If you’ve spotted a plant with zig-zagged stems reminiscent of a fish skeleton, you’ve found the incredibly popular Fishbone Cactus. Botanically known as Disocactus anguliger, and previously Epiphyllum anguliger, this cactus is certainly not like other plants in the cactus family. Growing in shadier spots with high humidity, I find these plants are perfectly suited to indoor growth. In this guide, I’ll run through my essentials tips on how to grow and care for Fishbone cactus at home, including planting, the best soil mix, light considerations, watering, fertilizing, and more.
Fishbone Cactus Care – Key Takeaways:
|Disocactus anguliger or Epiphyllum anguliger
|Also Known As:
|Fishbone Cactus, Zig Zag Cactus
|Bright, indirect light
|Temp & Humidity:
|Prefers warmer temperatures between 65F and 80F and high humidity
|Water every 2 weeks when the top 2-3 inches of soil have dried out
|Very well-draining airy soil with an acidic pH between 5 and 5.5
|Fertilize every two weeks in spring and summer with a liquid fertilizer. Stop fertilizing when the plant flowers
|Stems reach 8 – 12 inches in length
|Non-toxic to humans and pets
How to Grow Fishbone Cactus:
This cactus produces stretching stems around 10 inches long. Under the right conditions, the stems will grow relatively quickly (certainly faster than other cactus varieties), reaching maturity and flowering after about three years, in my experience.
What to Do Before Planting
Make sure you have an available spot in your home with bright indirect light and high humidity. Spots near a water source, like in a kitchen or bathroom, are ideal.
Choose a pot large enough to handle the size and weight of the overflowing stems without falling over. Hanging baskets are great options as the stems will cascade down the sides of the basket as they grow. The flowers on the ends of the stems will also surround the bottom of the hanging basket, making them visible at eye level at all times.
For an interesting plant feature, you can also attach the roots to a piece of wood to grow as they do in the wild. However, this will require some extra care, so it’s usually simpler to stick to regular potting.
True to the cactus genus, the stems also have tiny spines that can irritate the skin. Before planting, grab a pair of gloves to protect your hands.
What’s the Best Soil Mix?
As epiphytes and cactuses, these plants need a very loose and well-draining soil mix. I use a cactus and succulent mix as a base, amending with extra perlite or orchid bark for increased drainage and a bit of compost for added nutrients.
Alternatively, you can make your own by mixing equal parts high-quality potting soil and river sand with a few handfuls of fine gravel or rocks. Throw in some extra perlite or bark, and you’re ready for planting.
In terms of pH, these plants prefer more acidic soil and can respond negatively to anything with a pH above 6. Aim for a range between 5 and 5.5 for the best results.
Fishbone Cactuses can be planted the same way as any other houseplant by following these steps:
- Grab a pot or hanging basket one or two sizes up from the existing container. If planting cuttings, choose a pot that will accommodate the plant’s mature size.
- Fill the bottom third of the container with your chosen soil mix.
- Remove the plant from its existing pot and shake off some of the excess soil, teasing the roots gently to release them.
- Place the plant in the new pot so the soil line is just below the rim.
- Fill in the gaps around the plant with the remaining soil mix.
- Press gently around the base of the plant to anchor it in place and remove any large air pockets in the soil.
- Water the soil lightly to remove any further air pockets and hydrate the roots.
Typically found growing under trees, these plants prefer dappled shade outdoors.
Indoors, Fishbone cactus requires a bright spot with plenty of indirect light throughout the day. Unlike other cactuses, they can handle some direct sun for short periods but should not be left in full sun all day.
Avoid placing them in front of a window that receives direct afternoon sun. This intense light will scorch the plant, resulting in stress. A windowsill that receives consistently bright but not direct light throughout the day is ideal. I position my cactus near a west-facing window where it has plenty of bright light throughout the afternoon.
When placed in lower light conditions, the leaves and stems will begin to stretch toward the nearest light source, becoming distorted. Save the low-light areas for more tolerant plants.
Temperature and Humidity
Epiphyllum anguliger grows best in temperatures between 65F and 80F. Higher temperatures can result in heat stress, while lower temperatures may cause the leaves and stems to die off. It will manage in temperatures as low as 50F in winter but will need protection if it dips any lower.
Unlike most cactuses found in dry, arid deserts, the Fishbone Cactus loves high humidity. I mist the foliage a few times a day or place the plant near a humidifier to increase humidity during very cold and dry spells.
How to Care for Fishbone Cactus at Home
Most cactuses prefer completely dry soil most of the time, with a good watering every now and then. That is certainly not the case for this cactus. Found in humid and moist forest environments, Fishbone Cactuses need frequent watering, in my experience.
However, that doesn’t mean they constantly enjoy moist soil. These epiphytes are prone to root rot when left to sit in water. You’ll need to strike a balance between moisture and dry soil. Watering when the top few inches of soil have dried out completely and keep humidity high to make up for any missed moisture in the soil.
In winter, I reduce this watering to once every three weeks or so. That being said, it’s always better to check the soil regularly for dryness rather than watering on a strict schedule. Conditions can frequently change with temperature fluctuations and air changes, leading the soil to dry out faster or slower than regular intervals may be suitable for.
For more, see our in-depth guide to watering cactus plants.
In spring and summer, during the height of growth, fertilize your plant with a balanced liquid fertilizer every two weeks along with your other foliage houseplants. This will sustain growth and give older plants a higher chance of flowering.
Alternatively, you can add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil once at the start of spring and once in summer to add nutrients to the soil over time.
Once the plant starts flowering, stop fertilizing. This will direct all energy to produce flowers rather than new growth. Do not fertilize in fall or winter when growth is slow.
Pruning Fishbone Cactus is unnecessary, but it can improve growth and make the plant look more aesthetically pleasing.
Trim excessively long stems that appear out of place around the rest of the plant. You can also remove stems with spotty growth or yellowing leaves. Always prune any damaged or diseased stems as soon as you spot them to direct the plant’s energy toward new and healthy growth.
If you’re trimming healthy stems to reduce the size of the plant, repot those cuttings to grow even more Epiphyllum anguliger.
Epiphyllum anguliger is incredibly easy to propagate, rooting readily in either soil or water. This is best done in spring or early summer for quick root development during the peak growing season. Follow these steps to propagate your Fishbone Cactus:
- Remove an entire stem from the plant and cut into four-inch sections or trim a four-inch piece off the end of an existing stem.
- Leave the pieces on a piece of newspaper for a few days to allow the cut to close. Remember which way the cuttings were facing so you don’t plant them upside down.
- To root in water, place the root end into a glass half-filled with filtered water.
- To root in the soil, place the cuttings into a pot filled with moistened cactus mixed amended with perlite for additional drainage. Do not water until new growth is visible to prevent rotting.
- Leave your glass or pot in a warm spot with bright, indirect light. Transplant into a larger pot when new growth is visible, and the roots are a few inches long.
You can also divide an existing plant that is outgrowing its current pot. Simply remove the plant from the pot, shake off any excess soil, and gently pull the roots apart from the center into two groups. Replant those stems into new individual pots.
Your Fishbone Cactus will need a new pot and new soil every one to two years. If you start to see roots growing from the drainage holes, or if the pot frequently tips over due to the size of the stems, you can repot sooner.
Start by choosing a pot one or two sizes up. Remove the plant from its existing pot and shake off the soil. This is a great time to check for any root problems like rot to trim off before repotting.
Fill the new pot with 1/3 cactus soil mix and gently place the roots on top of the soil. Position the stems around the pot over the edges for even distribution. Fill in the gaps with more soil and press down gently to secure the plant. Water lightly after planting and keep an eye on the plant for the next few weeks for signs of stress and transplant shock.
Common Problems & How to Treat Them
The most common problem I find with Fishbone Cactuses is underwatering. Since they are cactuses and cactuses typically don’t require a lot of water, many gardeners leave the soil dry for long periods. However, due to their jungle-like habitat, these plants do require more frequent watering and shouldn’t be left to dry out completely.
Signs of underwatering include dry, shriveled leaves and brown edges or tips. If you spot any of these problems, water immediately and increase the frequency of your watering.
Overwatering is also a concern but is far less common. In this case, the entire leaf and stem may turn yellow, or the stem may become soft and mushy. You may also notice the rotting of the stem along the soil line. In this case, reduce your watering and allow the top layer of soil to dry out completely before watering again.
Incorrect light levels can also cause problems with your Fishbone Cactus. If the light levels are too low, the stems will begin to stretch and become distorted, searching for a light source. The plant will also not grow or flower in these conditions. Move the pot to a brighter spot with indirect sunlight, and the growth should return to normal.
Excessive light exposure can also cause problems. If the plant sits in direct sunlight for more than a few hours a day, the leaves may become scorched. Often, when light conditions are too high, the leaves will take on a red hue. Move the plant to a different spot or place a sheer curtain in front of the window to protect the plant from direct sunlight.
Pests and Diseases
Indoors, Epiphyllum anguliger does not encounter many problems with pests or diseases. The most common issues you may encounter are scale or mealybug, usually only when there is another infested plant nearby.
To control these pests, apply a homemade insecticidal soap or horticultural oil to suffocate the bugs and prevent existing eggs from hatching. Continue to use it every week or so until the problem disappears.
Gardening gloves are recommended when handling this plant to avoid the sharp spines embedded in the lower parts of the stem. Keep pruning shears on hand for propagating and pruning.
About Fishbone Cactus (Epiphyllum anguliger)
The Fishbone Cactus has gone through some botanical naming confusion. Originally classified as part of the Epiphyllum genus, it has been moved to the Disocactus genus, hence the new botanical name Disocactus anguliger.
Despite the new genus, the specific epithet anguliger has remained the same, describing the interesting shapes of the stems. As part of the cactus family (Cactaceae), these plants are related to the almost 2000 species of cactuses we have identified thus far.
It should not be confused with Selenicereus anthonyanus, another Mexican native flower with similarly shaped stems and the same common name. To tell them apart, look at the shapes of the leaves. Disocactus anguliger has rounded leaves, while Selenicereus anthonyanus leaves are more pointed.
Disocactus anguliger is an epiphytic cactus. It can be found in growing on trees in forests across Mexico where it is endemic. Surging in popularity in recent years, it is now a sought-after houseplant, suitable for indoor growth due to its preference for tropical conditions and love of shade.
The Fishbone Cactus is easily identified by the shape of its stems and leaves. Featuring alternating lobed leaves on long stems, it’s not hard to see where it gets its common name due to its resemblance to a fish skeleton.
But that’s not all these plants have to offer. They also sport stunning white or yellow flowers in spring and summer. The fruit of this unusual houseplant is similar in appearance to kiwi (a fleshy green interior covered in black seeds) and similar in taste to dragon fruit – also part of the cactus family.
The leaves of this cactus make it a statement houseplant in any home. The Fishbone Cactus can also be attached to tree trunks to grow outdoors in tropical frost-free climates. They flower reliably indoors and out, producing large blooms with interesting sepals surrounding delicate inner petals. At night, these flowers release a wonderful fragrance, unlike any other flower.
Unlike many other houseplants, Epiphyllum anguliger will produce edible fruit indoors, making the plant even more exciting. Toss some of the fleshy green fruit in your fruit salad for a pop of color and a burst of flavor.
For more, see our in-depth guide to the uses and benefits of cactus plants.
Fishbone Cactus Care FAQs:
Are Fishbone Cactus a good indoor plant?
Epiphyllum anguliger is a cactus that grows happily indoors due to its epiphytic nature and forest habitat. The stems are incredibly striking and make an excellent decorative feature.
How big do Fishbone Cactus get?
The stems grow to an average of about 10 inches long, with some growing shorter or longer depending on the growing conditions.
How fast do Fishbone Cactus grow?
Fishbone Cactuses grow relatively quickly compared to other plants in the cactus genus, reaching full size and flowering time within three years.
Is Fishbone Cactus a rare plant?
Epiphyllum anguliger used to be relatively rare and difficult to find in nurseries. However, due to their increased popularity, they are now more readily available.
Are Fishbone Cactus poisonous to dogs and other pets?
Fishbone Cactus are not poisonous to animals or humans.
Can a Fishbone Cactus tolerate low light?
Epiphyllum anguliger cannot tolerate low-light conditions and needs consistent bright indirect light to thrive and develop flowers.
How Long Will Fishbone Cactus Typically Live?
These plants can live well over ten years indoors and even longer outdoors with the proper care. They typically produce flowers after 3 or 4 years of growth but can wait as long as seven years before throwing up their first bloom.
The Fishbone Cactus is a unique addition to any houseplant collection, with zig-zag stems and large colorful blooms. They are also among the few cactuses that will grow happily indoors under lower light conditions, given the proper humidity and regular watering. You certainly won’t regret adding one of these interesting plants to your home.