This plant has been on my wishlist for a while now, and as it turns out, ric rac cactus care couldn’t be easier! Learn all about how to take care of this unique cactus that looks stunning in hanging pots and planters.
Ric rac cactus care guide
I always have a ton of plants on my wish list, but a ric rac cactus has been on the top of the list for months. I have been looking at Etsy listings and monitoring my local nursery supply for a while now, not wanting to make an impulsive decision.
However, I decided to treat myself after I got a little extra cash award at work—and what better way to treat yourself than by buying a plant that is on the top of your wish list? Enter the ric rac cactus. The absolutely gorgeous ric rac cactus. (Check out the gorgeous hanging planter my ric rac cactus is in here!)
What is a ric rac cactus?
You might hear the ric rac cactus called a ton of different names: colloquially the fishbone cactus, the zig-zag cactus, or even an orchid cactus. (Note: It’s closely related to the orchid cactus and looks a bit like it, but it actually isn’t an orchid cactus.)
Scientifically, it’s called selenicereus anthonyanus, though you might see it referred to as cryptocereus anthonyanus, which Wikipedia calls its “obsolete name,” or epiphyllum anguliger. To be totally honest, I can’t figure out which of the two names is the correct scientific name, selenicereus anthonyanus or epiphyllum anguliger.
But I’m reasonably certain it’s selenicereus anthonyanus, because the ric rac cactus is often confused with the orchid cactus, which is an epiphyllum. I also read in some places that it used to be part of the epiphyllum genus but isn’t anymore. So we’re going to run with ric rac cactus.
The ric rac cactus is native to southern Mexico and produces beautiful nocturnal flowers. However, the real eye catcher with this plant is the stems, which are shaped like zig zags or fishbones and look like leaves. Yes, the best part of this plant is the stems!
Light needs for the ric rac cactus
Although the ric rac plant is a cactus, it has slightly different light and watering needs than cactuses traditionally do. This plant hails from rain forest conditions, meaning it grows under a dense canopy of greenery. This creates shade and diffuses light.
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. Too much bright direct light can damage this plant, but that usually isn’t a problem indoors.
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. It will tolerate some bright direct light, but it must be acclimated to it slowly.
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 inch of soil dries out. Water once every few weeks in the winter when the plant isn’t actively growing.
Ric rac cactus care and soil, temperature, and humidity
Another 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 peat moss in. I always keep a bag of peat moss and a bag of perlite on hand to amend soil for different plants.
The ric rac plant tolerates the general range of 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 cactus actually enjoys higher levels of humidity. However, it is patient with all normal household humidity levels. To increase the humidity around your plant, you can add a tray with pebbles and water, mist the plant, or add a room humidifier. Another great way is to group the plant with other plants—this helps keeps humidity levels higher.
Size, growth, repotting, and fertilizing
I have read that these plants are fast growers, though I haven’t had mine for long enough to tell for sure. Its flat zig zag stems grow up to a foot long, spilling over the edges of containers. While it’s a fast-growing plant, it also likes to be rootbound and grows best when it’s snug in its pot (kind of like snake plants).
That means you don’t have to repot it often—potentially once every few years depending on how quickly it is growing. When you do repot, choose a pot only about an inch or two larger. And refresh the plant with fresh soil.
Speaking of rootbound—ric rac cactuses have the best chance of flowering when they are rootbound. Though flowering on ric rac plants indoors is rare. 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.
How to propagate a ric rac cactus
Propagating a ric rac cactus is very similar to propagating other succulent-like 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 peat-based soil or succulent soil with peat added in.
- Water every week or so when the soil dries out; give bright indirect light or medium light.
- The cutting will develop roots and become a new plant.
Now, let’s talk about the water method. Propagating in water is almost always my preference because I like to monitor new root growth.
- Cut a piece of a stem off. Make sure it’s a few inches long.
- 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/peat moss mix and treat it as a new plant!
Pests and other nasty business
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.
Interested in plant-related DIYs? Check out my test tube propagation station, my glass jar propagation station, my midcentury plant stand, my stainless steel bowl hanging planter, and my hanging plant pot holder.
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