Top Tips & Info
- Care Difficulty - Easy
- Locations that offer bright, indirect light are best suited for Fishtail Cacti, as exposure to the sun may result in scorch. This species is also accepted in semi-shaded locations where a newspaper can't be read without artificial light.
- Water once the soil's top half dries out, reducing this further in the autumn and winter. Avoid over-watering if your specimen is kept in a shady location.
- Average room humidity is enough to please this species, but introduce a pebble tray to keep the surrounding moisture high in locations near a heat source (heaters or radiators).
- Fertilise using a 'Houseplant' or 'Cactus' labelled feed every four waters in the spring and summer, reducing this to every six in the colder months.
- Regularly check for pests, most notably Mealybugs and Scale that'll inhabit the cubbyholes of the stem.
- Keep the ambient temperature above 10℃ (50℉) throughout the year, especially if placed outdoors in the summer.
- Repot every three years using a Cactus & Succulent potting mix, in the next sized pot with adequate drainage holes.
Location & Light
Bright, indirect light is favourable; however, a darker location won’t do too much harm. A position that offers more than two hours of strong direct light must be kept off the cards, due to their susceptibility to sun-scorch. A location within three metres of a north, east or west-facing window, or below a skylight window is ideal. If yours is seated in a relatively shady area of the house, be sure to dust the foliage regularly and keep the soil on the dry side to counteract root rot.
Always allow the top half of the soil dry out in between irrigations, reducing this further in the autumn and winter. Although Fishbone Cacti grow on moist nooks of jungle trees, it's important not to promote too soggy conditions as root or basal rot are always a threat. Over-watering symptoms include yellowing older leaves that soon drop off, mouldy soil, little to no growth and shrivelling foliage. These are common with too much soil moisture, an improper soil medium or too low light -scroll down to 'Common Issues' for more information. Under-watering symptoms, on the other hand, include little to no new growth, a much-needed transplant and drying or shrivelling leaves.
Average room humidity is enough to occupy Fishtail Cacti; however, as the heaters begin to be switched back on, introduce a pebble tray to counteract the risk of dry air.
Fertilise using a 'Houseplant' or 'Cactus' labelled feed every four waters in the spring and summer, reducing this to every six in the colder months.
Whilst the plant is budding or in bloom, swap for a potassium-based feed, for example, 'Tomato' food, to prolong the flowering process in the spring. Never directly apply an RTU (ready to use) feed without a pre-water first, as this will result in root burn and yellowed leaves.
Common Issues with Fishbone Cacti
Root rot is a big issue with symptoms including yellow lower leaves, stunted or softened growth - often accompanied by stem collapse. Take the plant out of the pot and inspect its root systems. Yellow roots translate to good health, however, brown and mushy sections with soggy soil is the result of over-watering.
A brown, rotten base is also another byproduct of over-watering. If the majority of the trunk has rotted over, stem cuttings must be taken to save the remaining section of the plant. Scroll down to ‘Propagation’ for more information!
For smaller compact specimens, yellowing central leaves or a naked base are products of excess moisture being allowed to sit on the foliage. Although watering from the top is acceptable, it's recommended to use the bottom-up method to reduce the chance of rotten foliage. For those that have a bare head over the soil, improve growing contains by using this method and increasing light levels. Promote a bushier appearance by taking vine cuttings and placing them halfway down into the soil once the stems reach over 5cm. Immediately remove yellowed or rotten debris as this will harbour both bacterial and fungal diseases that can both spread across to other sections of the plant.
Failed leaf or stem cuttings are a common issue among amateur gardeners, with damaged wounds or too small vines being the usual culprits. Although propagating all tropical cacti is relatively easy, people still find it hard to ace. Not only will the size of the vine dictate its success, damaging the leaves or vine can also hurt the chances of rooting. For more information about how to take vines, scroll to the 'Propagation' section of this article.
Too much sunlight will cause a red tinge to the foliage. Although Fishtail Cacti are best grown in locations offering just a few hours of sun, prolonged periods on non-acclimated specimens will lead to sun-scorch. If yours is a newly-purchased plant, build its tolerance to the sharp rays by increasing the amount of receivable light per week by an hour.
A lack of flowers is caused by immaturity or an insufficient dormancy period served in the winter months. Specimens will only flower once they reach maturity - which can take in the region of three to six years from a leaf cutting. Also, locations that offer near-similar temperatures all year round won't allow the plant to go dormant, resulting in poor spring growth. To achieve bud development, situate in a location that offers night time temperatures of around 12°C (54°F) with fewer waters. The combination of both cooler temperatures and dry soil during the colder months will help season the plant, thus leading to a better chance of flowers in the future.
Always use lukewarm water, and if you choose to use tap water, allow it to stand for at least 24hrs before application. Tropical cacti tend to be quite sensitive to temperature change, so pouring cold tap water immediately into the pot will not only ironise your roots but could even cause yellow edges, sudden flower loss and stunted growth.
Disocactus is an epiphytic genus consisting of nineteen species, endemic to the coastal and tropical regions of Central America. The species' original name, Epiphyllum anguliger, comes from the Greek phrase for 'upon the leaf' which refers to its epiphytic nature, and 'angle bearing', due to the deeply toothed stems. The genus was first described by Adrian Hardy Haworth (related to the genus, Haworthia) in the late 18th century during a visit through the Caribbean. The most popular species, the E. anguliger or Fishbone Cactus, can be dated back to the 1810s when many of the species within Schlumbergera genus were placed within Epiphyllum. Within recent times, the Fishtail Cactus has been reclassified in the Disocactus genus after extensive genetic testing.
Like the Streptocarpus and African Violets, hybridisation can be easily achieved between this and related genera. As of 2010, over seven thousand different hybrids have been officially named within this genus!
10° - 26°C (50° - 78°F)
H1b (Hardiness Zone 12) - Can be grown outdoors during the summer in a sheltered location with temperatures above 12℃ (54℉), but is fine to remain indoors, too. If you decide to bring this plant outdoors, don't allow it to endure any direct sunlight as it may result in sun-scorch and dehydration. Regularly keep an eye out for pests, especially when re-introducing it back indoors.
Up to 1.4m in height and 40cm in width, with maturity taking up to eight years.
Pruning & Maintenance
Remove yellow or dying leaves, and plant debris to encourage better-growing conditions. While pruning, always use clean utensils or shears to reduce the chance of bacterial and fungal diseases. Never cut through yellowed tissue as this may cause further damage in the likes of diseases or bacterial infections. Remember to make clean incisions as too-damaged wounds may shock the plant, causing weakened growth and a decline in health.
Soil Propagation of Leaf Cuttings
- Choose which leaves to use. The ideal candidates are those that show no sign of damage, pests or diseases, and have small wires roots already-attached. Cuttings that don't have any roots will still root, but it may take a little longer for its propagation.
- Delicately prune the whole leaf off from the plant, and cut it into several sections sideways. If you're stuck on which way to propagate the leaves, look at the image below.
- Prepare the pot and soil. Choosing a free-draining potting mix, for example, Cactus & Succulent Compost, which provides a nice balance of moisture-retention and drainage. Of course, most soils are acceptable (Houseplant or Multi-purpose compost), but try to add some extra ingredients like grit, sand and perlite to help loosen it up. If you've got any shallow and wide pots, for example, a Bonsai pot, this is the time to use it. Propagating tropical cactus cuttings won't require deep soil, so try and avoid pots that are too big. Terracotta and plastic pots are both acceptable in this instance.
- Place the cuttings ON TOP of the moist soil. Allowing both the plant and it's wound to callus over (dry out & harden) will kick-start the rooting process, along with the prevention of rot. Keep the cuttings on top of moist soil for a week, misting the soil and foliage on opposite days.
- Provide a bright, indirect location with temperatures above 18°C (64°F) throughout this period.
- Then, place the cuttings into the soil, submerging the bottom third. Make sure you don't set it too deeply, as this may lead to 'Blackleg' (the rotting of its base).
- Do NOT pat down the surrounding soil to aid support. The ideal soil conditions need to be fluffy and oxygenated, so compacting the soil will result in the suffocation of roots that'll lead to root rot. Tap the pot's side to consolidate (not compact) the soil. If support is needed, use a small stick or cane, but be sure NOT to condense it.
- Aftercare - Maintain evenly moist soil, allowing the top third to dry out in between waters. The ideal location would be in a warm, humid room within a few metres of a window, but out of direct light. After another month or two of being in the soil, treat it like a normal houseplant.
Fishbone Cacti will flower once matured in the summer with rosette-shaped blooms, sporting either red, yellow, pink or white appearances. Each flower will take several weeks to develop, lasting only several days once opened. Most cultivars or species will produce a sweet-smelling fragrance that'll be most prominent at night. Be sure to take photos of your specimen in bloom, as the flowers will only last a few days!
Repot every two years in spring using a 'Cactus' labelled potting mix and the next sized pot with adequate drainage. Fishbone Cacti are far better pot-bound for several years due to the heightened risk of root rot and repotting-issues (like transplant shock), so only repot if you feel it's wholly necessary - restricted root growth will also increase the chance of blooms, too.
Hydrate the plant 24hrs before the tinkering with the roots to prevent the risk of transplant shock. For those situated in a darker location, introduce an extra amount of perlite and grit into the deeper portion of the pot to downplay over-watering risks.
Pests & Diseases
Keep an eye out for mealybugs, spider mites, whitefly, scale & vine weevils. Typical diseases associated with Fishbone Cacti are root or leaf rot, leaf-spot disease & powdery mildew. For more information on how to address any of these issues.
Fishbone Cacti are classified as non-poisonous. If large quantities of the plant are eaten, vomiting, nausea and a loss of appetite could occur.