Whether you choose to call this plant an epiphyllum anguliger, it’s newer reclassified name of disocactus anguliger, ric-rac cactus, orchid cactus, fishbone cactus or a zig-zag plant, we can all agree this houseplant is pretty cheerful to have around! Native to Mexico, this epiphytic cactus has a distinctive zig-zag stem shape + an easy going growth habit, which makes it one of my favourite succulents in my collection. In terms of plant styling, it’s structural presence makes it a versatile choice for hanging in a planter, or adding personality to a plant shelf. When the plants are smaller, they can make great coffee table plants but as they mature, their growth will start to hang over the pot so is best with more room to spread out.
I shared a photo of my plant over on instagram this week + received quite a lot of requests to share my care routine, so I do hope you find this post helpful. I’m currently putting together a larger post on my jungle cacti collection so look out for that if you like these types of plants. You can sign up via email to get a notification when I post if you’d like.
In this post, I will be covering the topics of:
- humidity + leaf care
- potting mix
- repotting (+pots)
- + propagation
These leaf-like stems of many jungle cacti(called cladodes) actually evolved in response to a lack of sunlight in their more tropical conditions than their desert-dwelling cacti comrades. Because they didn’t need to focus on storing water, the flattened stems allow them to catch the light more effectively (you can see this even more clearly on selenicereus chrysocardium + their beautifully flat stems).
I have experimented quite a bit with positioning my fishbone cactus + I’ve personally found this plant to be quite adaptable. It likes to have bright but indirect light to really thrive but is quite adaptable really + can tolerate slightly less light — growth will be slower + watch out for especially thin, stretched out stems which indicates the plant is reaching out for brighter conditions.
My fishbone cactus lives a metre or two away from a window — in my previous apartment, it was 2 metres from a southern exposure bay window (I’m in the Northern hemisphere FYI) + in my current temporary place, it’s sitting on my work desk, a metre or so away from my South-East facing window. East-facing windows are particularly good for jungle cacti because they can handle the morning light as the sun rises, but are more protected from the stronger afternoon rays in this position. Bear in mind that these are the conditions that are personal to my current environment + are used as a guide for you to compare with your own home. It’s important to also remember that windows can be pretty different in size + if you live in a built up area, with other buildings close by, or if there are obstacles like trees outside, this all has an impact on the intensity of light.
If blooms are what you are looking for, you’ll need to carry out a bit of training to help your plant adapt to a brighter environment — this can sometimes be tricky to achieve indoors. I’ve been experimenting with doing this to one of my Rhipsalis plants at the moment + I’ll show you the progress in my jungle cacti post in a few weeks, but lets just say, it’s working well so far! These plants can get sunburn if they are quickly moved from a shady position to somewhere too bright which is shown by a reddish tinge to the leaves (see in photo below left, the newer growth at the tips will sometimes look like this if the sunlight is a bit strong). This will gradually fade over a few days. By slowly increasing the intensity of light, you will acclimatise the plant + this will be more likely to trigger those magnificent blooms, but more on that later!
You’ll probably be able to tell by the green, strap-like stems that this is not your regular cactus. Jungle cacti like this fishbone are spineless + in contrast to spiky desert cacti grow in more humid environments. That means their watering requirements are very different too. During the growing season, you can treat an epiphyllum/disocactus much like your other houseplants by watering when the top inch or two of the pot has dried out. Bear in mind that your potting mix will also impact your watering routine — the more free-draining + less dense the mix, the more frequently you’ll need to water. I’ll show you what potting mix I use with my fishbone cactus later in the post.
Always use a planter with a drainage hole + water using tepid water. Tropical + rainforest cacti aren’t very amenable to cold water as it can shock the roots, so room temperature is best. If you are using tap water, I’d recommend leaving it stand for a day or so before using it. I tend to make up a few watering cans + leave them on my shelf for around 36 hours if I know I have watering to do. Never let any of your plants stand in water + always resist the urge to liberally water the planter whilst still in the cache pot!
There are two watering methods that you can use + I use a combination of both to keep my plants looking their best, which is the same for the majority of my houseplants. The first method is to place the nursery pot in a sink (removing any cache pot) + flush water through until it runs out of the bottom of the pot. I’ll leave the pot to sit here for 20 mins or so so that any excess water has properly drained away before putting it back in the planter. I will often combine this type of watering with giving the plant a shower to keep the stems dust-free which is a good pest-prevention.
The other method is watering from the bottom, where I put the pot on a large flat plate or drip tray + water the plate, before leaving the pots on there for around 30 minutes to an hour. On average, I tend to do this every 2-3 waterings, then give the plant a flush through the next time. Over winter, this method can help to reduce the likelihood of overwatering because the plant can soak up what it needs.
Despite being quite easy going, overwatering can be a bit of a problem with fishbone cacti, which will cause the roots to rot + will eventually lead to mushy stems + plant collapse. Watch out for shrivelled stems but check the state of the potting mix to identify whether under-watering or overwatering is the cause as both issues can look the same at a glance. As a point of reference, during the growing season (in my conditions) I was watering my plant once every 10-14 days, whereas in the cooler months, it’s more like once a month.
NOTE: If your tap water is very hard you might find markings on your plant, which can be wiped off with an old t-shirt. Alternatively, if you are able to collect rainwater, this is a good option.
These plants cope well in a typical home environment but can also enjoy a little bit more humidity too. As epiphytes, epiphyllum are not parasitic (do not take nutrients off their ‘host’) + are often found nestled in the branches of trees or rock crevices in the wild. In these conditions, they will get a good amount of ambient humidity from being in a more sheltered position so somewhere like a kitchen or bathroom in the home would also be suitable. I’ve always grown mine on a plant shelf with a gang of other plants + it seems happy + growing well in this set up.
During the growing season, I tend to feed my disocactus around once a month with a succulent fertiliser or houseplant feed at half the recommended dilution rate. I don’t find these plants to really require it as much as others + if their light conditions are keeping your plant happy, you’ll see a decent amount of growth without lots of feeding. If your climate is quite different to mine + you find your plants grow year-round, then more regular fertilising is fine. It’s very cold where I live during Winter + with the harsh decrease in temperatures, I’m getting used to my houseplants stopping growing altogether. The easiest way to judge whether or not to feed is if your plant has new leaves growing.
This is not known as a fast growing plant, but for me it’s not as slow as some of my other succulents! If you start to notice the formation of flower buds (side note: how exciting!), you can choose to temporarily re-commence fertilising with your regular feed or preferably you can get your tomato feed out (a potassium (K) rich feed) to give your plant a helping hand with making lovely big blooms.
Fishbone cacti are generally pretty resilient to pests if their care routine is keeping the plant growing healthily. Feeding during Spring + Summer will also help to keep your plant strong in case of a pest attack. The main reason pests can appear is often a result of incorrect care, or very low humidity + under watering coupled with hot, dry conditions. Mealybugs are sometimes a problem in the crevices of the stems so keep an eye out for fluffy white deposits. If the attack is small, these can be wiped off with a cotton swab coated in rubbing alcohol + monitored. If you have been under watering or have kept your plant somewhere too bright, spider mite or scale can be problematic.
Disocactus/epiphyllum anguliger are happiest in temperatures between 15°C (59°F) + 25°C (78°F) + can cope in winter with conditions no lower than 10°C (50°F) + they are not tolerant to frost. It’s a bad move to place near draughts or a heat source such as a radiator so bear this in mind when there is a seasonal shift in temperatures + you put the heating on!
Repotting is not recommended too often as these plants like to stay cosy in their planters! They also don’t have a very big root structure in relation to their size. Once every 2 years or so will be absolutely fine + not cause the plant a lot of stress (which regular repotting can do). A few days prior to repotting, it’s a good idea to water your pot to reduce the risk of transplant shock for your orchid cactus. Only go up one pot size at a time too — if you look closely at the photos below, I repotted just one size up in the same type of light terracotta (which I love by the way). You might notice how the stems were spilling out of the smaller pot on the left, whereas in the new planter on the right, the plant appears more lifted, with more space to spread out + mature nicely.
In short, a well draining mix is what you need here! It’s always a bit of a balancing act to get the watering + potting mix right because they are so intrinsically connected. As I said earlier in the post, a heavy mix will take longer to dry out so watering needs will be reduced, whereas a free-draining, light + airy mix will let the water flow through it much more easily + also dry out faster. For disocactus/epiphyllum, a well draining mix will best mimic the conditions these plants are used to growing in their native habitats. This type of mix will allow for increased aeration for the roots that suits epiphytic plants well.
The photo below shows my general houseplant mix I like to mix up + I can tweak things to suit the plants I am repotting at the time. I prefer to tailor my mix in this way as it helps me to get to know my plants better in the process. For my fishbone cactus, I will use either a peat-free houseplant potting mix, or a specialised succulent + cacti compost if I have some as the base, before mixing in the bark, perlite, pumice/grit as soil amendments to create something that will work well.
A NOTE ON POTS: It sounds obvious but the type of pot you choose to use is also connected to your mix + watering requirements. If you are used to using nursery pots + choose to pop your succulents/cacti in terracotta, it can be hard to adapt to the different watering needs. It’s quite common to find that you might be under watering because terracotta is much more porous + will wick the moisture away from the plant. This can have benefits of course, especially in preventing root rot, but be mindful of the combination of a very free-draining potting mix PLUS terracotta as you might need to increase watering quite considerably. It’s all about balance + knowing what works for you. I know quite a few over-waterers use terracotta to compensate for a heavy-hand with the watering can!
Blooms are perhaps the big appeal of growing these plants + if you haven’t seen them, they are worth looking up. Flowers only appear on more mature specimens (a minimum of at least 3 years old) + their bloom time is only short — just a few days! So getting your fishbone to flower is a bit of a long-game if you have a young plant, though I really think that nurturing something for a few years is a good practice of patience.
To help encourage blooming, over winter try to keep your pot in a cooler place of around 11-14°C (52-57°F) + the potting mix on the dry side. Check for any buds forming + if you are lucky enough to spot them in time (or at all), now is the time to up your watering + if you choose to, feed with tomato feed + place in a warmer environment (but avoid any extreme jumps in temperature). I’ll share my findings on this process in my jungle cacti post coming soon, as promised.
Propagating these types of cacti can be a fun experience! I’ve successfully propagated a variety of jungle cacti + even though it does require some patience, it is really enjoyable + always rewarding. Always use a clean, sterile blade when taking cuttings + a snips that is sharp enough to make a clean cut.
The most important thing to remember with succulent type stems is that you should leave the cut end callus over (seal over) adequately before putting in water. This is a game changer in getting your jungle cacti cuttings to root without rotting — I generally wait around 5-7 days but sometimes longer in winter. A few years ago now, I received one selenicereus cutting that had travelled from Sweden + got lost in the postal service for 3 weeks, which survived + rooted after I water propagated it! It just goes to show how resilient plants can be. So it’s always worth giving it a go. Just make sure your cutting isn’t too small — I like to use stems that are around 4-6inches for best success.
In terms of the water prop/soil prop question, this is very much personal preference. Personally, I generally like to water propagate because I like to watch the process of roots forming, but I have also soil propagated epiphyllum + rhipsalis cuttings too. For this process, use a gritty cacti/succulent compost with added pumice or perlite. A small, shallow pot is an ideal propagation vessel if you have one — this will allow just enough of the stem to be covered to help prevent rot at the base (which can sometimes happen if the cutting is potted too deeply). To keep the cutting stable in the pot, adding a layer of horticultural grit is a tip I’d suggest here.
Whichever propagation method you choose, place all propagations in a warm, humid environment with bright, indirect light. If you have a propagator this will come in handy, particularly if you are rooting your plants in the colder months of the year.
Finally, here’s an excerpt from my A-Z of houseplants I made as a planty-advent calendar throughout December last year. If you want to learn more about houseplant etymology, I will link it here.
I hope you enjoyed this post + found it helpful —please share with anyone that might enjoy it! It’ll be saved under my ‘Plant Care Guides’ should you wish to refer back to it at another time.
*Affiliate links are used in the post which means I can receive a (very) small amount of commission if you make a purchase — thank you for supporting my blog. I often get asked where I get specific items from so have linked these here. I have bought all these products with my own money.
3 replies on “Fishbone cactus Care Guide”
Thanks for this wonderfully detailed guide. I’m quite relieved that i haven’t made any glaring errors in the care of mine. So far.
When repotting mine this summer, I mixed in some Leca as opposed to orchid bark and judging by the growth, this has been a suitable alternative.
Im looking forward to lots more growth and hopefully some flowers in the future.
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Our epiphyllums are all outside, but we typically move them to shelter for the coolest part of winter. They do not get quite so yellow if they miss the worst of the chill. Only one is a fishbone sort, and it really seems to be the most sensitive to cool weather. Embarrassingly, it was damaged by frost two or three years ago!. It regenerated well. Because it is more sensitive than the others, I should be more diligent about growing copies of it.
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