7 Plants That Look Like Pencil Cactus

The Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia Tirucalli) – also known as Milk Bush, Indian Tree Spurge, and Naked Lady – isn’t a true cactus. It is a euphorbia, making it a succulent irrespective of its name. Its novel appearance makes it a trendy houseplant in contemporary homes.

Some cultivars include ‘Sticks on Fire’ and ‘Rosea’; they feature bright orange and red stems.

The pencil cactus is native to semi-arid South African and Indian climates. The plant’s namesake branches are cylindrical and pencil-like. The smooth, green young branches age rough, gray branches like tree bark. While mostly leafless, the growing points are occasionally tipped with inch-long oval leaves. From late spring through early summer, it briefly features petite flowers at the end of the green branches.

Like the other thousands of euphorbias, the pencil cactus contains a toxic milky white latex sap. The sap is released upon injury and can cause burning, redness, rashes, and skin irritations for humans and pets.

The pencil cactus is the most common Euphorbia grown. The unusual-looking pencil cactus is a common household plant and unique landscape addition. Here are 7 plants that offer a similar peculiar appearance to add contemporary beauty to your home.

1. Mistletoe Cactus (Rhipsalis Baccifera)

Mistletoe Cactus
Jenny Evans Mistletoe Cactus

The Mistletoe Cactus belongs to a cactus genus of around 39 species known as Rhipsalis. This tropical cactus is native to Central and Southern America. Interesting fact, the Rhipsalis Baccifera cactus is the only cactus species naturally found outside the New World. The most common theory is that migratory birds spread the seeds from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Mistletoe Cactus resembles the mistletoe plant. It grows epiphytically and boasts pencil-thin stems that reach up to 6 feet in length. The stem’s thick skin does not produce thorns, but it has imperceptible bumps on the surface – their dainty white blooms only a day.

Surprisingly, the Rhipsalis Baccifera thrives in the shade to partial shade and humid environments, unlike most cacti. It naturally grows in the understory of trees in tropical and subtropical areas. Keep the Mistletoe Cactus away from direct sunlight and water it once every few weeks.

2. Trailing Mistletoe Cactus (Rhipsalis Capilliformis)

Rhipsalis Capilliformis
Juan Ignacio 1976 Rhipsalis Capilliformis

The Trailing Mistletoe Cactus is a gorgeous trailing tropical succulent originally from Brazil. It grows in the nooks and crannies of forest trees. Like the standard Mistletoe Cactus (Rhipsalis Baccifera), the Trailing Mistletoe Cactus belongs to the Rhipsalis cactus family.

The Trailing Mistletoe Cactus is an unusual yet attractive epiphytic plant with delicate cylindrical branches. The miniature pencil-like branches cascade down the pot or basket, creating a waterfall effect. During the winter, the stems are tipped with tiny, transparent bell-shaped flowers with a sweet fragrance. White berries soon follow the dainty flowers.

This trendy cactus provides a dramatic and exciting accent to your home decor or office table. Its care requirements are straightforward and minimal, making it an ideal plant for beginners.

3. Candelilla (Euphorbia Antisyphillitica)

Rafael Saldaña Candelilla

Candelilla is another succulent plant that belongs to the same Euphorbiaceae family as the Pencil Cactus. Scientifically known as Euphorbia Antisyphillitica, Candelilla is native to parts of the Chihuahuan Desert, from west Texas south into Mexico.

Candelilla succulents have pencil-thin, grayish-green erect stems that grow up to 3 feet tall. The branches spread carefreely and boast tiny pinkish-white flowers from spring to early summer.

Candelilla means ‘little candle’ in Spanish. The name refers to the succulent’s slender stems and waxy coating. The wax coating is commonly extracted to make candles, soap, floor polish, and waterproofing compounds.

4. Dancing Bones Cactus (Hatiora Salicornioides)

Hatiora Salicornioides
salchuiwt Hatiora Salicornioides

The Dancing Bones Cactus is a decorative houseplant with South American roots and belongs to the Cactaceae family. The Hatiora isn’t a typical desert cactus but rather has an epiphytic nature, meaning it can grow on other plants.

The Dancing Bones Cactus produces a fascinating display of slender, multi-branched erect stems with bottle-shaped joints. You can compare the Hatiora cactus to dancing bones or upright pencils. Also known as the Drunkard’s Dream, the Dancing Bones Cactus produces yellow-orange flowers on the bottle-shaped stem tips during spring.

The unique foliage of the Dancing Bones Cactus is a fun, exotic way to add interest to your windowsill or cactus garden. Place it in indirect light and water regularly during the growing season.

5. Cat Tails Euphorbia (Euphorbia Alluaudii)

Euphorbia alluaudii
K M Euphorbia alluaudii

Cat Tails Euphorbia is a succulent plant native to South-west Madagascar. Like the Pencil Cactus, the Cat Tails Euphorbia is part of the Euphorbiaceae family.

The Cat Tails Euphorbia can grow to an impressive height of 12 feet; however, it rarely exceeds 6 feet in containers. The shrub-like succulent consists of clusters of spineless, joint stems that grow upwards. The branches resemble a cat’s tail – hence the name – but can also be compared to upright fingers or pencils. The pale green stems boast bright green leaves during the summer that leave behind brown spots once they fall off.

Euphorbia alluaudii f. cristata is the rare, highly-priced crested variety of the Cat Tails Euphorbia. It is famous for its sculptural fan-shaped epidermis.

6. Coral Cactus (Rhipsalis Cereuscula)

Rhipsalis cereuscula
salchuiwt Rhipsalis cereuscula

The Rhipsalis Cereuscula  is a petite shrub native to Central and South American tropical rainforests. This epiphytic cactus is mostly found growing on tree trunks and rocks in the tropics. The Coral Cactus belongs to the diverse genus Rhipsalis.

The foliage of the Coral Cactus is by far its most distinguishing feature. It draws attention with its clusters of cylindrical stems that resemble coral and transform into dangly branches over time. The slender branches later give rise to dainty white, pink, or purple flowers.

The Coral Cactus is easy to care for, requiring bright, indirect lighting and minimal watering. It makes a beautiful display in hanging baskets, pots, or terrariums.

7. Rhipsalis Clavata (Rhipsalis Clavata)

Rhipsalis Clavata
Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz Rhipsalis Clavata

The Rhipsalis Clavata is an epiphytic cactus native to the rainforests of Brazil. It is part of the Cactoideae subfamily of the Cactaceae family – the largest and widest distributed epiphytic genus of cacti.

Rhipsalis Clavata gracefully cascades down hanging pots and baskets, boasting narrow cylindrical pendant stems. The dainty sporadic bell-shaped blooms turn into small yellow or red fruits. The Rhipsalis Clavata resembles the pencil cactus, but its branches are softer and more flexible.

You cannot treat the Rhipsalis Clavata like other cacti regarding its care requirements. It does not appreciate direct sunlight. Instead, the Rhipsalis thrives best in the morning sun and full afternoon shade. It also needs regular watering and misting for optimal growth.