How To Care For Fishbone Cactus

Epiphyllum anguliger [dy-soh-KAK-tus, an-GYOO-lih-ger] is a flowering cactus from Mexico, commonly grown for its aromatic flowers and tasty fruit. It is related to the Orchid Cactus.

Fishbone cactus | Image by: Zapyon [CC BY-SA]

You may hear this plant by different common names including:

  • Ric rac cactus
  • Zig zag cactus
  • Fishbone cactus

The name “Anguliger” means “bearing hooks,” referring to the deeply lobed stems. 

It’s part of the Cactaceae (cactus) family and formerly part of the Epiphyllum genus.

Fishbone Cactus Care

Size and Growth

  • Fishbone cactus is fast-growing and easy to cultivate. 
  • It produces branched stems, reaching 8″ to 12″ inches long. 
  • The Fishbone cactus plant has two sets of stems. 
  • The primary stems are woody and shorter. 
  • The secondary stems are flatter and succulent with deep lobes, resembling a fishbone or zig-zag pattern.
  • There are also several cultivars and hybrids with distinct growth. 
  • For example, the Anguliger “Gertrudianum” cultivar flowers profusely and produces shorter stems.

Fishbone Cactus Flowering and Fragrance

Epiphyllum anguliger blooms in late autumn or early winter.

The flowers are white or pale yellow and open at night, releasing a sweet aroma. 

The flowers are often several inches long, with many petals and yellow stamens.

After the flowering season, the plant produces fruit. 

The fruit is oval-shaped and a little over an inch thick with a greenish or brownish exterior.

The inside of the fruit resembles kiwi fruit and tastes like gooseberries. 

The fruit isn’t toxic.

Light and Temperature

Fishbone cactus grows best in warm temperatures and partial shade. 

Temperature should be between 61° and 77° degrees Fahrenheit (16° – 25° C) during the summer.

When the plant goes dormant in the winter, it remains hardy to about 50° degrees Fahrenheit (10° C). 

It can’t survive freezing conditions.

In most areas, fishbone cactus grows best in a heated greenhouse or indoors. 

Place containers or pots in a spot with bright sunlight and high humidity.

Watering and Feeding

  • Unlike many plants in the cactus family, Fishbone cactus requires moist soil during the summer. 
  • Water the plant regularly throughout the warmer months.
  • It also prefers high humidity. 
  • To increase the humidity and keep the soil evenly moist, place the pot on a tray filled with several inches of gravel. 
  • Pour water into the tray. 
  • The soil will take up water as needed.
  • After the bloom, the plant requires less water. 

Soil and Transplanting

As fishbone cactus needs semi-moist soil, add 1 part peat moss and 1 part perlite to standard cactus soil to increase water retention. 

Mature plants require repotting after one to two years to resupply nutrients. 

If the pot is too small, the plant can become unstable.

Repot during the spring or summer.

During summer and fall, add liquid fertilizer to the water with each watering. 

During the winter, only add fertilizer with every other watering.

Grooming

Trim long stems to manage growth. 

New shoots should appear behind the cut.

After trimming the plant, avoid overwatering, as it should require less water.

flowers of the Fishbone cactus

How to Propagate Epiphyllum Anguliger

  • Propagate epiphyllum fishbone cactus from cuttings. 
  • The cuttings should measure at least 4″ inches long.
  • Cut directly below the base of a leaf. 
  • The cuttings need time to cure, allowing calluses to form on the ends. 
  • Store in a cool, dry spot for at least two weeks or up to one month.
  • Plant up to three cuttings in a 4″ inch pot. 
  • Fill the pot with cactus mix amended with some peat moss or organic material. 
  • Water the soil thoroughly before placing the cuttings in the soil. 
  • Avoid watering until the cuttings take root.
  • Keep the pot indoors in a spot with filtered sunlight. 
  • Instead of watering the cuttings, mist with water from a spray bottle every few days.
  • Transplant the young plants when they start producing new growth. 
  • Use slightly moist soil and grow under partial shade.

Fishbone Cactus Pest or Disease Problems

One of the most common cultivation problems is a lack of water. 

If the fishbone cactus doesn’t receive enough water, the succulent leaves begin to desiccate. 

They appear to deflate.

If the plant suffers from dehydration, add water gradually over several weeks.

The stems may become sunburnt when placed in direct sunlight for most of the day. 

This typically occurs after moving a plant from a shaded spot to a brighter spot. 

The sunburnt areas should appear dark. Move sunburnt plants to shaded areas. 

If the damage isn’t severe, the fishbone cactus plant should eventually heal.

It’s also possible to cut sunburnt stems. 

New shoots should develop during the growing season.

Potential pests include scale and succulent mealybugs. 

Mealybugs appear as fuzzy white bugs on succulents

Use tweezers to manually remove scale or blast the critters with a spray from a garden hose.

Sprays of water may also dislodge plant scale. 

However, commercial insecticide is more effective and should help prevent future attacks.

Suggested Fishbone Cactus Uses 

This orchid cactus relative the Epiphyllum anguliger cactus can help add dimension to an indoor plant arrangement, but may not work well in a cactus garden. 

It has different soil and watering requirements compared to most drought-tolerant cacti.

Epiphyllum fishbone cactus also looks great on its own, either placed in a pot or hanging basket.

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