How to Grow and Care for the Fishbone Cactus

Don't have enough sun for a desert cacti? This cactus thrives in lower light!

A small fishbone cactus (Disocactus anguliger) sitting on a black stand with a white watering can next to it.

The Spruce / Cori Sears

The fishbone cactus (Disocactus anguliger) isn’t your average cactus. This tropical, epiphytic cactus is native to Mexico, and is perfect for those cactus lovers that don’t have the right conditions to keep the typical desert cacti alive. It does well without direct sunlight, and thrives in humid conditions.

Grown for its unique, angular toothed stems, the fishbone cactus is also commonly referred to as zig zag cactus, ricrac cactus, and the orchid cactus. Display your fishbone cactus in a hanging pot or planter to fully admire its stunning foliage.

Botanical Name  Disocactus anguliger
Common Name   Fishbone cactus, zig zag cactus, ricrac cactus, orchid cactus
Family  Cactaceae
Plant Type  Cactus
Mature Size   6 in. tall, 3 ft. long
Sun Exposure  Partial
Soil Type   Loamy, moist but well-drained
Soil pH   Acidic
Bloom Time   Late summer, fall
Flower Color   White, yellow
Hardiness Zones   10a, 10b, 11a, 11b, 12a, 12b
Native Area  North America
Fishbone cactus (Disocactus anguliger) in a terracotta pot against a white wall.

The Spruce / Cori Sears

Fishbone Cactus Care

The fishbone cactus is a low-maintenance plant that grows well indoors as a houseplant. It thrives in bright, indirect light and enjoys moist, humid conditions. Native to the jungles of Mexico where it grows from tree branches, the fishbone cactus is epiphytic, meaning it can also grow in low soil conditions if necessary.

Light

In its natural environment, the fishbone cactus grows as an understory plant and receives dappled, indirect light. When grown indoors, a location that receives several hours of bright indirect light is perfect for the fishbone cactus. 

Soil

As an epiphyte, the fishbone cactus appreciates a potting mix that is well-drained, airy, and rich in organic matter. Combine one part commercial cactus/succulent soil, one part perlite, one part peat moss, and one part orchid bark mix to create the ideal mixture for the fishbone cactus.

Water

In contrast to desert cacti, the fishbone cactus appreciates regular watering. As a general rule, you should water your cactus once the top 2-3 inches of the soil have dried out. It is important to avoid watering your fishbone cactus with water that is too cold as it can shock the roots. Fishbone cacti are also sensitive to chemicals in municipal water so if your water is hard you should allow it to sit out for 24 hours before watering your cactus, or use distilled water.

Temperature and Humidity

Native to jungle environments, the fishbone cactus thrives in warm, humid conditions. Keep temperatures between 60 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 25 degrees Celsius) and humidity above 60 percent. 

Fertilizer

Your fishbone cactus should be fertilized once in the early spring with a liquid cactus/succulent fertilizer. As long as its potting medium contains organic matter (peat moss and/or orchid bark mix) the fishbone cactus will not require any additional fertilizing throughout the year.

Pruning

Fishbone cacti do not require regular pruning to stay healthy and happy, however, occasional trimming may be desired for aesthetic purposes. The good news is, any cuttings taken during trimming can be repurposed and propagated to create new plants. 

Propagating the Fishbone Cactus

Fishbone cacti can be readily propagated by stem cuttings. Propagating your fishbone cactus is a great way to create new plants and fill out your existing plant. Avoid propagating your fishbone cactus during the fall or winter months as it enters its dormant period. Instead, propagation should be done in the spring and summer months. Here’s how to propagate your fishbone cactus by stem cuttings:

  1. Using a pair or sharp scissors or pruning shears, take cuttings from your plant, keeping the cuttings between 4 and 5 inches long.
  2. Set the cuttings in a cool, dry location for at least 24 hours to allow the cut edge to callous over.
  3. Fill a small potting container with a well-draining, airy potting mixture and moisten the soil lightly. 
  4. Plant the calloused cuttings in the pre-moistened potting mix, and set the planted cuttings in a location that receives bright, indirect light.
  5. Lightly water the cuttings every few days to ensure the soil stays moist.
  6. Once you see signs of new growth the cuttings are considered established and normal fishbone cactus care can be resumed. If you wish to transplant the cuttings into a new container, you can do so at this time.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Since the fishbone cactus enjoys humid conditions it is susceptible to a number of common pests and diseases. Common pests include mealybugs, fungus gnats, and aphids; while common diseases include root rot, and fungal leaf spots.

How to Get a Fishbone Cactus to Bloom

To promote blooming in the late summer and fall, the fishbone cactus should be exposed to cold temperatures in the winter to early spring—ideally between 52-57 degrees Fahrenheit (or 11-14 degrees Celsius). During the late spring, resume regular care. Some growers have found that fertilizing their fishbone cactus with a high-potassium tomato fertilizer in the summer can help to promote blooming later in the season. 

If these measures don’t result in any blooms, try again next year! Fishbone cacti are notoriously difficult to get blooms from indoors and may need a couple of years of care before they are ready to flower.

Common Problems With the Fishbone Cactus

For the most part, fishbone cacti are low-maintenance and relatively problem-free. The most common problems with these jungle cacti normally arise from improper watering or light conditions.

Leggy Growth

The stems of a healthy fishbone cactus should be flat with wide zig-zagging edges. If you notice that all of the stems are staying thin and round, this may be an indication that your plant is not receiving enough light. Try moving your fishbone cactus closer to the window.

Leaves With Brown Spots

Excessive humidity or water left sitting on its leaves can result in your fishbone cactus being infected with fungal leaf spots. These brown spots are normally slightly raised. This is more common in plants grown outdoors, but can occur on indoor plants as well. While the leaf scarring is unsightly, it will not kill your plant. Simply cut off affected areas to prevent the fungus from spreading.

Wrinkled Leaves

Wrinkled leaves are an indication that your fishbone cactus needs more water. Not to fear though, as long as the stems aren’t completely dried out your cactus should bounce back as soon as it has been watered. 

FAQ
  • Why is my fishbone cactus growing roots above the soil?

    These are aerial roots, and they are totally normal for fishbone cacti! In the wild, these aerial roots help fishbone cacti anchor themselves to other plants and trees, and absorb nutrients and moisture from the surrounding air and organic material.

  • Why are the stems of my fishbone cactus going brown and mushy?

    This is likely root rot, which is a result of overwatering. Unfortunately, there is no way to cure root rot, and the affected portions of the plant will need to be cut out and removed. To prevent more root rot in the future, ensure that the soil is well-draining, that the potting container has drainage holes, and that the top couple inches of the soil dry out between watering.

  • How fast does the fishbone cactus grow?

    The fishbone cactus is considered a medium grower, growing faster than most desert cacti, but slower than other tropical plants such as pothos or philodendron. When cared for properly, you will be able to see noticeable growth on your fishbone cactus throughout each growing season.