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How to Care for Fishbone Cactus

5 min read

How to Care for Fishbone Cactus


The fishbone cactus is a beautiful cactus with long, wavy leaves and thin thorny stems. Its unique shape makes it an ideal conversation starter and an excellent addition to any home garden. Also called the orchid cactus or the “ric rac” cactus, this succulent can thrive just about anywhere, given the right care conditions.

General Care

Cacti tend to have very similar care needs to succulents but may feature some key differences, especially in terms of temperature and light. A typical cactus will need much more sunlight and drier, warmer conditions than a succulent will, mainly because cacti are desert plants. However, some cacti, like the fishbone cactus, grow in forested areas, making their care needs easier for succulent connoisseurs. 

1. Lighting

The fishbone cactus is ideal for environments that don’t get lots of full, direct sunlight. Unlike most cacti, this cactus grows in forested areas and will thus get damaged by bright, direct sun. Instead, place your fishbone cactus somewhere it will get five to six hours of indirect sunlight each day.

2. Water

Like any other cactus, the fishbone cactus thrives in drier conditions– it’s best to let its soil dry out completely before watering. However, unlike most cacti, your fishbone cactus will need a bit more regular watering than others in its family. It’s best to treat this cactus as you would a succulent: water only when the soil is dry to the touch and let any excess water drain completely after watering.

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The fishbone cactus thrives in drier conditions
Photo by Maria Tyutina from Pexels

3. Soil

In terms of soil, you’ll want to go with a mix that promotes drainage. Cacti are particularly susceptible to root rot, and the fishbone cactus is a unique case since it requires larger amounts of organic matter in the soil. When making your soil mix, you can modify a traditional cactus mix by adding some peat moss or bark.

4. Temperature and Humidity

Cacti like it dry, but the fishbone cactus prefers warm, humid environments due to its jungle origins. This is one of the few plants you can mist if your home’s humidity is too low, but always monitor your cactus’ leaves and growth if you choose to mist it. Temperature-wise, keep your home warm, between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. When temperatures drop below 50 degrees, your fishbone cactus will enter dormancy.

5. Fertilizer

The best time to fertilize your fishbone cactus is in the early spring and summer, during its growing season. To do so, use a water-soluble cactus or orchid fertilizer when watering. 


Potting and Repotting

1. Potting

All cacti, including the fishbone cactus, require soil with high amounts of drainage. Aside from the soil itself, you can also improve drainage by choosing a pot made from porous materials, like concrete, terracotta, or ceramic. Unglazed ceramic pots tend to have higher drainage than glazed ceramic pots.

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Fishbone cactus requires soil with high amounts of drainage

2. Repotting Tips

When you repot your fishbone cactus, be especially careful of its long, ribbed fronds. To avoid damaging them, consider loosely tying them back with gardening wire while you work, or wrap them in parchment paper to avoid damaging them. Like with all cacti, don’t forget to wear gloves to avoid getting poked.



The fishbone cactus’ long stems make it easy to propagate since you can cut off a stem at the base of the plant and use it for propagation. When you do propagate your cactus, be sure to trim the plant's stems as opposed to the ribbed fronds. The stems are typically smaller and will have thorns on them.



The fishbone cactus is particularly unique in how it blooms since it only blooms at night, and these flowers only last for a short while. Flowers will appear once your cactus reaches maturity at three years, during its growing season in the spring. Flowers will only open at night and will last for about a week before wilting, so be patient, and you just may see these beautiful, spiky pink flowers!

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Flowers will appear once fishbone cactus reaches maturity at three years



When pruning your fishbone cactus, be sure to do so during its growing season (which is also coincidentally the best time to start propagating, too). Since this cactus makes for an excellent trailing plant, you can either trim your fishbone’s fronds to keep them short and upright or let them grow out like you would any other trailing plant.



Despite its thorns, the fishbone cactus is not toxic to humans or animals. Regardless, it’s still a good idea to keep this plant out of reach for curious pets and children so that they won’t get pricked! The fishbone cactus does extremely well atop a high shelf or hanging from the ceiling– you’ll still be able to get the full effect of the thornless fronds without the prickly parts.

Common Complications

The most common problem a cactus may face is root rot, caused by poor drainage and still water in your pot. While deadly, root rot in its early stages is quite salvageable and can be managed by repotting your cactus in a new pot with higher draining soil. To learn more about the specifics of root rot treatment, check out our in-depth blog.

In addition to root rot, your fishbone cactus may find itself the new home of fungal gnats: a pest commonly associated with overwatering and root rot. Fungal gnat treatment is quite similar to root rot treatment, and since the two go hand-in-hand, it’s always best to check for root rot if you see gnats in your soil.

As for other watering problems, your cactus may become skinny, wrinkled, or discolored due to underwatering. To manage an underwatered fishbone cactus, consider slowly adding more water into your watering routine or water your cactus more frequently. Over time, you’ll develop a watering schedule– perhaps once every week or two– that will make watering a bit easier to remember. Until then, always check your soil’s moisture content at least twice a week.

Overall, the fishbone cactus is a unique and hardy addition to any home garden, as long as you’re safe about its needles. This versatile plant can look good anywhere.

Frequently Asked Fishbone Questions

1. Why is my Cactus Growing Skinny?

Cacti grow skinny when they aren’t getting enough sunlight, and the thinner stems extend outwards in an attempt to reach the sunlight. Always make sure your Fishbone cactus receives at least six hours of indirect sunlight each day. If you live somewhere that doesn’t get much sun, consider investing in a sun lamp to mimic sunlight for your plants. Otherwise, find a location for your Fishbone that gets a bit more indirect sun each day.

2. Why is my Cactus becoming Wrinkled?

Wrinkly cacti and succulents are most likely suffering from a lack of water. An underwatered cactus may have mushy, wrinkly leaves, as well as the main body. Since succulents and cacti store excess water in their leaves, your Fishbone cactus is most likely wrinkled from using up its water reserves. To help get rid of those wrinkles, add a bit more water into your watering routine. Just make sure any excess drains completely before you put your cactus away!

3. Why is my Cactus turning Yellow or Brown?

Discoloration is a common problem among plants and can be caused by overwatering, underwatering, and lack of sunlight. To troubleshoot, first identify your leaves. If they’re wrinkled, your cactus is underwatered. If they’re swollen and mushy, then you’re most likely overwatering your Fishbone. If the plant looks skinny and discolored, check to see how much sunlight it receives each day.

See more about 5 Most Common Questions About Cactus

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