picture of a garden full of monkey tail cactus

Monkey Tail Cactus Plant Care Guide

The Monkey Tail Cactus is an attention grabber. 

This succulent boasts long stems that have white, tiny spines on them. All together, they give off a fuzzy appearance that resembles, as you might guess, the tail of a monkey. 

These “tails” grow in many directions from the base of the plant. They typically grow up to 3-4 feet in length, making them an ideal option for a hanging basket. 

As the Monkey Tail Cactus grows, it will initially grow upward, but the spines of the plant will begin to droop over as their length increases. (This naturally occurs when the stems reach a length of 2 feet.) 

Monkey Tail is a relatively fast-growing cactus. Stems can grow up to 10 cm per month during the growing season. For fully mature cacti, the diameter of the “tails” can be as large as 7 cm. 

They are sometimes referred to as other names such as the Tarantula Cactus, Rat Tail Cactus, and Soft Monkey Tail Cactus.

Whatever you call it, this low-maintenance, easy-to-care-for plant is an excellent choice for both beginners and dedicated houseplant owners alike. 

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Botanical NameHildewintera colademononis
Common NameMonkey Tail Cactus
Size3 to 4 feet
DifficultyEasy
Pet FriendlyNo, Toxic to pets
Air CleanerNo

Monkey Tail Cactus Origin

Monkey Tail Cactus, Hildewintera colademononis, is a member of the Cactaceae family and native to South America, specifically the Bolivian countryside in Santa Cruz.

There, it grows in rocky soil along cliffs and hills. In fact, Monkey Tail Cactus is also classified as a Lithophyte, meaning it has a shallow root system that allows it to grow well in rocks and crevices – like that of its native habitat.  

A part of the genus Cleistocactus, the stems of the cacti grow in a column-like manner. Its columns, in particular, are soft and droop downwards, which is different than the upright standing outgrowths of most desert cacti. 

Like many other succulents, it survives off of the moisture in the air by storing water in its stems. 

How to Care for Monkey Tail Cactus

Overall, the Monkey Tail Cactus is a simple plant to care for. However, there are specific things to keep in mind when growing any cactus. Keep reading for tips on how to help your Monkey Tail Cactus thrive!

Light

Monkey Tail Cactus prefers bright, indirect sunlight – up to 10-14 hours per day is ideal. It thrives in USDA hardiness zones 9a-11b. 

Monkey Tail Cactus is a desert plant and can tolerate full sun, within reason. However, if you live in an area with particularly harsh sunlight and keep your cactus outdoors, you may want to place it somewhere where it will get more regular shade. 

Temperature

Cooler weather is fine periodically. But do be responsive, again, if you keep your cactus outdoors, to sudden drops in temperature. Sustained exposure to cooler weather will harm your cactus. 

There is some controversy on the general cold hardiness of this plant. Many say that sub-freezing temperatures are acceptable, while others encourage growers to keep it safe from cooler temperatures. 

This variance depends mainly on the particular genetics of your plant. Don’t keep your cactus outdoors in sub-freezing temperatures as a rule of thumb. Do keep in mind that it stores water in its stems, so if that water freezes, it can cause damage to the cells of the plant. 

If you notice your plant turning a reddish color, this likely means it is in temperatures that are too cold. Warm it up slowly, taking care not to shock it with a different environment. 

Overall, notice how your plant responds to certain conditions and act accordingly. 

Humidity 

This plant can tolerate, and usually prefers, a fair amount of humidity. Indoors, the humidity around your cactus should be monitored, especially during its growing season, when it will thrive off of the moisture in the air to support its growth. 

Consider using a humidifier in the room where your cactus is to increase general humidity, especially if you live in a dry climate. 

If you keep your cactus in a room with other plants that prefer humidity, be sure that there is plenty of circulation around them to keep airflow steady. 

Fungus can grow if plants are kept too close together, and, with Monkey Tail Cactus, can be especially hard to spot amid its spiny stems. 

In the winter, during dormancy, it is best to keep the humidity around the plant much lower. It does not need much moisture during this time, and too much of it can waterlog the plant and cause rot. 

Watering 

Monkey Tail Cactus pulls from ambient moisture to hydrate and support growth. Because of that, you do not need to water your plant often if proper humidity conditions are met. 

In fact, overwatering is the most common problem people see with this plant. 

Generally, watering your cactus weekly during the spring and summer (growing season) should be sufficient. However, it’s always best to check your cactus before watering. 

Consider purchasing a moisture meter to help you gauge the soil’s moisture level before adding water. Alternatively, use your finger to test the soil, and do not water your plant if it’s still moist. 

Water your cactus less in the fall and winter.

Don’t stop watering completely, but do water only when the soil is completely dry – usually about every 6 to 8 weeks. 

Remember, your plant will be in dormancy, so it only requires minimal watering to sustain its dormant state. 

If your Monkey Tail Cactus is outdoors, be sure that it is not exposed to too much rain or other elements, such as high wind or unexpected frosts. These can damage your plant. 

If you live somewhere where these elements are common, it may be best to keep your Monkey Tail Cactus indoors. 

Fertilization

Fertilize your Monkey Tail Cactus monthly in the growing season, using a low-nitrogen, high-potassium mix. 

Consider using a specific mix of nitrogen: phosphorous: potassium that is 5:10:5. 

Diluted fertilizers are best. If you notice discoloration of your plant or wilting stems, it may mean that you are fertilizing too much. Flush the plant with water and abstain from fertilizing the rest of the growing season.  

Young plants that have not yet begun to flower should not be fertilized. If you choose to fertilize them, use only a very diluted fertilizer (about 1/4 strength). 

Flowering

In spring and early summer, an adult Monkey Tail Cactus can bloom. It produces bright red flowers that can grow as long a three inches. 

The flowers most often occur in spring and summer, but they can present themselves in fall as well, depending on the local climate. 

The flowers eventually turn into reddish seeds that germinate quickly. 

Pruning

Sometimes the monkey tail stems will die off naturally. If this occurs, remove them from your plant.

Aesthetic pruning can be done, as well, to shape your plant or if you want to take cuttings to propagate it. 

Apart from those instances, your Monkey Tail Cactus should not require much pruning. 

Repotting

You do not need to repot your cactus often. 

Repot it every couple of years to replenish the soil.

Because it has such a shallow root system, you usually will not need to upgrade to a bigger pot when you repot unless your plant needs more support of its stems.

Repot in the spring, right before the growing season. 

The plant’s stems can be prone to breakage, so a hanging pot is usually the best choice for your plant, as it limits much contact with people or other plants. 

When repotting your plant, use a cactus soil mix. The native habitat of Monkey Tail Cactus is very rocky, so you might consider adding perlite or gravel to the soil to increase its aeration and improve drainage. 

Pests 

The Monkey Tail Cactus is prone to mealybugs, spider mites, and scale. 

These pests are often more difficult to spot because they can hide in between the spines of your cactus, so check your plant regularly to stay ahead of any potential pest infestations. 

Mealybugs can be identified by their powdery appearance and tiny, grey, oval bodies. They produce honeydew that attracts ants and can cause the development of bacteria and fungi. 

Spider mites can be spotted by their tiny white or yellow dots that cluster around your plant’s stem. They are particularly frustrating little pests because they are nearly impossible to detect until they have begun to damage your plant. 

The damage they cause will likely show up as brown patches on your plants. If you notice these, be sure to remove the infected stems as quickly as possible to avoid the spread of the infestation. 

Scale pests also produce honeydew that can attract ants. A good rule of thumb is to check your plant thoroughly if you ever notice ants around your plants. 

With all pests, it is essential to move your plant away from any other nearby plants as quickly as possible to avoid the spread of the pests. 

Scales, mealybugs, and spider mites can be killed using rubbing alcohol. Dip a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol and rub it along the spines of the stems. 

Neem oil is a great preventative measure to utilize, which will help you avoid infestation. Spray this on your plant to help keep pests away. 

Diseases

Monkey Tail Cactus is not prone to many diseases.

If they do develop anything, it will likely be a fungus, either from too much humidity in the air or from overwatering.

Generally, if your watering practices are healthy and the humidity levels are proper for the time of year, you shouldn’t have too much trouble avoiding these diseases.

Many types of fungus can sometimes be harmful to humans (in addition to your plant), so check your plant regularly to ensure any disease is caught early. 

How to Propagate Monkey Tail Cactus

The easiest way to propagate Monkey Tail Cactus is to cut off one of its stems with disinfected pruning shears, let it dry for a couple of days, and plant it in new soil. 

It can take several weeks (usually around one month) for the cutting to root and begin growing. 

Another option is waiting for the plant to produce outgrowth on its own. Sometimes the plant will produce offshoots, or “pups” that can be removed from their mother plant and placed in their own pot. 

Always be sure to let any cuttings or pups dry for a few days before planting. This drying allows them to develop a necessary callous on their ends that help prevent fungal infection. 

Pollination of the Monkey Tail Cactus flowers is possible, as well, but it does take patience and practice. The tiny black seeds from the flower can be germinated and grown independently. 

Do not try to propagate your Monkey Tail Cactus in water. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you touch a Monkey Tail Cactus?

You can gently handle your Monkey Tail Cactus, but the spines on its stems may cause pain if they are pressed too hard. Additionally, rough treatment of the stems can cause damage, so always practice caution when handling them. 

How much sun does a Monkey Tail Cactus need?

Monkey Tail Cactus needs bright, indirect sunlight. It is recommended that your cactus receive between 10-14 hours of bright sunlight per day. 

How long does it take to grow Monkey Tail Cactus from seed?

The Monkey Tail Cactus is a fast-growing cactus, but growing a succulent from seed takes significantly longer than through propagation. 

It can take anywhere from three weeks to several months for the Monkey Tail Cactus to germinate from seed. 

It may be several years before it will be grown enough to bloom.

Is Monkey Tail Cactus toxic to pets?

Sadly, unlike many cactus plants, the Monkey Tail Cactus is toxic to both pets and humans. 

The spiny protrusions on your Monkey Tail Cactus will provide some natural protection against unwanted attention.  

However, it is still best practice is always to keep plants out of reach of pets and small children to avoid accidental ingestion of plants. 

Is Monkey Tail Cactus Invasive? 

While it is not listed as an invasive species, Monkey Tail Cactus grows and germinates quickly, so take care to keep its growth in check if you grow it outdoors. 

Final Thoughts

The Monkey Tail Cactus is a visually interesting, easy to care for plant that can propagate easily. Once you have its basic care requirements in check, you should have no problem keeping your cactus healthy for many years to come! 

Be sure to check out all of our Plant Care Guides!

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