Fishbone Cactus

OFFICIAL NAME

Disocactus anguliger

ALSO KNOWN AS

Zig Zag Cactus, Ric Rac Cactus

ORIGINS & CLIMATE

Central America | Tropical

ABOUT THE
PLANT

Quite a unique trailing houseplant, the Fishbone Cactus is distinguished by leaves that grow in a wonderfully wiggly zig zag pattern! They shoot straight up and then curve down as they grow longer and longer.

HOW MANY GREEN THUMBS?

easy going, bright indirect, drought tolerant, mid-size, bushy or dense, cascading, shelf, hanging, cactus or succulent, tropical, lobed

HMP PLANT PICK

Fishbone Cactus

The basics

Water Needs

Allow the top half of soil to dry completely between thorough waterings. Reduce frequency as needed in winter or in lower light conditions.

Water

Preferred Light

Bright, indirect light is ideal for this jungle dweller. Susceptible to leaf burn in long stretches of direct light. Can tolerate lower light conditions, but be sure to adjust watering. You may also notice growth is very thin and stretched out.

Light

Humidity Needs

This tropical epiphyte (plants that grow in the mossy nooks of trees) will certainly appreciate a boost in humidity. You may see tiny white aerial roots searching for moisture when kept too dry.

Humidity

Ambient Temperature

Average indoor temperatures around 60-70°F are generally fine, but this cactus doesn't like big swings in temperature caused by drafts or heating vents.

Temperature

Toxic or Not?

Generally considered pet safe, but can cause vomiting or nausea if consumed in huge quantities.

Toxicity

Size Potential

Indoors, this plant can grow those wiggly tendrils up to 3 ft long (when mature and with enough light)!

Size

Overall Look

Quickly takes on a full look of unruly tendrils that, at first, grow straight up and then cascade down as they grow longer. Will look best in a hanging planter or on a high shelf to display those fun stems.

Format

Leaf Look

Long tendrils in a unique, deeply lobed zig-zag shape and a vibrant green shade.

Leaf Shape

Pro Tip

When keeping your Fishbone Cactus in less than ideal light, you may notice new growth looks a bit straggly and thin. Try improving the light and trimming back the thin growth—two new stems will usually grow from where you cut!

Pro Tip

Did You Know?

While we usually think of cactus in the desert, Fishbone Cactus are in fact jungle dwellers! Unlike their desert relatives, these cacti evolved as epiphytes, growing in the mossy crooks of tree branches or on rocks. So yes, they're accustomed to the humid jungle environment, but they still grow in places that are hot and dry out quite quickly—just like their desert friends!

Fun Fact

Water

|

Allow half of soil to dry out before watering again.

Water Needs

Allow the top half of soil to dry completely between thorough waterings. Reduce frequency as needed in winter or in lower light conditions.

Light

|

Bright, indirect light.

Preferred Light

Bright, indirect light is ideal for this jungle dweller. Susceptible to leaf burn in long stretches of direct light. Can tolerate lower light conditions, but be sure to adjust watering. You may also notice growth is very thin and stretched out.

Humidity

|

Extra humidity appreciated in drier spaces.

Humidity Needs

This tropical epiphyte (plants that grow in the mossy nooks of trees) will certainly appreciate a boost in humidity. You may see tiny white aerial roots searching for moisture when kept too dry.

Temperature

|

Can adapt, but doesn't like sudden change.

Ambient Temperature

Average indoor temperatures around 60-70°F are generally fine, but this cactus doesn't like big swings in temperature caused by drafts or heating vents.

Toxicity

|

Mildly toxic to humans and pets if ingested.

Toxic or Not?

Generally considered pet safe, but can cause vomiting or nausea if consumed in huge quantities.

Size

|

An in-betweener. Not too big, not too small.

Size Potential

Indoors, this plant can grow those wiggly tendrils up to 3 ft long (when mature and with enough light)!

Format

|

Cascading tendrils create a mane-like look.

Overall Look

Quickly takes on a full look of unruly tendrils that, at first, grow straight up and then cascade down as they grow longer. Will look best in a hanging planter or on a high shelf to display those fun stems.

Leaf Shape

|

Vibrant green tendrils in a zig-zag shape.

Leaf Look

Long tendrils in a unique, deeply lobed zig-zag shape and a vibrant green shade.

Pro Tip

|

The cure for straggly thin growth is more light.

Pro Tip

When keeping your Fishbone Cactus in less than ideal light, you may notice new growth looks a bit straggly and thin. Try improving the light and trimming back the thin growth—two new stems will usually grow from where you cut!

Fun Fact

|

This cactus is a jungle dweller.

Did You Know?

While we usually think of cactus in the desert, Fishbone Cactus are in fact jungle dwellers! Unlike their desert relatives, these cacti evolved as epiphytes, growing in the mossy crooks of tree branches or on rocks. So yes, they're accustomed to the humid jungle environment, but they still grow in places that are hot and dry out quite quickly—just like their desert friends!

Beyond The Basics

Soil & Potting

Thrives in an airy, light, fast-draining potting mix—you can use a good quality potting mix labeled for succulents/cactus or supplement a standard indoor mix with an equal quantity of pumice or horticultural grit. Ensure the pot has the appropriate drainage and don't forget to pour out any excess water collected in the drainage tray or cachepot.

Repotting

Try to repot every 2 years in the spring, especially when tending to a younger plant. Increase the pot size by about 2 inches each time or until you're satisfied with the size. It's still important to repot at this stage, but it'll be an exercise of refreshing the soil and keeping the pot size the same to restrict the plant's growth. More on repotting here.

Feeding

If you're not already planning to repot, you can fertilize during the spring and summer months. Once to every two months should be plenty. No fertilizer is necessary during the winter when plant growth naturally slows down. You can try a balanced liquid or water-soluble fertilizer—always diluted more than the recommended strength. A cactus and succulent specific feed would also work well. More on using fertilizer here.

Grooming

While no specific pruning is required for this plant, it's always good practice to regularly remove yellowed or dying leaves and any fallen plant debris. Ensure your scissors or pruners are sanitized to avoid spreading disease or pests. If the stems begin to look a bit straggly and thin, you can trim these back—two new stems will usually grow from where you cut.

Propagation

To propagate a Fishbone Cactus, you can take cuttings, around 5 inches long. To lessen the chance of rot, let the cutting callus over first by setting out on a dry surface. You can then pot up in a fast draining potting mix and you should see new buds forming soon! More on propagation techniques here.

Variants

The Disocactus genus includes various jungle dwelling ephiphyte cacti, including the Rattail Cactus and Orchid Cactus.

TrOUBlESHOOTING

Why is my Fishbone Cactus yellowing and soft?

Symptom

Stems are yellowing and soft, particularly around the base.

Cause

The most likely culprit is overwatering and initial signs of root rot. When a plant's roots sit in waterlogged soil for too long, a fungal infection can quickly take over, causing the roots to rot—turning brown and mushy.

Solution

First, ensure that your plant has appropriate drainage (both in terms of a well-draining soil and plenty of drainage holes in the plant's container).

If you think you've caught the overwatering early on, you can simply let the plant dry out more than you have been. Allow the top few inches of soil to dry out before watering again. Continue monitoring and only water when needed. You may also try using chopsticks (or something similar) to poke holes in the soil to help the roots get more oxygen. And finally, you can try to "wick" the excess moisture out of the soil by placing the whole pot (with drainage holes) in a tray or container with dry soil. This new layer of dry soil should soak up some of the excess moisture from the waterlogged areas around your plant's roots.

However, if you suspect a serious case of root rot, you'll definitely need to take a peak at the roots by removing the plant entirely from their container. If there are any black and mushy roots, trim them back completely before repotting with fresh soil in a new or sterilized container.

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Why is my Fishbone Cactus wrinkled or shriveled?

Symptom

Stems are wrinkled or shriveled, but not soft or yellowing.

Cause

Wrinkling or shriveling of stems is often a sign of dehydration from either too much light or not enough water. If accompanied by softness or yellowing, this is more likely a sign of not enough light or too much water.

Solution

The key is a well tuned balance between the amount of light and your frequency of watering. Instead of going by a set schedule, check-in with your plant to see if they need the water or not. You'll want to allow around half the soil to dry out completely before watering again. While this may be on a consistent schedule for some months, as the seasons change, so will the amount of light and therefore your watering schedule must shift.

More on watering here.
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Why does my Fishbone Cactus have a red tinge?

Symptom

A reddish tinge across the stems, particularly new growth.

Cause

Generally caused by over exposure to direct light. While not necessarily detrimental, if the red tinge is accompanied by pale or bleached spots, you should take steps to address the problem.

Solution

You may be pushing the limits on how much direct sun your plant can handle. Try moving it out of reach of those direct rays of sun or moving to a spot that receives only minimal direct sun in the mornings or evenings. While this should prevent further burning, the spots will not "heal", so it's up to you if you'd like to prune off the affected leaves.

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Why is new growth on my Fishbone Cactus straggly and thin?

Symptom

New growth is straggly and thin with shallow undulations.

Cause

A clear indicator that your plant isn't getting enough light. Most often, a plant gets leggy because they're trying to stretch towards the light, leading to long, stretched-out growth that makes the whole plant look a bit sparse rather than full and bushy.

Solution

You should certainly improve the lighting conditions for future growth, but this won't effect the straggly stems. You may choose to prune these thinner stems back, which will promote new growth where you cut. And if you've remedied the lighting, this new growth should be healthy and full!

More on lighting here.
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