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Rhipsalis cereuscula1PAKAL.jpg
Flowering Rhipsalis cereuscula
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Cactaceae
Subfamily: Cactoideae
Tribe: Rhipsalideae
Genus: Rhipsalis

Numerous, see text


Rhipsalis is a genus of epiphytic flowering plants in the cactus family, typically known as mistletoe cacti. They are found in parts of Central America, the Caribbean and northern regions of South America. They also inhabit isolated locations in Africa and Asia, and are the only cactus group naturally occurring in the Old World. This is the largest and most widely distributed genus of epiphytic cacti[1] (those which live on other plants without damaging them).

The scientific name Rhipsalis derives from the Ancient Greek term for wickerwork,[2][3] referring to the plants' morphology.


The morphology of Rhipsalis is very variable. The plants can grow mostly pendent, few grow more or less upright or sprawling. There are three main stem shapes: terete, angular and flattened. The stems are succulent, but the degree of succulence varies between the species. Some have very thick stems (e.g. Rhipsalis neves-armondii), whereas other have very thin, filiform stems (e.g. Rhipsalis baccifera, Rhipsalis clavata). In the majority of species, spines are missing or occur only in the juvenile stage (this is most prominent in Rhipsalis dissimilis). Rhipsalis pilocarpa has stems and fruits densely covered by bristles, making this species easily distinguishable from all other Rhipsalis. The flowers are borne lateral or apical and are actinomorphic with a varying number of perianth segments, stamens and carpels. They are small, usually about 1 cm in diameter, white or whitish in most species. Yellowish flowers occur in R. dissimilis and R. elliptica and R. hoelleri is the only Rhipsalis species with red flowers. The fruits are always berries, they are whitish or coloured pink, red or yellow. Vivipary has been observed in R. micrantha and R. baccifera.[4]


The genus was described by Joseph Gaertner in 1788.[5] But when he described the plant, he had in fact not realised it was a cactus. Instead, he assumed he had found a new species of Cassytha,[Note 1] a parasitic laurel from a completely different plant family.


In the taxonomic treatment in The New Cactus Lexicon, 35 species were accepted, divided into five subgenera (Phyllarthrorhipsalis, Rhipsalis, Epallagogonium, Calamorhipsalis, Erythrorhipsalis).[6] A molecular study in 2011 showed the paraphyly of three subgenera as previously circumscribed (Rhipsalis, Calamorhipsalis and Epallagogonium).[7] So a new subgeneric classification of Rhipsalis with only monophyletic subgenera Rhipsalis, Calamorhipsalis and Erythrorhipsalis was proposed.[1] Species accepted by Plants of the World Online as of January 2023 are listed below,[8] with subgeneric placements, where given, based on Calvente (2012).[1]

Subgenus Image Scientific name Distribution
Calamorhipsalis Rhipsalis dissimilis (G.Lindb.) K.Schum. Brazil (Parana, São Paulo)
Rhipsalis floccosa.jpg Rhipsalis floccosa Salm-Dyck ex Pfeiff. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela
Rhipsalis hoelleri Barthlott & N.P.Taylor Brazil (Espirito Santo)
Rhipsalis neves-armondii - Botanischer Garten - Heidelberg, Germany - DSC01363.jpg Rhipsalis neves-armondii K.Schum. Brazil (Parana, Rio de Janeiro, Santa Catarina, São Paulo)
Rhipsalis pacheco-leonis Loefgr. Brazil (Rio de Janeiro)
Rhipsalis paradoxa.jpg Rhipsalis paradoxa (Salm-Dyck ex Pfeiff.) Salm-Dyck Brazil (Bahia, Espirito Santo, Minas Gerais, Parana, Rio de Janeiro, Santa Catarina, São Paulo)
Rhipsalis puniceodiscus G.Lindb. Brazil (Parana, Rio de Janeiro, Santa Catarina, São Paulo)
Rhipsalis trigona - Wellesley College - DSC09761.JPG Rhipsalis trigona Pfeiff. Brazil (Parana, Santa Catarina, São Paulo)
Erythrorhipsalis Rhipsalis aurea M.F.Freitas & J.M.A.Braga Brazil (Rio de ]aneiro)
Rhipsalis burchellii 01 ies.jpg Rhipsalis burchellii Britton & Rose Brazil
Rhipsalis campos-portoana(13).jpg Rhipsalis campos-portoana Loefgr. Brazil
Rhipsalis clavata 0zz.jpg Rhipsalis clavata F.A.C.Weber Brazil (Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo)
Rhipsalis cereuscula (ab Eisjen Schaaf).jpg Rhipsalis cereuscula Haw. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay
Rhipsalis juengeri Barthlott & N.P.Taylor Brazil (São Paulo)
Rhipsalis ormindoi N.P.Taylor & Zappi Brazil (Rio de Janeiro)
Rhipsalis pilocarpa pm 1.JPG Rhipsalis pilocarpa Loefgr. Brazil (Espirito Santo, Minas Gerais, Parana, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo)
Rhipsalis pulchra Loefgr. Brazil (Minas Gerais, Parana, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo)
Rhipsalis Rhipsalis agudoensis N.P.Taylor Brazil (Rio Grande do Sul)
Rhipsalis baccifera subsp. baccifera.JPG Rhipsalis baccifera (J.S.Muell.) Stearn Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion, Sri Lanka
Rhipsalis barthlottii Ralf Bauer & N.Korotkova Brazil (Rio de Janeiro; Serra dos Orgãos)[9]
Rhipsalis cereoides (Backeb. & Voll) Backeb. Brazil
Rhipsalis crispata 2019-04-16 0889.jpg Rhipsalis crispata (Haw.) Pfeiff. Brazil (Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo)
Rhipsalis cuneata Britton & Rose Bolivia
Rhipsalis elliptica.jpg Rhipsalis elliptica G.Lindb. ex K.Schum. Brazil (Minas Gerais, Parana, Santa Catarina, São Paulo)
Rhipsalis ewaldiana.JPG Rhipsalis ewaldiana Barthlott & N.P.Taylor Brazil (Rio de Janeiro)
Rhipsalis flagelliformis N.P.Taylor & Zappi Brazil (Rio de Janeiro)[9]
Rhipsalis goebeliana.jpg Rhipsalis goebeliana Backeb. Bolivia
Rhipsalis grandiflora Haw. Brazil (Parana, Rio de Janeiro, Santa Catarina, São Paulo)
Rhipsalis hileiabaiana (N.P.Taylor & Barthlott) N.Korotkova & Barthlott Brazil (Bahia)
Rhipsalis hylaea F.Ritter Peru
Rhipsalis lindbergiana K.Schum. Brazil (Bahia, Espirito Santo, Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Sergipe)
Rhipsalis mesembryanthoides 1zz.jpg Rhipsalis mesembryanthemoides Haw. Brazil (Rio de Janeiro)
Rhipsalis micrantha 01.JPG Rhipsalis micrantha (Kunth) DC. Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela
Rhipsalis oblonga (11153268233).jpg Rhipsalis oblonga Loefgr., syn. Rhipsalis crispimarginata Brazil (Bahia, Espirito Santo, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo)
Rhipsalis pilocarpa pm 1.JPG Rhipsalis olivifera N.P.Taylor & Zappi Brazil (Rio de Janeiro)
Rhipsalis occidentalis Barthlott & Rauh Ecuador, Peru, Suriname
Rhipsalis pachyptera kz1.JPG Rhipsalis pachyptera Pfeiff. Brazil (Parana, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, São Paulo)
Rhipsalis pentaptera flw.JPG Rhipsalis pentaptera Pfeiff. ex A.Dietr. Brazil (Rio de Janeiro)
Rhipsalis rhombea (Salm-Dyck) Pfeiff. Southeast Brazil[10]
Rhipsalis russellii Br. & R. Bahia Brasil.jpg Rhipsalis russellii Britton & Rose Brazil (Bahia, Espirito Santo, Minas Gerais)
Rhipsalis shaferi Britton & Rose 2011 Paraguay, southern Bolivia, northern Argentina
Rhipsalis sulcata.JPG Rhipsalis sulcata F.A.C.Weber Brazil (Espirito Santo)
Rhipsalis teres 01 ies.jpg Rhipsalis teres (Vell.) Steud. Brazil
Rhipsalis triangularis Werderm. Brazil (Rio de Janeiro)
Unplaced Rhipsalis trigonoides (Doweld) N.Korotkova Brazil (São Paulo)

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Rhipsalis is found as pendulous epiphyte in tropical rainforests, some species may also grow epilithic or, rarely, terrestrial.[11][12][7] The genus is found widely in Central America, parts of the Caribbean and a great part of northern and central South America.[2] The center of diversity of Rhipsalis lies in the rainforests of the Mata Atlantica in southeastern Brazil.[12] It is found throughout the New World, and additionally in tropical Africa, Madagascar and Sri Lanka.[13][7] It is the only cactus with a natural occurrence outside the New World.[14]


  1. ^ The original spelling in publication is cassutha, but this is presumably a typographical error.


  1. ^ a b c Calvente, A. (2012), "A New Subgeneric Classification of Rhipsalis (Cactoideae, Cactaceae)", Systematic Botany, 37 (4): 983–988, doi:10.1600/036364412X656455, S2CID 84206266
  2. ^ a b Anderson (2001), p. 612
  3. ^ "Rhipsalis". Lexico UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 2022-03-06.
  4. ^ Cota-Sánchez, J. Hugo (2004), "Vivipary in the Cactaceae: Its taxonomic occurrence and biological significance", Flora, 199 (6): 481–490, doi:10.1078/0367-2530-00175
  5. ^ Gaertner, Joseph (1788), "Rhipsalis", Fruct. Sem. Pl., i: 137, doi:10.5962/bhl.title.53838
  6. ^ Hunt (2006), pp. 253–257
  7. ^ a b c Calvente, A.; Zappi, D.C.; Forest, F.; Lohmann, L.G. (2011), "Molecular Phylogeny, Evolution, and Biogeography of South American Epiphytic Cacti", International Journal of Plant Sciences, 172 (7): 902–914, doi:10.1086/660881
  8. ^ "Rhipsalis Gaertn". Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 2023-01-25.
  9. ^ a b Taylor, Nigel; Olsthoorn, Gerardus; Zappi, Daniela; Khew, Gillian; Quandt, Dietmar (2014-11-20). "A remarkable new Rhipsalis (Cactaceae) from eastern Brazil". Bradleya. British Cactus and Succulent Society. 32 (32): 2–12. doi:10.25223/brad.n32.2014.a12. ISSN 0265-086X.
  10. ^ Bauer, Ralf; Korotkova, Nadja (2021-03-01). "Neotypification of Rhipsalis rhombea (Rhipsalideae, Cactaceae) and Its Taxonomic History". Haseltonia. Cactus and Succulent Society of America. 27 (1). doi:10.2985/026.027.0111. ISSN 1070-0048.
  11. ^ Anderson (2001), pp. 22–24
  12. ^ a b Korotkova, Nadja (2011), Phylogeny and evolution of the epiphytic Rhipsalideae (Cactaceae) (PDF) (PhD thesis), Bonn
  13. ^ Barthlott, Wilhelm (1983), "Biogeography and Evolution in Neo- and Paleotropical Rhipsalinae (Cactaceae)", Sonderb. Naturwiss. Vereins Hamburg, 7: 241–248
  14. ^ Anderson (2001), p. 18


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