As soon as you see a fishbone cactus, you will understand where it got its name from. This tropical cactus grows long, zigzag-shaped leaves resembling a fish’s skeleton. When given the proper conditions, the Fishbone Cactus will produce stunning, fragrant blooms that can grow up to 7 inches long.
The Fishbone Cactus is a beautiful addition to your home and can be grown beautifully when portrayed in a hanging basket or trailing from a bookshelf. These plants don’t ask for much, and their unique foliage and impressive blooms make them a rewarding plant to grow.
Below you will find expert care tips to keep your Zig-Zag Cactus healthy and thriving and an extensive guide on how to propagate Fishbone Cactus like a pro!
Table of Contents
Fishbone Cactus Overview
|Scientific Name||Epiphyllum anguliger / Cryptocereus anthonyanus (Recently Reclassified as Disocactus anguliger)|
|Common Names||Fishbone Cactus, Zig-zag Cactus, Ric Rac Cactus, Orchid Cactus|
|Origin||Native to the Jungles of Mexico|
|Size and Dimensions (Mature)||Leaves can reach up to 12 feet long|
|Distinguishing Features||Angular toothed, flat leaves and large, fragrant flowers|
|In-Home Placement||South, west, or east-facing window|
About Fishbone Cactus
The Fishbone cactus originates from the jungles of Mexico. It’s an epiphytic cactus and is a relatively low-maintenance plant. In the wild, they are climbing plants. Like other epiphytic plants, these types of plants produce aerial roots, which are little white strings that grow from the leaves! They use these little roots to climb onto surrounding trees and plants in the forest and absorb moisture from the air around them.
Knowing how to care for your Fishbone Cactus is essential because they do not need the same care as your average desert cactus. But, like any succulent plant, they store water in their leaves and will not need as much moisture as other tropical plants.
Part of what makes this plant so intriguing is its blooms. When you give this plant the right conditions, it will create a stunning, vibrant flower in exotic reds and pinks.
Fishbone Cacti belong to the night-blooming cacti cereus, meaning they only flower in the dark, and their flowers typically only last for one night! So, if you find your Fishbone Cactus blooming, appreciate it fully!
The name ‘Anguliger’ comes from the Latin angŭlus, which means angle or corner, referring to the angular, toothed branches of the plant. The disocactus anguliger is often confused with the selenicereus anthonyanus; however, these are two different species with different care requirements.
How Fast Do Fishbone Cacti Grow?
Fishbone Cacti are relatively fast growers, and they will grow a few inches at a time when given enough light during the spring and summer months. These tropical cacti grow a lot faster than your average cactus, so be prepared to foster their appetite.
Fishbone Cactus Care
As this cactus comes from the tropical rainforests of Mexico, it will appreciate a warm and humid environment that closely mimics its native habitats. Offering this plant enough moisture, light, and humidity will ensure that it remains healthy and grows optimally!
Being epiphytic, the Fishbone Cactus doesn’t naturally grow in soil. Their growth pattern is very similar to Orchids, which also grow on trees in the wild. For this reason, an Orchid soil mix with pH ranging between 5.5-7 is a great option for your Fishbone Cactus. These soils allow plenty of airflow while being rich in organic matter, which mimics the natural growing conditions of these plants!
Alternatively, mix one part perlite with one part peat moss to create soil for your Zigzag Cactus. These plants need soil that drains well but also holds onto enough moisture to keep the plant hydrated!
Unlike your typical cactus, the Fishbone cactus thrives in constantly and evenly moist soil. Keep the soil moist by allowing the top inches of soil to dry out before giving the plant another drink. Check the soil moisture with your fingers before watering!
The Fishbone cactus does not like bone-dry soil. If you wait too long to water your cactus, the leaves will wrinkle and shrivel, eventually turning brown and falling off.
Even though this cactus likes to remain slightly moist, be watchful of overwatering it. The delicate root system is prone to rot if the roots are exposed to wet soil for too long. When your plant is overwatered, you will see swollen, wilted leaves, and your Zigzag Cactus will start to drop its leaves.
Remember that having your Zig zag cactus in a pot with drainage holes will help prevent overwatering issues such as root rot. The drainage holes allow excess water to drain out of the pot, which is the best way to prevent the soil from being exposed to too much water for too long.
Naturally, the Fishbone cactus grows in warm climates, which means that it will also like to be in warm temperatures in our homes. Keep your cactus in a temperature range between 60F and 75F. It will grow fine at an average room temperature.
While it can tolerate warmer temperatures, heat can increase the rate at which water is excreted, so ensure that your cactus gets plenty of water and humidity when you keep it above 80F!
Since its natural environment is tropical, the Fishbone cactus does not appreciate the cold. Avoid exposing it to temperatures below 50F. It will start to decline fast when it is too cold!
In the wild, the Fishbone cactus grows under tree canopies and receives dappled light. They don’t like direct sun exposure, which can scorch the foliage and can even cause a reddish tinge to appear! It’s best to keep your cactus in a shady position with only bright indirect light.
Giving it some morning or evening full sun exposure will be beneficial. A south, east, or west-facing window is sufficient. Please note that if you place your cactus in a south-facing window, you must protect it from the harsh afternoon sun and the summer heat!
If you cannot provide much sunlight for your cactus, an artificial grow light may be helpful to meet this plant’s light requirements.
Unlike most cacti, the Fishbone cactus loves to be in humid environments. Ideally, they like to live in 60% humidity or higher. Because it is an epiphytic plant, the Fishbone cactus enjoys high humidity, which it is used to in its natural habitat. They do not enjoy dry air.
Potted Exotics Pro Tip: Put your Fishbone Cactus in a Pebble Tray or Use a Humidifier to boost air moisture levels for these jungle-native cacti!
USDA Hardiness Zone
The Fishbone cactus can grow outdoors in USDA zones 10-12. Because these plants are tropical, they can only live in warm and humid conditions!
These plants do not require frequent fertilizing. Feed the plant once in early spring with a cactus-specific or orchid fertilizer. Dilute the liquid fertilizer or water-soluble fertilizer to roughly half (or less) of the recommended strength. Too much fertilizing can harm the plant, so it is better to be safe and take it easy on the feeding!
Can You Propagate Fishbone Cactus in Water?
Yes! You can propagate this cactus in water with stem cuttings. Water propagating is a great way to grow your plant collection or create a plant to gift a friend!
When Should I Propagate Fishbone Cactus?
The best time to grow propagations is from spring to late summer. During the active growing season, the cutting will take root faster, and the mother plant will soon continue to grow after being cut. Propagating in the winter is not a good idea, as the cuttings have a higher chance of dying in the cold, dark winter months.
How to Propagate Fishbone Cactus
Propagating Fishbone cactus plants is easy! Fishbone cacti can be rooted in water or soil to make new plants. You can take as many cuttings as you’d like and plant them all together to create a fuller-looking plant.
Alternatively, you can grow a new plant through division. Division means separating the plants into different pots, leaving you with two separate plants that you can grow in different ways!
Below, you will find a guide for each propagation method, although stem cuttings are probably the easiest way to propagate.
What You Need:
- Your Fishbone Cactus
- Sharp Scissors or a Sharp Knife
- Rubbing Alcohol
- A water vessel, such as a jar or a pot
- Potting Soil (if you’re going to propagate in soil)
Stem Cuttings in Water
Tropical leafy plants like Raindrop Peperomia aren’t the only ones that can be propagated in water. Even cacti and succulents are up for the task! Here’s how to do it.
- Choose a stem to cut. Ensure that you’re only taking cuttings from healthy parts of the plant. Sick leaves will likely not survive and take root!
- Take your clean scissors and cut the leaf. Aim to take cuttings at least 3-4 inches long, but they can be as long as you like!
- After cutting, allow the ends of the cutting to dry and callous. Drying out the ends helps to prevent bacteria and fungus from entering the cutting through the open wound. Let the plant dry for at least a day before moving on to the next step.
- Get your vessel. It can be a vase, jar, or cup. Fill it up with clean water and pop your cuttings in! Ensure the cut end is in the soil; don’t place it upside down! Ensure the vessel is filled with enough water to submerge the bottom part of the cutting.
- Refresh the water once a week, and wait for root growth! After a few weeks, you will see small, white roots growing from the cutting. Transfer the cutting to soil when these roots are about 3 inches long.
- Continue caring for the plant, and you will soon see new stems growing!
Stem Cuttings in Soil
- Repeat steps 1-3 as listed above.
- Instead of placing your cuttings in a vessel with water, you can plant the cuttings directly into the soil. Grab a pot, fill it with soil, and stick the cuttings in. Again, make sure that it is not upside down!
- Keep the soil slightly moist for the first month or so. Moist soil will encourage your cactus to take root in the soil. Place the pot in bright indirect sunlight.
- After a couple of weeks, you should see new growth from the cutting. When you gently tug the plant and feel a bit of resistance, the plant has taken root!
- Continue care as usual, and voila! You’ve made yourself a whole new plant.
Leaf Cuttings with Aerial Roots
- Choose a leaf to propagate. Make sure you take cuttings from healthy plants and choose leaves with aerial roots growing from them.
- Lay this leaf, while still attached to the mother plant, on the top of a new pot filled with soil. Make sure that the aerial roots are faced down, towards the soil. You can use pins to ensure the plant stays on the soil.
- Keep the soil slightly moist, and make sure your plant gets plenty of bright light.
- The aerial roots will take root in the new soil! In about 3-4 weeks, you can cut off the original leaf from the parent plant. The leaf will soon continue to put out new growth!
Division in Soil
- Start by taking your Fishbone Cactus out of its original pot. Remove enough of the soil around the roots so that you can see the roots.
- Gently detangle the root systems of your plants. Be careful when handling your plant’s roots. Avoid damaging and ripping the roots as much as possible to prevent stressing the plant too much!
- Take as many pots as you want to make plants, and fill each with a layer of soil. Add your separated plants and backfill the pot with soil.
- After transplanting, give your cacti a good watering. Watering will help them to establish themselves in the new environment!
Potting and Repotting Fishbone Cactus
Your fishbone cactus will benefit from repotting every two years or so, but remember to only repot if your plant is rootbound! Being root-bound means the soil is filled with roots, leaving little space to grow further. As a result, you will often see roots poking out the bottom of the pot or from the top of the soil. When the plant is root bound, it can’t continue to grow very well, and it may grow stunted or stop growing altogether.
Repotting is best done in spring or summer. This way, the plant has access to plenty of light and warmth, which helps it to acclimate to the new soil and reduces the chances of transplant shock! Only repot in winter if the plant is very rootbound or experiencing another kind of emergency, such as pests or disease.
What you need:
- A pot roughly 1-2 inches larger than your previous pot
- A well-draining soil mixture. An orchid potting mix is optimal.
- Your Fishbone Cactus
- Start by taking your cactus out of its pot. If the plant is very rootbound, you may need to squeeze the sides of the pot a little or push through the drainage holes to release the plant.
- Gently remove some of the soil around the roots of your plants. You do not need to remove all the soil – this will only stress the plant. Just detangle the roots so they can grow freely into the new soil.
- Grab your pot, and fill it with a layer of your soil mix. Add the plant and backfill the rest of the pot with soil. Gently press down the soil to remove air pockets, but don’t push it down so hard that it gets compacted.
- Give your Fishbone cactus a thorough watering. Your plant will quickly acclimate to the new soil mixture if it is moist. Avoid using cold water after repotting. Sudden temperature changes can shock the root system!
- Continue with regular care. Make sure to keep an eye on your plant. Transplanting can be stressful for plants, so don’t freak out if you see some leaf loss or drooping! The plant should bounce right back within a few weeks.
Common Problems with Fishbone Cactus
Root rot is the most common problem among houseplants, including Fishbone Cactus. It’s caused by moist or waterlogged soil for a long time. Due to the excess moisture in the soil, the roots of your plant lack access to oxygen, which causes them to die. Dead roots will quickly create rot-causing bacteria in the soil. Symptoms include yellowing leaves, stunted growth, and a rotten brown base.
- Remove the plant from the pot and gently remove the soil so you can see the root system.
- If the roots are brown and mushy, clean off the roots with tap water.
- Take sterilized scissors and trim any mushy roots. Make sure to use clean tools to prevent spreading the bacteria around.
- You can use a diluted hydrogen peroxide solution to disinfect the roots.
- Once cleaned up, repot your plant in a fresh soil mix. Discard the old soil, as this will be full of harmful bacteria.
Spider mites are tiny bugs that feed on the nutrient-rich sap of plants. They prefer hot weather along with dry conditions, and they feed on a wide range of plants. Depending on the species, spider mites can be red, yellow, or orange. They are tiny, but they can be seen with the naked eye.
Spider mites are easy to distinguish. As they feed, they leave behind a silk-like webbing on your plant. Looking closely, you will see webbing on your cactus’ stems, leaves, or even the soil. Leaf damage is different from that of other insects. There won’t be holes, but rather large discolored areas made up of tiny dots or stippling. If the infestation is more advanced, you might see leaves or whole portions of your plant start to curl and wither.
To treat spider mites, quarantine your plant to prevent spread. You can wash your plant with water to clear some of the infestations and then use insecticidal soap or neem oil to spray your plant and wipe off spider mites. Repeat this process daily until the infestation is gone.
Mealybugs are white or cream-colored insects that are easy to identify on your plant. They often clamp up on stems and leaves, and are recognizable by the cottony substance they leave behind.
Symptoms of mealybugs include stunted growth, bud drop, yellow leaves, and leaf drop. Mealybugs also produce secretions known as honeydew which can encourage the development of sooty mold and other fungal infections.
To save your Fishbone cactus from mealybugs, quarantine your plant and take a cotton swab with rubbing alcohol to remove any visible mealybugs. Use a strong blast of water to rinse off eggs and any insects left behind. You can use insecticidal soap and spray on your plants, focusing on leaf undersides.
Creative Ways to Display Fishbone Cactus
Hanging your Fishbone cactus in a lovely hanging basket is the most popular way to display these plants. Their thick, long leaves drape beautifully over the sides of the pot, creating an authentic jungle-y vibe in your home.
If you are lucky enough to live in a warm climate (USDA zones 10 up to 12), consider growing your Fishbone Cactus outdoors and hanging it from your porch or balcony! Ensure you keep an eye on its watering since outdoor plants require much more water than indoor plants. A lack of water from drought or arid conditions will quickly lead to unnecessary suffering, especially during a fishbone cactus bloom period.
Other Useful Information About Fishbone Cactus
Are Fishbone Cactus Toxic?
Fishbone Cacti are considered to be non-toxic to humans and pets alike.
How Do I Make My Fishbone Cactus Fuller?
If your Fishbone Cactus looks a little bald, you can take propagations of the plant and plant those back into the soil. This way, the plant will get a fuller appearance!
Do Fishbone Cactus Have Aerial Roots?
Yes, these jungle cacti can grow aerial roots! However, they usually only grow aerial roots when they are in a highly humid environment or when they are very thirsty.
Can I Cut the Aerial Roots Off My Fishbone Cactus?
You can, but you do not have to. If you don’t like the look of aerial roots on your cactus, go ahead and give them a snip.
How Often Does a Fishbone Cactus Flower?
Fishbone cacti only bloom once a year, and their bloom lasts only one or two days! They only bloom when mature (three years of age or older).
How Do I Get My Fishbone Cactus to Bloom?
To encourage these plants to bloom, place them in a cold environment (around 55F) during winter and reduce watering. Once you see buds forming, go back to a regular watering schedule and warmer temperatures, and feed them with some tomato fertilizer, just once! The buds should grow into beautiful yellow flowers.
Where Can I Find a Fishbone Cactus for Sale?
When you are looking to get yourself a Fishbone Cactus, you should be able to find a beautiful specimen in most local nurseries. If you are shopping from plant shops, purchase a healthy plant. Scan your plant for signs of pests or disease before buying to prevent bringing any issues into your home!
If you can’t find any Fishbone cacti at your local garden center, try checking out online resources like Succulents Box for the latest inventory and deals.