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Ric Rac Cactus Care

Learn all about ric rac cactus care how to take care of this unique plant!

How to help the crazy ric rac cactus thrive

I always have a ton of plants on my wish list, but a ric rac cactus was on my list for a while before I finally got one. I ordered my first ric rac cactus on Etsy many years ago after monitoring my local nurseries and not finding anything that was a decent size.

The absolutely gorgeous ric rac cactus has a very unique look to it, and it looks amazing in a hanging planter. So let’s talk about this stunner!

hanging ric rac cactus

Ric rac cactus overview

  • Ric rac cactuses, also known as fishbone or zig-zag cactuses, are native to Mexico and are tropical cactuses without traditional leaves; what appears to be leaves are actually stems.
  • They prefer bright indirect light and should be acclimated slowly to prevent scorching if moved outdoors.
  • When watering, thoroughly soak the plant but allow the top several inches of soil to dry out before watering again.
  • Wrinkling stems indicate thirst, while yellowing and consistently wet soil can lead to root rot.
  • A well-draining soil mix is essential; they thrive in typical household temperatures and can handle normal household humidity.
  • Fast growers that prefer to be root-bound; repotting recommended every 1-2 years.
  • They can flower under the right mature conditions and are non-toxic to pets and children.
  • Susceptible to common pests like scale and mealybugs.
graphic that provides an overview of the care requirements outlined in this post

What is a ric rac cactus?

You might hear the ric rac cactus called a ton of different names: the fishbone cactus, the zig-zag cactus, or even an orchid cactus. It’s closely related to the Epiphyllum Oxypetalum plant, which is also referred to as an “orchid cactus.”

The ric rac cactus is native to Mexico, and it’s a type of tropical cactus. The plant actually doesn’t have leaves—everything you see on the plant is a stem. Just a bunch of really cool stems.

Selenicereus anthonyanus vs. epiphyllum anguliger

Scientifically, “ric rac” or “zig zag” cactus could actually be one of two very similar plants: selenicereus anthonyanus (older version classification: cryptocereus anthonyanus) or epiphyllum anguliger or disocactus anguliger.

A note on that last one—the plant was reclassified from epiphyllum to disocactus a few years ago due to recent molecular research. But I haven’t really seen that name used widely at all, so I’m including the epiphyllum classification here.

For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out how to tell the difference between the two. Selenicereus anthonyanus and epiphyllum/disocactus anguliger truly do look remarkably similar. But there are some differences when you look at them side by side.

Look at the following two photos. The first is my ric rac cactus, the second is my mom’s. You can see that the teeth on my plant (white pot) are slightly more rounded than the teeth on my mom’s plant (white and gray pot). My mom’s plant also slightly deeper “teeth,” I’d say. And aerial roots. My plant does not have those.

Flowering would help to confirm the plant’s true identities, too. The selenicereus anthonyanus type of ric rac produces pink flowers that bloom only at night, while the epiphyllum/disocactus anguliger produces white flowers.

Given all of the information on these plants, I feel pretty confident saying that I have an epiphyllum/disocactus anguliger, while my mom has a selenicereus anthonyanus. If you have information to the contrary, I would love to hear from you!

All of that said, whichever plant you have—you can safely call it a ric rac, zig zag, or fishbone cactus and follow the care tips in this guide. They are solid for both types of plant 🙂

Epiphyllum/disocactus anguliger
Epiphyllum/disocactus anguliger
selenicereus anthonyanus
Selenicereus anthonyanus

Does ric rac cactus like full sun?

Despite having “cactus” in its name, the ric rac cactus does not like full sun. As a tropical cactus, it is grows in evergreen forests and lowland rainforests. In such an environment, much of the direct light is blocked by a dense canopy of tree foliage.

Therefore, only dappled direct sunlight is a good idea. Too much direct light can scorch your plant. Indoors, the best light for the ric rac cactus is bright indirect light. I have mine hanging by a window that gets bright midday, afternoon, and early evening sun.

If you choose to move your plant outdoors during the warmer months where you live, it does best in shaded areas just out of direct sun. Acclimate it slowly to even dappled direct light.

I have seen firsthand what happens when you don’t adapt your plant slowly. When we moved to our new house, I didn’t have space for all of my plants. So I put my ric rac cactus outside behind a bush that I thought would shade it enough. But what happened? It burned to hell and back. I was so angry at myself! Avoid that happening to you 🙂

beautiful ric rac cactus

Why is my ric rac cactus skinny?

If new growth on your ric rac cactus is long and skinny with less-defined “teeth,” it is likely due to a lack of light. The plant is probably reaching for the light, causing the stretching and legginess.

You can troubleshoot this by giving the plant more light and seeing what the new growth does. It’s perfectly fine to prune off leggy growth if you’d like to. This could help the plant branch a bit and give it a fuller look, too.

That said, I have always had my ric rac cactus in optimal light conditions. And I’ve found that it sometimes just throws out longer, skinnier stems. Have a look at my beauty below. The skinnier stems don’t bother me, and I’ve just decided to let my plant do its thing.

fishbone cactus on white shelving

How often do I water a fishbone cactus?

Although ric rac cactuses can go prolonged periods of time without water, they will produce healthier new growth if you water them slightly more than you would your average cactus. When you water this plant, you want to thoroughly soak it. Remember, its natural habitat is the rainforest!

However, as a houseplant in pots and planters, you must be careful to avoid overwatering, which can lead to root rot. To avoid overwatering, make sure the pot has a drainage hole in it, and don’t water it too often. Water when the top few inches of soil dry out.

For my growing conditions, this generally means that I water my ric rac plants every week in the spring and summer and every 10-14 days in the late fall and winter. This can depend on how light and warm your home is, though. And outdoors, even in the shade, the plant will probably need more water in the peak summer months.

ric rac cactus

Why is my ric rac cactus wrinkly?

If the stems on your ric rac cactus are wrinkly, it’s likely thirsty. Don’t let the soil dry out completely before watering the plant again—this plant doesn’t store water like a traditional cactus does. Its fleshy stems do a good job of helping it through periods of drought, but don’t push it!

If you notice that the stems are wrinkly and yellowing and the soil has been consistently wet, this can be a sign of overwatering and root rot. But, I’d say wrinkling is way more common in underwatered plants.

Want more cool trailing plants? Check out my article about Fern Leaf Cactus Care, my tips for String of Pearls Care, and my guide about the Hoya Rope Plant!

beautiful ric rac cactus

Soil, temperature, & humidity needs

One way to help you avoid overwatering your ric rac cactus is to choose the right soil. For my plant, I used a standard cactus/succulent soil mix and added some coco coir in. I always keep a brick of coco coir and a bag of perlite on hand to amend soil for different plants.

A well-draining soil is essential because it helps the excess water flow away from your plant’s root ball and out of the pot’s drainage holes. It also helps with lightweight soil retention. If your soil is too dense and heavy, it can choke the plant’s roots.

The ric rac plant tolerates all normal household temperatures just fine. If you want to grow your ric rac cactus outdoors, you must live somewhere where it stays above roughly 50 degrees Fahrenheit year round. This plant will not tolerate cold temps, and it will die in freezing climates. 

Since it comes from the rainforest, this tropical cactus enjoys higher levels of humidity. However, it is resilient and does fine in normal household humidity levels, too. To increase the humidity around your plant, you can add a tray with pebbles and water, mist the plant, or add a room humidifier.

ric rac cactus

Does ric rac cactus grow fast?

Yes, both types of ric rac cactus are fast growers. In my experience, they are actually quite prolific growers. My plants have nearly double in size over a growing season. They were in ideal care conditions.

The flat zig zag stems grow up to about a foot long, spilling over the edges of containers. They can also branch out, creating a crazy look. As your plant ages, don’t be alarmed if some of the older stems develop a woody or cork-like brown base to them. This is a normal sign of the plant maturing.

Do fishbone cactus like to be root bound?

Yes. While it’s a fast-growing plant, it also likes to be rootbound. And it grows best when it’s snug in its pot. I would recommend repotting every 1-2 hears depending on how quickly your plant is growing. Check the drainage holes for signs of the roots popping out and looking for more room.

When you do repot, choose a pot only about an inch or two larger. And refresh the plant with fresh soil. For my two plants, I’ll share that I haven’t repotted either. I took the one in the turquoise plant out to check it once it had doubled in size, but it still had plenty of root to grow!

Below is a picture of my ric rac in the white pot after I’d had it for only a few months. It had a ton of new growth sprouting! I am hoping I’ll be able to chop and prop some pieces next spring to fill out the plant around the back of the pot.

beautiful ric rac cactus

Does ric rac cactus flower?

Yes. Both types of ric rac or fishbone cactus—epiphyllum/disocactus anguliger, and selenicereus anthonyanus—are prized for their impressive blooms. My ric rac cactus has bloomed, but I was devastated that I was on a work trip when it actually happened!

I had had my epiphyllum “queen of the night” bloom many times. And it’s truly awesome! Both types of ric rac cactus bloom at night. Epiphyllum/disocactus anguliger generally produces white flowers in the fall, while selenicereus anthonyanus produces pink flowers in the spring and summer.

How do I get my ric rac cactus to flower?

The first thing you can do to encourage flowering on both types of ric rac cactus is to let the plant mature. I know, I know. That’s not a shortcut! But sometimes there aren’t shortcuts with plants. My queen of the night didn’t bloom for years, and now it blooms nonstop all year long.

The best thing you can do is to treat your ric rac cactus well. Provide it with plenty of bright, indirect light and water appropriately,. A diluted liquid fertilizer for cactuses or orchids can help keep this plant healthy, but it should be used sparingly. Feed the plant in the spring. Don’t over-fertilize.

Ric rac cactuses also have the best chance of flowering when they are rootbound. Be patient, provide your plant with the best care, and hope for the best!

ric rac cactus

How do you propagate a ric rac cactus?

Propagating a ric rac cactus is very similar to propagating other succulent stems and leaves. You can propagate this plant using cuttings in either soil or water. Let’s talk about the soil method first.

  • Cut a piece of a stem off. Make sure it’s a few inches long.
  • Let the cut end of the cutting dry out for a day or two and harden over.
  • Plant in a well-draining soil or succulent soil.
  • Water every week or so when the soil dries out; give bright indirect light.
  • The cutting will develop roots and become a new plant.

Now, let’s talk about the water method. Propagating in water is a fun way to watch the roots develop and grow before planting your cutting.

  • Cut a piece of a stem off. Make sure it’s a few inches long.
  • Let the cutting callus over for several days. This is critical because, if you don’t, the cutting will be more susceptible to rot.
  • Pop it in a jar or vial of water, making sure only the very bottom is in water—don’t submerge a lot of the cutting if you can help it.
  • Check the cutting every few days to make sure you’re replenishing water as it evaporates.
  • The cutting will develop roots; when the roots are an inch or so long, plant in a succulent soil/well-draining mix and treat it as a new plant!
large hanging ric rac cactus

Can you divide a ric rac cactus?

If your plant is mature enough with multiple growth points, you can also divide a plant. Do to so, simply take it out of the pot and gently remove the soil around the root ball. Once you find a spot you can break off, do so gently, making sure to take some of the root system with you.

Then pot them up separately with fresh soil. Since they already have roots, you don’t need to keep things that moist. This is exactly the process I took separating a baby from my mom’s ric rac cactus below!

Propagated ric rac cactus piece
Propagated ric rac cactus piece

For more propagation, check out my article on How to Propagate Prickly Pear Cactus and my tips for How to Propagate String of Pearls!

Is ric rac cactus toxic?

No! I outlined this plant as one of my favorite plants that are non-toxic to cats, dogs, and kids. So it’s safe to have them around. But remember that these are not meant for consumption, so it’s best to keep them away from curious chompers.

Is fishbone cactus vulnerable to pests?

Ric rac cactuses are subject to all normal household plant and succulent pests, particularly scale, which leaves a tell-tale sticky orangish residue, and mealybugs. If you notice an infestation while wiping down your plant’s leaves, isolate the plant immediately and treat it using an insecticide designed for houseplants.

In conclusion…

Remember, the key to a thriving ric rac is in mimicking its natural habitat—bright, indirect light, well-draining soil, and the right balance of humidity and watering. You’ll be glad you added this gorgeous plant to your collection. Happy planting!

Pin my tips about ric rac cactus care!

collage that says how to care for ric rac cactus with images of the plant

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  1. Juju says:

    That is a beautiful plant! I WANT ONE!!!

    • Brittany Goldwyn says:

      Play your cards right and you might get one for your birthday next year!

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