From its native home in the humid mountain forests of Mexico, Disocactus Anguliger, fishbone cactus or zig zag cactus took over the gardeners’ hearts for its curious fishbone-shaped long leaves and incredibly beautiful, huge, fragrant flowers.
It is fairly easy to grow indoors and its unusually shaped leaves and fragrant flowers make it a popular and very decorative house plant.
Disocactus Anguliger was previously classified as belonging to the genus Epiphyllum but was recently reclassified as species of the genus Disocactus, Disocactus Anguliger.
The fishbone cactus is an epiphytic cactus that commonly grows between the branches of the evergreen trees, where it feeds on decaying leaves and other vegetable matter.
It is not parasitic, it only uses the convenient environment to get the nutrients and humidity it needs. It shares its humid, fertile, warm, and shady world with orchids, mosses, bromeliads, and ferns.
The leaves of the fishbone cactus are smooth and green and densely branched stems.
While primary stems are mostly woody, secondary stems are green and flat, from 20 to 30 cm long. They are deeply lobed, creating the characteristic fishbone shape.
The fishbone cactus blooms in the fall, producing huge, very beautiful white or light yellow flowers, six to 20 cm long. They bloom at night, exuding an incredibly sweet scent, and die before dawn.
The brown, ovoid three to four cm thick fruits are reported edible, tasting like gooseberries but there is no scientific confirmation of this.
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Fishbone Cactus Care
Keep in mind the conditions fishbone cactus has in its natural environment. As long as you keep it fairly similar in your home, you will have a fast-growing, attractive plant for years to come. It means high humidity, plenty of light but no direct sun, and moderate watering. The fishbone cactus is fairly easy to grow, both indoors and outdoors. Disocactus Anguliger grows best in moderate to high humidity, so put the pot on a tray filled with pebbles, filled with water. Do not crowd it with other plants. Provide enough air circulation because high humidity is also a good environment for the growth of fungus, which is deadly for the fishbone cactus.
Plant your fishbone cactus in a mix of one part coarse perlite and sand with three parts of peat-based commercial soil mix. You can also use a commercial cactus soil mix with added perlite or sand. It is important that the soil mix drains well and the roots are never sitting in water or they will rot.
Keep in mind that the fishbone cactus is not a true cactus and needs much more watering than other cacti. During the hot spring and summer months, water your fishbone cactus generously.
Make sure the potting mix is thoroughly moist. Water it only after the first one-quarter inch of the soil mix has dried out. After it finishes blooming, in the fall, water it only just enough to prevent the soil mix from drying out, to give it a rest for a few weeks.
Disocactus Anguliger likes moderate light but no bright sunlight. It will thrive on a bright window sill where it does not get direct sun. At the end of summer and the beginning of fall, give it a short period of morning sun to encourage blooming.
If possible, put your plant outdoors in the summer, in the garden or on the balcony, in the shady spot without a draft.
The ideal temperature for your fishbone cactus is between 16 and 25°C (61 to 77°F.) It can take temperature drop to 10 to 15°C (50 to59°F) for short time without consequences.
Ideally, the temperature and humidity should stay constant if you want to have a happy, healthy, and long-lived fishbone cactus. The best place for it would be a greenhouse or a conservatory, but it will do well in your home if you take good care of it.
The native home of the fishbone cactus is a humid, warm mountain forest, so humidity is crucial for its success. If you are keeping your plant in your home or on the balcony, mist it regularly.
You can also increase humidity by placing the pot on a tray with wet pebbles. Make sure the pot is not sitting in the water so the roots are not touching it.
The humid environment of a greenhouse is the ideal environment for your fishbone cactus. It would provide it the best chance of producing its magnificent flowers.
During the growing season, you can offer your Disocactus a cactus feed every two weeks, after you water it thoroughly. A basic, balanced 1:1:1 fertilizer is fine.
When you see flower buds forming, give it a tomato fertilizer (5-10-5 or a 5-10-10) every two weeks until the buds open. Less nitrogen and more potassium will encourage blooms to form.)
If you prefer to use organic fertilizer, make a weak, diluted compost tea and use it during the growing season every two weeks.
Young Disocactus Anguliger will grow fast and you will need to re-pot it once a year into a slightly larger pot. Once it is in the 15 cm or six-inch pot, it will live happily there as long as you change the potting mix yearly.
Take the plant out of the pot, shake off the old soil and wash and disinfect the pot. Put the plant back and fill it with the same soil mix – a mix of peat-based commercial soil with added perlite or coarse sand. Water it well after repotting.
If your fishbone cactus is happy, it might grow long, glossy leaves that hang from the pot. It might get top-heavy and you can stabilize it by planting it in a heavier clay pot. Long leaves look great if you keep your cactus in a pretty hanging basket.
If the stems of your cactus grow too long, cut them to the desired size. As a bonus, it will grow new stems at the site of the cut. Each piece you cut can be grown into a new plant.
Use a clean, sterilized cutter to cut the stems to avoid bacterial infection.
The best way to propagate your Disocactus is from cuttings. Cut 13 to 15cm (5 to 6 inch) long leaves in spring or early summer. Let them dry a day or two before planting them. Insert each cutting about two cm (0.8 inch) deep into a pot.
Fill it with the same potting mix you use for your mature plant. You can place more than one cutting into the same pot. Place them at the perimeter of the pot to give them space to grow unimpeded.
Make sure the potting mixture is slightly moist but not wet for a few weeks until the cuttings are rooted and you see the new growth. You can expect them to flower in about two years.
Growing a new fishbone cactus from seeds is possible but difficult and best left to the professionals. If you get the fishbone bug and want to have a collection, contact other growers for advice.
Fishbone cactus blooms are its crowning glory. They are very beautiful, up to 20 cm or eight inches big, with a very strong, sweet fragrance. They are nocturnal – flowers will open at night and will be gone by morning. They are usually white or pale yellow, with inner petals often of a different color.
Making your fishbone cactus bloom is one of the biggest challenges many growers struggle with. Young cactus will bloom for the first time when it is two years old.
One of the tips for making sure the plant blooms is to leave it in the morning sun for a short time in the late summer.
It also might help to fertilize it with a tomato fertilizer with higher potassium content in the late summer. High humidity always helps.
There are many cultivars and hybrids of the fishbone cactus available and the growers are adding more every year. They mostly differ in the color of the flowers, ranging from white and pale yellow to persimmon orange.
Like many other epiphytic plants, fishbone cactus might grow thin, hairy roots that stick out of the pot. They are normal for epiphytes and their role in their native environment is to anchor the plant to the tree where they grow.
They absorb nutrients and humidity from the surrounding environment since epiphytes do not need soil. Since your fishbone cactus grows in the soil, when it grows areal roots it is trying to tell you something.
Usually, it means it is looking for nutrients or humidity. Check if it is getting all it needs. If everything is under control, your cactus is just looking for something to hang on to.
Common Problems with Fishbone Cacti
Because it thrives in high humidity, Disocactus is prone to bacterial and fungal diseases, which also enjoy such an environment. The most common problem is the black rot disease caused by the bacterium Erwinia cacticida. This bacterium can infect the cactus root system turning it into a black mess.
Keep an eye for it because the only treatment is to cut the infected portion of the root. You will notice it above ground when upper stems start yellowing and there is brown striation spreading from the trunk.
There is no treatment for root rot, so make sure you do not overwater your fishbone cactus and cut the infected root as soon as you see the problem.
Disocactus Anguliger is also prone to fungal leaf spots caused by fungi of the Phyllosticta genus. They infect the stems of the fishbone cactus and look like brown spots with raised centers on the leaves.
This is most common during the heavy spring rains if the plant is grown outdoors, or when the humidity is excessively high. The scaring this fungus creates is permanent but does not kill the plant.
Just cut off the damaged part of the leaf so that the fungus does not infect other plants. Do not bother with fungicide; it does not work on this kind of fungus.
Like other house plants, your cactus can be infected by pests such as aphids, mealy bugs, scales, and mites. If you see them, treat them with the usual insecticide.
Tips for successful care of the fishbone cactus
If you want to grow your fishbone cactus in your home, you need to provide it the environment it is used to at its native home, or as close as possible. It does not mean you have to grow a tropical jungle in your living room. Just follow a few common-sense tips:
- Provide adequate humidity of about 60 percent by misting your plant or by placing it on a tray of wet pebbles;
- Give your plant plenty of light but no direct sun;
- Do not crowd plants and provide adequate ventilation to avoid common plant pathogens;
- Avoid spots with the draft;
- Water your cactus only when the top of the soil mix is dry;
- Fertilize only during the growing season;
- Use a well-draining potting mix with a mix of peat moss and perlite or coarse sand.
Disocactus Anguliger is an unusual, incredibly beautiful plant that will grow for many years, as long as you provide it with adequate humidity, a lot of light, and no direct sunlight.
Make sure to water it thoroughly only after the top of the soil mix is dry. It is particularly stunning in a hanging basket or on a pedestal, where you can enjoy its glossy, serrated leaves from all sides.
They are easy to propagate from leaf cuttings so you can provide your friends and family with a lovely gift.
And if you are lucky, in the early fall your fishbone cactus will treat you with large, fragrant, stunningly beautiful flowers.
Daniel has been a plant enthusiast for over 20 years. He owns hundreds of houseplants and prepares for the chili growing seasons yearly with great anticipation. His favorite plants are plant species in the Araceae family, such as Monstera, Philodendron, and Anthurium. He also loves gardening and is growing hot peppers, tomatoes, and many more vegetables.