The fishbone cactus is an easy to care for, pet-safe houseplant. Also known as ric rac or zig zag cactus, these super cool cacti have flat, zig zag shaped stems. They’re night blooming cacti and with the right care, your ric rac cactus will reward you with gorgeous flowers.
Today, you’ll learn all about how to care for your fishbone cactus plant indoors.
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Fishbone Cactus Plant Care Guide
|Fishbone cactus, ric rac cactus, rick rack cactus, zig zag cactus
|Disocactus anguliger (formerly Epiphyllum anguliger)
Selenicereus anthonyanus (formerly Cryptocereus anthonyanus)
|stem branches can be 8 – 12 inches long and 1 – 2 inches wide
|Bright, indirect light
|Well-draining cacti/succulent mix
|Every 7-10 days, when the top 1-2 inches of soil are dry
|Stem propagation in water, soil, or moss (no nodes needed)
Need a fishbone cactus for your houseplant collection? Shop for one on Etsy 😍
Background and Natural Habitat
Fishbone cactus is a tropical cactus species that’s native to the evergreen forests of Mexico. It’s an epiphyte like the Hoya Tricolor, which means it grows and climbs on trees and other plants in the wild. You may see fishbone cactus aerial roots, which are used to help it adhere and climb.
Fishbone cactus (or ric rac cactus) is known for its flat, toothed stems that zig zag along the centerline. These plants are succulents, so they store water in their stems. If you’re lucky, your rick rack cactus will flower, though only at night.
When you hear about fishbone cacti, people might be referring to one of two similar-looking species. As if that’s not confusing enough, each of those plants has two different scientific names. Don’t worry though – both species of fishbone cactus have the same care instructions and go by the same common names (fishbone, ric rac, or zig zag cactus).
The first species is Disocactus anguliger, previously known as Epiphyllum anguliger. This variety used to be part of the same family as orchid cactus, but was recently re-categorized. I’m 90% sure that is the type of fishbone cactus I have, so its what’s pictured in this post. I’ll know for sure once it flowers, since Disocactus anguiliger blooms in late fall or early winter and the flowers are white or light yellow.
The other species of zig zag cactus is Selenicereus anthonyanus, previously known as Cryptocereus anthonyanus. This variety of zig zag cactus has deeper teeth along the stems, more aerial roots, and bright pink blooms. Selenicereus anthonyanus flowers in late spring or early summer.
Disocactus anguliger and Selenicereus anthonyanus care are the same, as the plants are so similar to one another.
What’s the difference between fishbone cactus and ric rac cactus?
There’s no difference. Ric rac cactus is another name for fish bone cactus, which is another name for zig zag cactus. All three common names refer to the same plants. This also means that ric rac cactus care and zig zag cactus care are the same as fishbone cactus care.
Fishbone Cactus Care Guide
Don’t let those wild zig zag stems throw you off — care of fishbone cactus is pretty easy. Your ric rac cactus will thrive in normal household humidity levels and bright, indirect light. You’ll also need occasional watering and a cactus soil mix with good drainage. Read on for plant care tips for your fishbone cactus indoor plants.
How much sun does fishbone cactus need?
To maintain those deep zig zags, find a spot where your fishbone cactus can get bright indirect sunlight. Unlike desert cacti that receive direct sunshine all day, tropical cacti (like the fishbone cactus) are more used to dappled sunlight that’s filtered through the forest canopy. If you have other hanging plants like a Global Green pothos or Philodendron lemon lime, you know all about bright, indirect light.
My ric rac cactus sits near a west-facing window where it receives filtered afternoon sunlight. I actually just moved it closer to the window, so now it’s about six inches away. It used to be about five feet away, but the new growth was looking a little straight. Sometimes you need to make adjustments to get your fishbone cactus light just right. 🤷♀️
If there’s not a good spot in your house that receives bright indirect light, you can always place your fishbone cactus under a grow light or full-spectrum grow light bulb.
How often should you water your fishbone cactus?
Cacti like it dry, and the fishbone or zig zag cactus is no exception. Before you grab the watering can, use your finger or a moisture meter to make sure the top half of the soil is dry. If you’re not sure, wait a day or two before watering. I usually water my fishbone cactus once a week to week-and-a-half. So like, every 7-10 days during the growing season and even less in the wintertime.
Remember — the fishbone cactus is a tropical cactus. While it’s pretty low maintenance, you can’t forget about it for months like you might with a desert cactus.
What temperature and humidity are best for fishbone cactus care?
Fishbone cactus thrives with normal household humidity levels and room temperatures (about 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit). Hotter works too, but if the temperature is below about 50 degrees your cactus will start to suffer.
What’s the best soil for fishbone cactus care?
Fresh soil with organic matter (like compost or worm castings) will contain all the nutrients your fishbone cactus needs to thrive.
If you want to speed up growth, you can fertilize your fishbone cactus once a month during the growing season (spring and summer months). There’s no need to fertilize during the fall and winter months — your plant will slow its growth considerably.
Be sure to check your potting soil ingredients before you fertilize. Some pre-made soil products have small balls of slow-release fertilizer. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer package so you don’t burn your cactus’ roots. Sometimes less is more. 😉
I can only remember to fertilize like twice per year, but when I remember I use water-soluble fertilizer. It’s so easy to water and fertilize at the same time. I also have a little eye dropper filled with SUPERthrive (like a vitamin mix for plants) and I add a couple drops to my pots when I can remember.
Growing Fishbone Cactus
You’ll see the most fishbone cactus growth in the warmer months (spring/summer), and it will basically go dormant during the winter.
Is fishbone cactus a climbing plant?
Yes, fishbone cactus climbs up trees in the natural environment. It’s an epiphyte, just like the Hoya Krimson Princess.
Does fishbone cactus grow fast?
Yes, the fishbone cactus growth rate is high. Yours will grow really fast with proper care. You may even see your cactus double in size during the growing season!
This will be my fishbone cactus’ first full growing season with me and it’s already putting out a bunch of new baby stems. It’s barely April! I can’t wait to see how big it is by the fall.
How big do fishbone cacti get?
Fishbone cacti grow by sending out secondary stems, which can be about 8-12 inches long and 1-2 inches wide. Indoors, individual stems can get to about two feet long (from the pot to the ends). Your houseplants will naturally get bushier as they grow and age.
How do you make your fishbone cactus plant bushy?
If you take proper care of your fishbone cactus, it will naturally get bushier. However, you can increase this by trimming/pruning during the growing season. Propagate the clippings and add them back to the top of the pot to add more volume to your plant.
Can you grow this cactus outdoors?
If you have a covered patio or a spot that receives bright, indirect sunlight, you can totally move your fishbone cactus outdoors during the warmer months (when the lows are above about 55 degrees Fahrenheit). If you live in a tropical climate, your ric rac cactus can live outside all year long.
If the weather is super toasty, your fishbone cactus may get thirstier than when it was indoors. Otherwise, outdoor care is super similar to indoor home gardening care.
Can you propagate fishbone cactus?
Ric rac and fishbone cactus propagation is easy — you don’t even need a node! Using sharp scissors or pruning shears, trim pieces of mature stem that are at least three inches long. Make sure you keep the cutting tops facing up.
Once you’ve made your cuttings, place them in soil, water, or damp moss. I almost always use water propagation because it’s super easy to see the root growth progress. The cuttings pictured above have been in a glass of water for about two weeks and haven’t sprouted roots yet. I’ll be sure to update this post when they start to root.
If you propagated in water or moss, transfer your fishbone cactus cutting to soil when the roots are at least two inches long or have secondary roots. If you chose soil propagation, you’re already done. 😊
How often should you repot your fishbone cactus?
Repotting is important for fishbone cactus care. Plan to repot your fishbone cactus once every year or two, during the growing season (spring/summer months).
Before you pull out your potting mat, look at the roots of your fishbone cactus. Are they growing out of the drainage holes? If so, it’s time for a repot. If the roots still have room to grow, you can hold off on a full repot. However, even if your fishbone cactus isn’t ready for a whole new pot, it will still appreciate some fresh soil.
How do you repot a fishbone cactus or ric rac cactus?
When it’s time to repot your zig zag cactus, choose a pot with good drainage that’s one or two inches wider than the root ball. When the pot is significantly larger than the root ball, your fishbone cactus will focus more energy on growing roots. This means you’ll miss out on those cool zig zag vines!
When you’ve selected the new pot (I love to use nursery pots and with a cute cache pot), remove the cactus from its current pot. Gently knock off extra soil, or soak the roots in warm water to loosen the root ball. You don’t need to shake the roots or unwind them — your fishbone cactus’ roots will figure out how to fill the pot all on their own.
Using fresh cacti and succulent potting mix with good drainage, fill the bottom of the new pot, add the fishbone cactus, then fill the top and sides with more soil. Gently press the soil down to keep the plant stable, but not so much that the soil becomes compacted. Let those roots breathe!
Is fishbone cactus toxic?
Nope, all of the varieties of fishbone cactus, ric rac cactus, and zig zag cactus are non-toxic to both humans and pets. However, fishbone cacti still have some sharp cactus spikes, so keep them away from curious fingers and paws.
Is ric rac cactus toxic to cats and dogs?
No, unlike pothos and philodendrons, the fishbone cactus (or ric rac cactus) is not toxic to cats or dogs. You may still want to keep your cactus away from pets so they don’t get poked or damage the stems.
Common Pests and Problems
Fishbone cactus plants are pretty easy-to-care-for, so the most common problems you’ll see are wrinkly or yellowing stems, skinny growth, and root rot. Keep reading to learn about fishbone cactus problems and ric rac cactus problems.
Why is my ric rac cactus wrinkly?
If the stems on your fishbone cactus are wrinkly, it’s most likely underwatered. Adjust your watering routine so only the top one to two inches of soil dry out between each watering.
If your fishbone cactus has yellow, wrinkly leaves AND the soil is wet, it’s most likely overwatered or possibly suffering from root rot. Check the roots to be sure.
Why is my fishbone cactus’ new growth skinny?
If the new growth on your fishbone cactus is missing that classic zig zag shape, it needs more light. Move your plant closer to the window or add a grow light.
Take preventative action against pests by adding pest inspections to your fishbone cactus care routine. Look for signs of common pests like spider mites, mealybugs, and thrips. If you see any (even just one!), quarantine your ric rac cactus and begin pest treatment.
Many houseplant collectors go a step further and wipe down their plants with neem oil or diluted alcohol, soak mosquito bits in their watering can, or use beneficial mites.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Where do you buy fishbone cactus plants online?
Etsy is great for online plant shopping. Sellers are usually small businesses and buyers often post pics with their reviews, so you can see the condition of the plant when it arrived. Click here to bring up an Etsy search for fishbone cacti plants.
Are fishbone cactus plants rare?
They’re uncommon for sure, but I wouldn’t classify the zig zag or ric rac cactus as rare. I snagged mine last year at Wegman’s of all places (a grocery store).
Are fishbone cactus plants expensive?
Ric rac cactus are more expensive than basic plants (like ivy or golden pothos), but they’re still accessible for newbies. If you’re shopping online, you should be able to find a 3-4 inch for $10-20. Zig zag cactus is less common in stores, but prices will be similar to online shopping.
What’s the best pot for fishbone cactus?
Fishbone cacti are pretty low maintenance, so don’t stress over the pot. I love to use nursery pots inside of decorative planters (aka “cache pots”). Nursery pots make it super easy to change pots, check roots, and drain off extra water. If you don’t want to use a nursery pot, any other pot with good drainage will work great.
How do I get my fishbone cactus to bloom?
Mature fishbone cacti plants will bloom when they’re mature, happy, and a bit root-bound. So step one to getting your ric rac cactus to flower: hurry up and wait. After a couple years of proper care, you might be lucky enough to see some zig zag cactus flowers and blooms!
When do fishbone cactus flower?
Fishbone cactus blooming time depends on which variety of fishbone cactus you have. The two different types of fishbone cactus bloom at different times of the year. Disocactus anguiliger has white or light yellow flowers and blooms in late fall or early winter. Selenicereus anthonyanus has bright pink flowers and blooms in late spring or early summer. Though I haven’t smelled it myself, fishbone cactus flower fragrance is rumored to be amazing and super sweet.
Do fishbone cactus grow fruit?
Technically yes, fishbone cacti grow edible fruits that are rumored to taste like gooseberries. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that fishbone cactus fruit will grow on houseplants.