Rhipsalis capilliformis (Old Man’s Beard)

Rhipsalis capilliformis

Last updated on August 22nd, 2022 at 02:18 am

Rhipsalis capilliformis, more commonly known as an old man’s beard, is an attractive epiphytic cactus native to the Americas. Also called Jamaica cactus, it has become popular in the last several decades with its unique shape and variegated foliage and has been featured on Animal Planet’s hit show Plant Ops.

The old man’s beard is an epiphytic cactus that grows naturally in the cloud forests of Central and South America as well as the southern Appalachian Mountains and the southeastern United States.

One of the most striking features of old man’s beard cactus plants is their long tendrils, known as capillary spines or rhipsalides, which cling to other plants, tree trunks, and rocks by virtue of their hooked tips and sticky bases. A mature rhipsalis capilliformis can reach up to 10 feet (3 meters) in length!

Digging through the soil of your houseplant’s pot can be an exercise in futility, particularly if you’re seeking something like the old man’s beard.

An epiphyte plant, rhipsalis capilliformis uses its aerial roots to latch onto host trees, where it then grows from the trunk or branches until it reaches soil level and can begin to grow on its own.

Origin and distribution

Rhipsalis capilliformis is a species of epiphytic cactus native to the Atlantic Forest biome of southeastern Brazil. It is also found in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia. The plant is commonly known as an old man’s beard, long-haired rhipsalis, or spider cactus.

Rhipsalis capilliformis is one of the most widespread and commonly cultivated members of its genus. It has been introduced into gardens worldwide, including in Europe and North America. In cultivation, it needs protection from frost at all times.

Rhipsalis capilliformis propagation

Rhipsalis capilliformis

Rhipsalis capilliformis can be propagated by seed or stem cuttings. To propagate by seed, sow the seeds in a well-draining cactus mix. To propagate by stem cuttings, allow the cutting to callous over for a few days before planting in a well-draining cactus mix. Allow the plant to grow a new root system and then transplant into an appropriate potting soil with adequate drainage.

Rhipsalis cereuscula (Coral Cactus Plant)

For best results, it is important that they are watered when they are dry and never let them sit in water as this may lead to root rot. Once they are established, they will require minimal care and will make a great addition to any collection.

General care information

Rhipsalis capilliformis

Rhipsalis capilliformis is an epiphytic cactus, which means that it grows on other plants or trees. The plant can grow up to 3 feet tall and has white flowers that bloom in the spring.

Light requirement

Rhipsalis capilliformis does best in bright, indirect light but can tolerate lower light levels. If the light is too low, the plant will become leggy and produce fewer flowers. Rhipsalis capilliformis can also tolerate some direct sun, but it will scorch the leaves if left in direct sunlight for too long. The plant should be moved to a shadier spot when the weather becomes warm.

Soil/potting mix

A well-draining potting mix is essential for Rhipsalis capilliformis, as the plant does not like to sit in wet soil. A cactus or succulent potting mix will do the trick, or you can make your own by mixing together one part perlite or coarse sand with two parts peat moss or coco coir.

It prefers a soil mixture that drains well and doesn’t hold water for too long–a good mix would include equal parts of cactus potting soil, pumice stone, sand, peat moss, or perlite, with some added fertilizer.


Rhipsalis capilliformis is an epiphytic cactus, which means it grows on other plants or trees, often without harming the host plant. In its natural habitat, it gets most of its moisture from the air and rain.

When growing an old man’s beard indoors, water it about once a week, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. Over-watering can lead to root rot, so be sure to not water too often. A bright spot will help keep the plant healthy; this helps make up for less light in indoor spaces.

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Rhipsalis capilliformis is a fast-growing, epiphytic cactus that can reach up to 3 feet in length. It has long, thin, branching stems that are covered in tiny white flowers. This cactus is native to Brazil and can be found in the rainforests of South America.

Rhipsalis capilliformis is an easy plant to care for and does not require much fertilizer. However, if you want it to grow quickly, fertilize every two weeks with a standard liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted by half or less.


Rhipsalis capilliformis is a tropical plant that prefers warm temperatures. It can tolerate some shade but does best in bright, indirect light. When the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the plant will start to experience stress. If the temperature falls below 40 degrees, the plant will die.

Placing your Rhipsalis capilliformis near a heater or air conditioning vent could kill it quickly. Additionally, cold drafts from an open window could cause damage to your plants as well. In general, they are not very hardy and may begin dropping leaves if subjected to any extreme conditions.


Rhipsalis capilliformis thrives in humid environments. In fact, the ideal humidity level for this plant is between 60% and 80%. If the air is too dry, the leaves will start to drop. However, if the air is too humid, the plant may become susceptible to fungal diseases.

The best way to tell if the air is too humid is by looking at the surface of a leaf. If it appears wet or glossy, then it’s likely that there’s not enough airflow in your environment. To fix this problem, use an exhaust fan or open a window to increase airflow during high-humidity periods.


The best time to prune your Rhipsalis is in the spring, after the last frost. You’ll want to remove any dead or damaged leaves, as well as any leaves that are growing in towards the center of the plant. If you have a particularly leggy plant, you can also trim back the stems to encourage new growth.

Rhipsalis pilocarpa (Hairy Stemmed Rhipsalis)

When pruning, be sure to use clean, sharp shears to avoid damaging the plant. Cut at an angle on long stems and remove old leaves by cutting near the base. Never cut into healthy tissue or off at an angle.

When to repot

You’ll know it’s time to repot your Rhipsalis when the roots start to come out of the drainage holes, or if the plant starts to look top-heavy and unstable. If you wait too long, the plant will become pot-bound and stressed, which can lead to health problems.

Dormancy/Winter rest

As winter approaches, Rhipsalis capilliformis enters into a state of dormancy. This means that it will stop growing and will not need as much water. If the plant does not have enough light to go dormant then it will continue to grow until the days get shorter.

The old man’s beard should be watered less often when in this dormant stage, but can still be fertilized with an all-purpose liquid fertilizer on occasion. Make sure to reduce the watering frequency as well! Too much water or overwatering during dormancy can lead to root rot.

Rhipsalis capilliformis flower & fragrance

Rhipsalis capilliformis

Rhipsalis capilliformis is a flowering plant that has white flowers with purple centers. The flowers are small and have a strong fragrance. The plant blooms in the spring and summer.

Growth rate

Rhipsalis capilliformis is a fast-growing plant that can reach up to 15 feet in length. It has long, slender stems that are covered in small, white flowers.


Rhipsalis capilliformis is not considered to be toxic to humans or animals. However, the plant does contain small amounts of saponins, which can cause stomach upset if ingested in large quantities.

USDA hardiness zones

Rhipsalis capilliformis thrives best in USDA hardiness zones 10-11, which is why it is an excellent houseplant. However, if you’re looking for a plant that will grow outdoors, this species is not one of them.

Rhipsalis micrantha (Mistletoe Cactus)

Pests and diseases

Rhipsalis capilliformis is a succulent plant that is relatively easy to care for, but it is susceptible to mealybugs and spider mites. If you notice any of these pests on your plant, you can treat them with insecticidal soap or neem oil. Make sure to follow the instructions on the product label.