Fishbone cactus (for simplicity’s sake, this is the common name that will be used throughout this article) can take a lot of neglect, and are easy to propagate, making them an ideal plant for first time houseplant parents.
Here’s a guide to get the most out of growing the fishbone cactus.
Fishbone Cactus Plant Details
Disocactus anguliger, or Epiphyllum anguliger, as it is more commonly known by one of its many monikers, fishbone cactus, ric rac cactus, zig zag cactus, and orchid cactus, is a great low maintenance but high impact houseplant that even the self prescribed “black thumbs” out there can have success with.
But ric rac cactus also have a unique appearance and can even flower under the right conditions, making them a great plant choice for experienced houseplant enthusiasts as well.
Disocactus anguliger is not the desert plant that comes to mind when thinking of a traditional cactus. The fishbone cactus is actually native to the rainforest regions of Mexico.
It clings on to other trees and grows in their nooks and crannies, this is what is called an epiphyte plant. It is not parasitic in nature (robbing the host tree of any life), it just uses the space on the host tree to cling and grow on.
Fishbone cactus are a fast-growing trailing plant, with each fishbone “arm” growing 8-12 inches in length. They are an easy houseplant to grow as long as they can be kept in their ideal growing conditions, so it is important to replicate their native growing conditions and provide them with porous soil, dappled sunlight, and humidity.
They will provide striking spikey foliage and even flowers (which actually turn into edible fruit!) if grown in their ideal conditions.
How to Grow Fishbone Cactus
Fishbone cactus are easily obtained from a local garden centre or plant shop. They are fairly fast growing, so spending less and purchasing a smaller plant is not a problem, it will grow.
Fishbone Cactus Propagation
This plant are also ridiculously easy to propagate from cuttings. Find a friend with a ric rac cactus and get a cutting. Use a pair of sharp scissors or pruning shears to avoid damage to the mother plant and take a snippet.
Let the cutting sit and form a callous for a few days (could even take a week or more) and then place cut side down into evenly moist potting soil (a cactus blend is preferable, but anything light and airy is fine).
Keep the soil evenly moist, but not soaking wet until the cactus forms roots, which will happen in a couple weeks. Don’t check to see if the roots are sprouting, the plant will feel sturdier and, well, rooted, once it starts establishing itself, and then it will start growing.
A long cutting on a fishbone cactus can be cut down further and all cut pieces can be planted.
It’s a cactus, so it needs full blasting sun, right? Nope, ric rac cactus is a tropical rainforest plant. In nature it actually attaches to and grows trees in the rainforest, so it is used to the canopy blocking out the harsh sun.
In our homes, the best way to mimic these conditions is to keep the plant about 3-4 feet away from a full southern exposure window.
Against a northern, western, or eastern window would also be ok. With that being said, Fishbone cacti are generally fairly adaptable and can handle a variety of conditions.
If they are not getting enough light, they will become stringy or leggy. Too much sun and they will get bleached out patches on their foliage.
This is where Fishbone cactus and their desert counterparts are similar, they both like porous, well draining soil. Opt for a cactus blend of soil, or even an orchid mix will do, lots of chunky bits of bark and perlite, and sandy soil.
Avoid regular black earth and other garden soils. An all-purpose potting soil will work as well if that’s all that’s available or affordable.
This plant do appreciate extra humidity, a mist from a spray bottle, near a humidifier (check our review on the best humidifiers here), or on a tray with pebbles and water (place the plant on top of the pebbles, not in the water) will all help.
However, with all that said, it’s not entirely necessary. This is a low maintenance and easy plant, no extra humidity and it will be fine, extra humidity and it will be happier.
I guess the main point is don’t sweat it if providing the extra humidity seems like a daunting task.
Fishbone Cactus Care Tips
How to Water Fishbone Cactus
When watering a epiphyllum anguliger, really water it. Then leave it alone. It is important to have drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, then when it’s time to water, put it in the sink and soak it.
Then drain off all the excess water and put it back. This doesn’t have to be done often, every week in the hot summer months, and less in the winter months.
Fishbone cactus is actually quite forgiving when it comes to watering as well which is why it’s a good plant for a plant newbie. It won’t shrivel up and die if it is neglected for an extra week or two.
It will droop and pout, but it won’t die, making it a great plant for frequent vacationers. A good way to check water is to stick a finger in the soil and if you feel moisture up to you second knuckle it’s good, if it’s dry, time to water.
More harm will be done to a zig zag cactus if it is over watered, this will cause the roots to rot and certain death to the plant. Make sure the soil is drying out between watering and never (ever ever) leave it in standing water.
An all-purpose indoor plant fertilizer (10-10-10 fertilizer) will suffice. Apply every other watering in the active growing season (summer months).
Again, this isn’t something that should be stressed about either and can be put off or done whenever it’s remembered (I’m personally terrible at remembering to fertilize houseplants).
This is again why zig zag cactus makes a great houseplant for all types of people, it can be neglected and still provide funky foliage, or it can be tended to and start to flower (next section).
Flowering Fishbone Cactus
Yes! They flower! They need a bit of extra love and attention to get to this point (and it’s fine if they never do, grow them primarily for their architectural structure).
First of all, the age of the plant is important, they need to be at least 4-7 years old in order for them to bloom, so if blooming is the goal it may be best to splurge and purchase a more mature fishbone cactus from a garden centre. If not, it will take patience.
Zig zag cactus bloom in the late summer-early autumn, so leading up to this period of time, fertilize, then cut back the fertilizer, and then decrease the watering (this may seem counterintuitive, but plants flower in time of stress because they are trying to flower and spread their seed), once flower buds appear, quit fertilizing altogether.
Once it starts to flower, start watering more frequently again (not over watering). Then enjoy, these are night blooming flowers, and they only last for one night.
They are fragrant and beautiful. The fruit that is produced after flowering is edible and said to taste like gooseberries.
This makes a great hanging plant, whether just in a pot hung from a hook, or a funky macrame plant hanger, the zig zaggy foliage will spill out the edges and drape down beautifully.
Terracotta pots are a good choice, especially for the neglectful plant parent, as it absorbs some water and will keep the plant moist for longer periods, for the forgetful waterer.
Fishbone cacti also look great on a pedestal style plant stand, like a Boston fern, except unlike a Boston fern a fishbone cactus won’t cause heartbreak because of almost certain death (Boston ferns are notoriously finicky houseplants).
Fishbone cactus can be brought outside in the summer months (they cannot take any frost), hanging on a shady north or east facing veranda would be a good spot.
Ric Rac Cactus Toxicity
This one is on the safe list for people and pets, making it a great choice for a houseplant.
Common Zig Zag Cactus Pests and Diseases
A fishbone cactus kept growing in its ideal conditions is usually not prone to many pests and diseases. If problems occur with one, it is best to rule out a watering issue before jumping straight to pests and diseases.
Yellowing and Drooping leaves
Yellowing and drooping leaves is a sign of overwatering, lessen the watering frequency. Wrinkled, shriveled leaves are a sign of underwatering, remember a fishbone cactus is not a typical desert cactus, it hails from the jungle and requires more water than its desert cousins.
Now that watering has been ruled out as a reason for a fishbone cactus not thriving, here are some pests and diseases that can affect a fishbone cactus.
The usual suspects, mealybugs and spider mites can infest fishbone cactus.
Mealy bugs will appear as little white bits of fuzz in the nooks and crannies of the fishbone cactus’s leaves. Spraying with an insecticidal soap should deal with the infestation, spray weekly until the problem resolves. Or try using a cotton swab and some rubbing alcohol to remove all the white fuzz.
Spider mites will appear as webbing in between the foliage, spraying off the webs as they appear is an effective strategy. Spraying with an insecticidal soap will work as well.
If bringing a fishbone cactus inside from spending the summer outdoors, it’s best to just assume there will be spider mites and treat it when re-entering the home (and quarantine it from other houseplants).
The most common disease associated with fishbone cactus is root rot. This is caused by over watering. Yellow bottom leaves and stunted new growth are signs.
To prevent root rot, make sure to choose a pot with drainage, water only when the top soil is dry. If it’s too late, the plant will need to be transplanted.
Take the cactus out of its pot and remove all the mushy and rotted bits of roots, then repot in fresh loose potting soil. The cactus will not like this shock, but should recover in time.
Fishbone Cactus FAQs
How often should I water my fishbone cactus?
Fishbone cactus needs to be watered more often than a typical cactus since it actually comes from the jungle. But it does not like to be overwatered, which can cause root rot.
A happy medium is the best place to be, check your fishbone cactus weekly by sticking a finger into the soil, if it’s dry just passed your first knuckle, give it some water. Water less frequently in winter months, and more often in the summer.
How big will my fishbone cactus get?
The long draping foliage of a fishbone cactus can grow 8-12” in length, making it a wonderful hanging plant.
Why is my fishbone cactus skinny?
This is probably due to not enough bright, but indirect, sunlight. The stems will stretch for the light and become skinny if they are placed in an area without enough sunlight.
Why is my fishbone cactus turning yellow?
This is most likely due to overwatering, it is a sign of root rot. Cut back on the water, and if it doesn’t improve, you will have to take the fishbone cactus out of its pot and trim off the rotten mushy bits of roots and repot it. Let a fishbone cactus dry out a bit between watering.
Why is my fishbone cactus wrinkled?
This is a sign of dehydration, make sure your fishbone cactus is getting enough water. They need more water than a typical desert type cactus.
Does a fishbone cactus bloom?
Yes, they do bloom, they bloom at night and each blossom only lasts for one night. They don’t bloom frequently and you may never get your fishbone to bloom (read the blooming section of this article for some tips)
Are Fishbone cactus safe for dogs?
Yes, they are non toxic to people and pets.
Wrapping Up Our Fishbone Cactus Growing Guide
Disocactus anguliger or fishbone cactus has unusual foliage that sets it apart from the typical players in the houseplant game. It can withstand neglect, and is easy to propagate, making fishbone cactus a welcome addition (or first plant) to any home.