Loved for its unusual, angular toothed stems, Disocactus anguliger goes by many names: fishbone cactus, zigzag cactus, ricrac cactus, and even orchid cactus in some regions. Still, one thing is for sure: this is not your typical houseplant.
This tropical cactus is native to North America and Mexico, where it grows from tree branches, and is ideal for cactus enthusiasts who don’t have the necessary circumstances to keep traditional desert cacti alive. The fishbone cactus is a low-maintenance houseplant that thrives in the home just as much as in its natural environment. It prefers wet, humid environments and does amazing in bright, indirect light.
The fishbone cactus is native to Mexico’s rainforests and it is characterized as epiphytic, which means in its natural habitat, it relies on other plants for physical support. In addition to this, epiphytic plants get nutrients and humidity from the air, so the fishbone cactus can thrive in poor soil conditions if necessary. To really appreciate the beauty of your fishbone cactus’ leaves, place it in a hanging pot or planter.
The lush zigzag foliage is sure to make this plant an eye-catcher, but if you want to enjoy your new green friend for years to come, you need to learn how to take proper care of it. Worry not, because we have got you covered with everything there is to know about the Fishbone Cactus.
About Fishbone Cactus
- This plant’s current scientific name is Disocactus Anguliger, but it used to be known by another name – Epiphyllum Anguliger – due to its epiphytic characteristics.
- Because of its zigzag stems, this plant goes by many names, including fishbone cactus, zigzag cactus, and ricrac cactus.
- The zigzag cactus, as it is sometimes known, is native to North America and Mexico
- Fishbone cacti grow to be about 6 inches tall, but their stems can get as long as 3 feet.
- The flattened stems, which evolved this way because there is no need for the plant to store that much water in tropical conditions, make it possible for the cacti to capture the sun more efficiently.
- Fishbone cacti are resilient to pests, and you won’t need to worry too much about them. Mealybugs can sometimes be an issue and can appear in the crevices of the stems. If you spot fluffy white intruders on your fishbone cactus, wipe them with some alcohol on a cotton swab.
- They enjoy temperatures of around 15°C (59°F) to 25°C (78°F). Make sure to never leave your fishbone cactus in places where the temperature drops under 10°C (50°F).
- The zigzag cactus enjoys bright, indirect sunlight and thrives in east-facing windows.
- A great thing about fishbone cacti is the fact that they are non-toxic, which means they can be safely kept around children and pets.
Fishbone Cactus Features: An Overview
- The Fishbone cactus rarely blooms, but when it does, you will surely enjoy it. The fishbone cactus flowers are soft pink, white, or yellow and open beautifully at night. The only downfall is that the flowers only last for about a day.
- The blooming period is usually during late summer and early fall.
- The leaf-like stems of the fishbone cactus are known as cladodes and, similar to other jungle cacti, have developed in response to a lack of sunlight in their more tropical environments.
- While their flowers are beautiful, the unique stems are the main reason, so many plant enthusiasts are lovestruck by this plant. When placed in hanging pots, its branched stems can grow as long as 12 inches indoors and over 3 feet in natural habitats.
- As mentioned above, fishbone cacti are epiphytic plants, so in their natural habitat, these plants use the underside of their stems to climb and cling to trees, but they are not parasitic and do not absorb nutrients from the hosts.
Growing Fishbone Cactus
Fishbone cacti are not very demanding plants, but you do need to take care of some aspects if you want your plant to truly thrive.
In terms of humidity, zigzag cacti will usually thrive without much effort in typical home environments, but if you have the means to, they would surely enjoy a climate that is a little bit more humid. You can achieve this by using a pebble tray that you put under the pot and fill with water from time to time, but another hack is to place your fishbone cacti in a more humid room, such as the bathroom or kitchen.
In terms of lighting, the fishbone cactus can be very adaptable. While it does enjoy bright light, make sure it is indirect if you really want it to thrive. If you place it in low light, you won’t have much trouble either, but keep in mind that it will grow slower. The best way to determine if the light is too low for your zigzag cactus to grow happy and healthy is to keep an eye on the stems. If your plant starts growing especially thin stems that stretch out towards a particular spot, it means the plant is trying to reach out for a brighter spot, and it’s time to consider moving it.
- Healthy and well rooted plant.
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- Large Fishbone Cactus in Hanging 6" Pot Epiphyllum Angulifer
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The best place to grow tropical cacti, which also include the fishbone cactus, is near an east-facing window. This way, your plant will enjoy the morning sun rays, in which they thrive, but will be kept away from afternoon sun rays, which can be too much for them to handle.
If you are determined to convince your fishbone cactus to bloom, you will need to train your plant to adapt to a brighter spot, which can sometimes be challenging to do indoors. If you simply move it from a shady spot to a bright spot, you may notice the leaves picking up a reddish hue. This means the plant is getting a sunburn due to changing its environment too soon. However, if you give it time to adapt and increase light intensity slowly, your cactus will acclimate to the change, and you’ll be one step closer to making it bloom.
In terms of fertilizing, fishbone cacti don’t require much feeding, especially if they are placed in the right lighting conditions. But according to some gardeners, the fishbone cactus might benefit from regular fertilizing during its growth and bloom period. If you want to try your hand at fertilizing this cactus, apply a high-quality fertilizer that has a 10:10:10 ratio once every two weeks or so. Stop fertilizing the cactus once it starts to produce blooms.
Planting Fishbone Cactus
To plant your fishbone cactus in a thriving environment, you will need soil that drains properly! Because these two elements are so intertwined, getting the watering and potting mix just right is always a question of balance. A heavy mix is going to dry out after a longer period, reducing watering requirements, while a free-draining mix will allow water to flow more quickly while also drying out sooner. A well-draining mix will best simulate the circumstances in which fishbone cacti flourish in their natural environments, as this sort of mix allows for proper root aeration.
Because these plants grow quite attached to their containers and make themselves cosy there, repotting is not suggested very often. They also have a small root system in comparison to their size. Doing it once every two years or so is enough and will not put the plant under too much stress. It’s a good idea to water your fishbone cactus container a few days before repotting to lessen the chance of transplant shock.
Watering Fishbone Cactus
The lush green stems that look almost like straps will most likely give you a clue that this is not your typical cactus. Jungle cacti have no spines and thrive in more humid settings than their prickly desert relatives. As a result, their watering needs are also quite different.
Despite its ease of care, overwatering can be a concern with the fishbone cactus, causing the roots to rot and eventually leading to mushy stems or plant collapse. Keep an eye out for shrivelled stems but test the potting mix to see if under-watering or overwatering is to blame since both can cause this issue.
During the growth season (warmer months), water your fishbone cactus as you would any other houseplant – after the top inch or two of the soil dries. Usually, this means once every 10-14 days, but it can depend on where you are living. During the colder season, it’s enough to water it once a month. As a general rule, you can allow the top layer of soil to dry out before you give your plant more water. However, you should do it with caution as allowing the soil to dry completely will deprive the cactus of moisture. We’ve already mentioned that this cactus is a bit different in terms of its water needs so any extended period of drought can kill this plant.
Remember that the potting mix has an influence on your watering schedule as well. The more naturally free-draining and less thick the mix is, the more frequently you’ll need to water. You can use a self-watering pot to ensure that your fishbone cactus will always get the right amount of moisture. You can also try watering it from the bottom, as this watering technique will decrease the chances of root rot. Coldwater can shock the roots of tropical and rainforest cactus, so it’s better to keep them at normal temperatures. If you’re going to use tap water, let it sit for a day or two before utilizing it.
Propagating Fishbone Cactus
Propagating your fishbone cacti is a rewarding experience for sure. When taking cuttings, make sure to use a sharp, sterile blade, so that you end up with a clean cut.
The most essential thing to remember when dealing with succulent-type stems is to make sure the cut end is properly sealed before placing them in water. This can make or break the experience when it comes to getting jungle cactus cuttings to grow roots without decaying. It is usually recommended to wait for 5 to 7 days before placing your cutting in water or soil, but it may take longer in the cold. For optimal results, it is recommended the cuttings should be roughly 4-6 inches long.
In terms of the propagation medium, the choice is yours entirely. Some people prefer to place the cuttings in water for rooting, while others place them directly in the soil. No option is better or worse, but water seems to be a preferred option because you can watch the roots grow. Make sure the cuttings are placed in a warm, humid place with lots of bright but indirect sunlight.
You might be wondering if it is possible to propagate fishbone cacti from seeds and the answer is yes. But it is important to remember that this attractive plant is a slow grower, so this type of propagation will require a lot of patience. If you feel up for the task, you can start the seeds in a seed tray filled with cacti and succulent potting soil. To moisturize the soil evenly place the tray in a sink filled with water and allow the soil to absorb it from the bottom. Next, place the tray in a location with plenty of indirect light and cover it with plastic wrap. Moisturize soil as needed and don’t let it dry out during the germination process. The soil shouldn’t be soggy as this can trigger mould infestation and rot. When you start to see tiny leaves above the soil, remove the plastic wrap and enjoy your newly sprouted plants!
Fishbone Cactus Common Problems
The most common problem that gardeners face when it comes to growing fishbone cacti is associated with not giving the plants enough water. It is a common mistake to let the soil dry out completely, as you do with other cacti, but remember that this cactus has different needs and if it doesn’t get enough water, it will suffer. The first signs of underwatering are limp, discoloured, or crispy leaves. If you are currently dealing with this issue, try increasing your plant’s water intake slowly. We know that it is quite tempting to be generous and fill its pot with water if you notice that it is suffering from underwatering, but it’s best to be patient and solve the problem gradually. You can also move the cactus to a shadier place to prevent water evaporation and to let it rest for a bit.
The fishbone cactus is a fan of high levels of humidity, but unfortunately, humid conditions can trigger a wide range of pests and diseases such as mealybugs, fungus gnats, aphids, root rot, and fungal leaf spots.
The first signs of root rot include stunted growth, yellow lower leaves, and stem degradation. If you suspect that your fishbone cactus might suffer from root rot, take it out of the container and inspect the roots. If they are brown and mushy, you are probably dealing with root rot due to overwatering. Too much water can also affect the base of the plant which can also turn brown and rot. If the base of your plant is damaged, the best way to save the plant is by taking as many healthy stem cuttings as you can and regrow them in fresh soil.
No matter which of the quirky names you choose to call it, we can all agree this houseplant is a joy to have around. It’s a quick and easy plant to cultivate, with wonderfully shaped leaves and, if you are lucky, amazing fragrance blooms. What’s more, like any succulents and cacti, it’s quite easy to propagate and share with friends, especially if you are looking for a unique gift.
Follow our care guide, and you are sure to keep your zigzag cactus growing and thriving for many years to come!