2009)

By Chris Deem (April 2009)

The back porch faces the morning sun. The wood is old, but sturdy. A 10-pound bag of onions hangs near the door.

In this place, a flower box would seem out of place, but there is a hanging basket. The small chains are slightly rusty, but the weight is held firmly by a large bent nail. In the basket hangs a large epiphytic cactus. It has the look of a valuable possession.

The plant has many long, thin stems covered in golden-yellow spines. It also has several shorter stems with just a flash of red on the more youthful spines. The crown of the plant is covered with flowers.

The warm morning sun seems to deepen the color of the large blossoms. There are those who would say they are crimson, but most here would just call them dark red. Still, whatever the hue of its flowers, the plant softens the stark poverty of its home.

Aporocactus flagelliformis, the rat tail cactus, is a plant that was obviously named by someone who never got a good look at a rat. It is a vigorous epiphytic species native to Hildalgo and Queretaro, Mexico.

If you have room for a large hanging plant, I can’t think of a better choice than the rat tail cactus. Although fast growing, the supposedly “easy” cacti can present some challenges.

In the heat of summer, spider mites are quite often an ugly problem for these plants. In winter, the stems can dry and shrivel. Of course, if they are kept too wet, they can also rot.

These plants can also be quite a challenge to transplant. Most sources I read recommended taking cuttings and starting fresh. Frequent watering and a rich soil mix were both highly recommended, as well as some protection from intense heat and light.