01/11/2012 03:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Sprout Home Plant Of The Week: Rhipsalis, The Orchid Impersonator

Okay, so it doesn't really look like an orchid but it sure acts like one. Rhipsalis contains well over 40 species of mostly epiphytic cactus native to Central and South America. One member of the Rhipsalis club even holds a special title as the only cactus occurring naturally in the 'old world' being found in Africa and Madagascar. The name comes from the Ancient Greek term for 'wicker' in reference to the flexible long branches that the Rhipsalis has, many having hanging limbs over 6-feet in length. Most do not have spines like normal cactus but instead have hair and will have a diminutive flower from time to time.

Flickr Photo by balanced.crafts

Rhipsalis are mostly epiphytic, living on trees, but can also be epilithic or terrestrial. In their natural habitat they are normally found under a tree canopy being protected from intense sunrays so keep your orchid impersonator out of direct sun and instead keep it in a bright filtered light. They are rained upon frequently but at the same time drain rapidly -- make sure you use a very well-draining potting mix. It is advisable to add material such as wood shavings or charcoal to a succulent mixture in order to provide that extra bit of good drainage. In general they can take close to freezing temperatures for short periods and do not mind being next to cooler windows during the winter months.

The Rhipsalis is the perfect plant selection for those who are visually in love with pencil cactus but do not have enough direct sun to support one. The plant can be quite architecturally crazy but at the same time conformed -- like organized chaos. It holds its own in a container, adapting well to baskets to allow their limbs to flow freely. They can also be trained on board to be mounted because of their epiphytic nature. There is no use for the Rhipsalis to pretend it is something it is not, it holds its own and then some.