Fishbone cactus or the Rick Rack plant is not the common desert cactus that you usually see. Unlike most other cactus varieties, the Fishbone cactus can survive in low-light and high humidity conditions.
Fishbone cactus is an ornamental, epiphytic cactus variety native to Mexico. It is also known by some familiar names such as the Zig-zag cactus, the Rick Rack plant, and the Fishbone Orchid cactus. It belongs to the Cactaceae family.
Let us take a closer look at how you can grow and care for one of these beauties at home.
Fishbone cactus has fleshy and glossy leaves that are arranged in an alternate pattern along the stem. It is because of this striking resemblance to the fish skeleton that the cactus gets the name ‘Fishbone’. It also grows aerial roots that help it to grow epiphytically.
The Fishbone cactus has beautiful flowers that can be light yellow or green or even pink and emit a sweet fragrance at night. These blooms last only for a night or two.
Care Requirements of Fishbone Cactus
Fishbone cactus is a relatively easy-to-grow plant. If you cannot maintain desert-like conditions at home, it won’t be much of a problem for this plant as it is usually grows under different conditions.
Let us find out its growth requirements such as soil, water, light, and temperature in detail.
Fishbone cactus needs bright, indirect light for proper growth. Unlike other cactus species, this one cannot handle direct sunlight for extended periods. Morning and evening sunlight are good for the plant’s growth but scorching sunlight at midday is a big NO.
If you are growing it indoors, a north or east-facing window works well where your cactus can receive curtain-filtered sunlight during the day. Increase the light intensity when the cactus is about to bloom.
Watering Fishbone Cactus
Watering once a week generally works well for the Fishbone cactus. But you can change this frequency depending on the season and other weather-related factors in your area. It prefers its soil slightly more moist than other cactus varieties.
The Rick Rack cactus comes from a humid environment and stores water in its stems and leaves. Avoid overwatering the cactus as water-logged soil is as bad as super dry soil.
The Zig-zag cactus prefers a well-draining and rich soil mix similar to most succulents. You can use the readily available succulent and orchid mixes to grow this cactus. But if you want to prepare your mix, mix equal parts of regular potting soil, perlite, organic compost, and worm castings.
If you live in a tropical zone, add lots of perlite and sand to keep the mix airy. This helps prevent the problem of root rot due to overwatering.
Fishbone cactus thrives in the temperature range of 15 – 26 degrees celsius. Avoid exposing your plant to temperatures below 10 degrees celsius as it is not cold and frost-hardy. Warm weather conditions with high humidity are the combination that this cactus wants.
Due to its epiphytic nature, the Fishbone cactus needs relatively high humidity conditions to grow well. It does not grow as well when kept in dry areas. Try to keep it with other grouped plants outdoors or keep an indoor humidifier or a humidity tray to increase the humidity levels.
Fertilising Fishbone Cactus
Feed the Zig-zag cactus with a balanced, liquid fertiliser or an orchid fertiliser once a month in spring and summer. Reduce it in Autumn and stop fertilising the plant in winter as it goes dormant and does not show any new growth.
The Fishbone cactus does not need to be repotted every year. You need to shift it to another pot when its roots have started to come out of the drainage holes or the soil mix has decomposed. Early spring is the ideal time to shift the plant as it just begins to grow after winter and finds it easy to adjust.
To re-pot, first, remove the cactus from the old soil mix and check the roots. Trim the roots if needed and prune the old stems and leaves to encourage new growth. In a fresh potting mix, gently place the plant and water it to fill the air bubbles.
Keep the cactus in a shaded spot away from direct sunlight for a few days before putting it in the final spot. Allow the plant to adjust to the new soil until it is ready to grow again.
How To Propagate the Fishbone Cactus?
If you think propagating plants is only for expert gardeners, you will be surprised to know that the Fishbone cactus is quite easy to propagate. Take a 10 to 12 cm long cutting and let the wound heal for a few days.
After about a week, in a pot with drainage holes, place the cutting in a fresh soil mix and firm the soil around it. Water it thoroughly and make sure that the soil is evenly moist at all times for the first few days. After a couple of weeks, you will notice new growth happening.
Always use clean and sharp cutting tools while pruning and propagating plants. It helps prevent any unwanted pest attacks, diseases, and infections.
Let us look at some diseases and pests that the Fishbone cactus might face at some point in its lifetime.
Discolouration of Foliage
If you notice the leaves getting discoloured, limp, or crisped up, it might be possible that your cactus is not getting enough water. Underwatering leads to shrivelled and crispy leaves with brown edges.
To prevent the problem, always make sure that you water the plant as soon as the soil feels dry while touching. Follow a regular watering schedule to prevent water-related problems.
Root rot due to overwatering and lack of light is quite common in the Fishbone cactus. It leads to mushy leaves and if the problem is ignored for too long, it may also kill the plant. To prevent the roots from rotting, always check the soil by inserting a finger to see if it feels dry. Water only when the top few inches of the soil have completely dried up.
Pests such as mealybugs, spider mites, and aphids are commonly seen on most plants including the Fishbone cactus. Protect the plant by regularly spraying neem oil and if your plant is already under attack, apply alcohol on affected parts using cotton. Consider using an insecticidal soap solution in a severe infestation.
Here are some frequently asked questions about the Fishbone cactus.
If you are a beginner and tend to overwater your plants, we would recommend you grow your plants in terracotta or clay pots. Terracotta pots are great at absorbing excess moisture from the soil and help prevent the problem of overwatering.
If your cactus does not receive adequate light, it will show sparse growth along the stems and will stretch out in search of light. Avoid placing the plant in full sunlight but choose a spot where it gets lots of bright, dappled light throughout the day.
Fishbone is a stunning cactus with unique leaves that make it a must-have for all houseplant enthusiasts out there. Now that you know all about it, here is a summary of what we have learned so far.
Fishbone cactus thrives in bright, indirect light with warm weather and high humidity conditions around. Fertilise the cactus once a month in spring and summer and prune dead leaves and stems to keep it compact. Repot the plant every few years and use the pruned stem cuttings to propagate the plant in soil.
We hope you found our care tips helpful and that you add the gorgeous Fishbone cactus to your home garden!