There are many beautiful trailing houseplants out there, and one you should definitely consider adding to your must-grow list is the Fishbone cactus, otherwise known as the Zig Zag cactus, or the Ric Rac cactus.
This is a fascinating plant that’s easy to grow, very easy to propagate, and will live for years if you take care of it.
Interested in growing your own Fishbone cactus, or you’re not sure if this plant is for you? Here is everything you need to know.
Disocactus Anguliger VS. Selenicereus Anthonyanus
Before we get started, it’s worth mentioning that there are a couple of different species that go by the name Fishbone cactus.
While the care for these plants is the same, and they are largely sold as Fishbone Cacti, they are different species.
Both hail from Mexico, but there are easy ways to tell the difference between the two, and the main difference is in the flowers.
Selenicereus anthonyanus produces large, pink flowers with hints of red, while Disocactus anguliger produces all-white or pale yellow flowers.
Both bloom at night.
When the plants aren’t in flower, it’s more difficult to tell the difference between the two species. Your best bet is to wait until they are, but you’ll have to be quick, as both species will only open their gorgeous flowers for a single night!
If you were to compare these two species side by side, the difference would be a little more obvious, as Selenicereus anthonyanus has narrower leaves, and the shape of the ‘fishbone’ is much thinner than that on Disocactus anguliger.
It’s worth noting that it will be difficult to tell which you have without the other species to compare because the leaves can vary in width on the same plant.
Luckily, the care needed for both plants is exactly the same!
How To Care For The Fishbone Cactus
The Fishbone cactus is not difficult to care for, but there are some things to keep in mind so that you can get the absolute best out of this plant.
Once you give it the optimal conditions, it might even flower for you!
Bright Light And Warm Temperatures
Fishbone cacti need a bright position, as you might imagine. But unlike most cacti, they will not do well with hours upon hours of sunlight.
These plants prefer bright and indirect light, with a handful of hours of direct sunlight. Eastern-facing or Western-facing windows are best for this.
Just avoid direct midday sunlight, as it is too strong for this plant.
As Fishbone cacti hail from Mexico, they need balmy temperatures in order to survive. Indoors, this isn’t too difficult, but make sure you keep these plants out of cold drafts, and never give Fishbone cactus plants temperatures below 50°F (or 10°C), as this will kill them.
Compost With Sharp Drainage
The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to putting the Fishbone cactus in the right soil is that it needs very sharp drainage.
You can achieve this by amending ready-made cactus soil if you add some perlite, pumice, or horticultural grit to sharpen up the drainage.
As this plant is an epiphyte, you could also use some orchid bark to help do this, too. Whatever you already have will be fine.
Aim to use two or three parts compost with one part grit, pumice, perlite, or bark. This will also help aerate the roots, resulting in a much healthier plant.
Allow The Top Inch To Dry Out Between Watering
Fishbone cactus plants are epiphytes, which means that they are used to being drenched, but water drains away from the plants very quickly.
The right soil type will help do this for you, but it’s important to remember that you should never let these plants sit in water, as it will kill them very quickly!
Give this plant a good drenching when the first inch of soil dries out. In winter, you can get away with watering less often, even letting the potting mix nearly completely dry out when temperatures are much cooler, and the plant doesn’t need as much water.
Should You Feed A Fishbone Cactus?
These plants aren’t particularly hungry when it comes to nutrients, but it is a good idea to feed it occasionally during the growing season.
Use fertilizer specifically formulated for cacti, or a balanced houseplant feed, every fourth watering or so. Scale back the feed in the fall, and do not feed your plant at all during winter.
If you haven’t grown a Fishbone cactus before, you might be surprised to see aerial roots on your plant!
Most epiphytes like the Fishbone cactus grow aerial roots, as this helps them cling on to the plants they attach to in nature. Not only that, but these roots help extract water and nutrients.
Largely, you should leave these roots alone, but if you see your plant suddenly producing a lot of them, it can be a sign that the potting mix is too dry, and your plant is thirsty.
Always check the soil before you water.
How To Propagate A Fishbone Cactus
This plant is so easy to propagate that many people like to start with Fishbone cactus cuttings rather than buying an established plant.
You can propagate this plant in soil or water, and make several plants from a single leaf.
But there is one thing to watch out for: make sure you don’t put the cuttings upside down. Otherwise, they will not grow roots.
So when you take cuttings, make sure to remember which end is which. The end that is closest to the pot and the soil is the end that produces roots.
For best results, each cutting should be about 3 inches long. If you can take more than one cutting, this will give you a fuller-looking plant at the end of the propagation process!
Keep in mind that cactus and succulent cuttings need to dry out and heal a little before you propagate them.
So when you’ve taken your cuttings, make sure you set them aside to air dry for at least a couple of days.
This will help limit the amount of water the cuttings can take up, which helps minimize the risk of rotting.
Once the wounds have healed over a few days, simply pop the cuttings into water or soil, and put them in a bright and warm place, away from direct sunlight at this stage.
Depending on how healthy the cuttings are, the season you take them in, and the growing conditions, they may root within a couple of weeks, or they could take slightly longer.
Be patient! They will root, given enough time.
When you see that the roots are about an inch long, it’s time to plant them up.
Encourage A Fishbone Cactus To Flower
These plants will bloom during winter, and you can encourage them to flower in the right conditions.
Provided that your Fishbone cactus has reached maturity (when it is around 3 years old), you can trigger the blooming process.
Position this plant somewhere cooler, at about 52°F to 57°F (or 11°C to 14°C). Do not allow temperatures to get lower than this, but these cooler temperatures will help trigger the flowering process.
Keep the compost on the drier side – not letting it dry out completely, but longer than you would usually leave it.
Eventually, your plant will form buds. When it does, gradually move it back to a warmer room, and feed it with a tomato fertilizer or another feed that is high in potassium to help extend the flowering season.
When you do see buds, keep an eye on them, as they will only open for a night, but they are a sight to see!
The Fishbone cactus is a gorgeous plant that will make a focal point in any room with its unusual stems, and it also helps that you can propagate it with little effort.
It’s a good idea to take cuttings during the growing season so that you have a backup plant in case the original plant is plagued by pests or disease, too.
Under the right care and with enough patience, this plant will also produce some of the most beautiful night-blooming flowers you can grow on houseplants, which is always worth a go!