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Gardening 101: Ric Rac Cactus

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Gardening 101: Ric Rac Cactus

November 10, 2020

Ric Rac cactus, Cryptocereus anthonyanus

Just when I thought I knew all the ridiculously fabulous and easy houseplants to grow, I stumbled upon a new one at my local garden center. What first caught my eye was this plant’s unique leaf shape because it instantly reminded me of ric rac trim on my childhood Raggedy Ann doll dress. Little did I know that one of the plant’s monikers is actually Ric Rac. (Another name for this plant is Fishbone cactus, and while also visually accurate, definitely not as cute.)

Ready to meet your next indoor plant?

Ric Rac plants are sometimes also described as Zigzag cactuses. A Live Ric Rac Cactus Plant from A
Above: Ric Rac plants are sometimes also described as Zigzag cactuses. A Live Ric Rac Cactus Plant from A2ZPlants is $16.99 on Etsy.

Originating from the tropical rainforests of Chiapas, Mexico, Ric Rac cactus in its natural habitat grows as an Epiphyte (a plant that grows on another plant but isn’t parasitic) in dense clusters that cascade dramatically from tree branches. Several ferns, air plants, bromeliads, and orchids also grow on tree trunks in rainforests. What makes this fast-growing plant unique is that it sports distinctive serrated and lobed leaves, and has a thick, leathery texture and a rich dark green color.

Some Ric Rac cactuses will bloom—but only for one night. Photograph by Uleli via Wikimedia.
Above: Some Ric Rac cactuses will bloom—but only for one night. Photograph by Uleli via Wikimedia.

If your Ric Ric cactus receives enough bright light in early spring and its roots are a bit crowded in its pot, this cactus might gift you with sweetly fragrant pink to yellow to white orchid-like flowers in March or April. But, there’s a catch, because unless you’re a nocturnal pollinator (which I assume you aren’t), you probably won’t witness this blooming occurrence as this plant is a member of the night-blooming cactus family and its flowers open only at night and only last a day. But don’t worry, Ric Ric cactus visually holds it own without flowers because of its bold (and nostalgic) leaf shape.

Cheat Sheet

The plant looks best in a hanging planter. You can get a cutting from this mother plant—a Ric Rac Fishbone Cactus—for just $5 from SendDirtyNodes on Etsy.
Above: The plant looks best in a hanging planter. You can get a cutting from this mother plant—a Ric Rac Fishbone Cactus—for just $5 from SendDirtyNodes on Etsy.
  • Because Ric Rac cactus trails and cascades beautifully to 12 inches long or more, this plant looks and grows best in hanging baskets or in a pot perched on a shelf. Pro Tip: Use an unglazed pot to enhance evaporation and prevent the soil from holding on to too much water.
  • Add this zig zaggy cactus to your heated greenhouse plant collection or to your tropical themed shady garden if you live in an area where  winter temperatures don’t dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This plant will not survive freezing temperatures.
  • You can move your plant outside to a shady spot in the summer, like perhaps hang the pot from a shady tree, but definitely bring it in when temperatures cool.

Keep It Alive

FSabZeeSuccs sells its Fishbone Ric Rac either in a 4-inch pot or as bare roots on Etsy.
Above: FSabZeeSuccs sells its Fishbone Ric Rac either in a 4-inch pot or as bare roots on Etsy.
  • Site your houseplant in a bright warm spot, but protected from direct hot sun.
  • Grow this plant in very porous soil. The best mix for this plant is three parts potting soil to one part pumice, or buy a mix designed for cacti.
  • Due to its tropical rain forest heritage, the Ric Rac cactus appreciates more humidity than your typical cactus, and will grow in average household conditions.
  • Like some other cacti, the Ric Rac can withstand periods of drought, but really grows best with a drink of water when the top inch of the soil dries out. Also like its cactus cousins, this plant doesn’t like being overwatered; it will rot if the soil stays wet for long periods of time.
  • During the winter, the soil should be drier than normal and the fertilizer kept to only once a month.
  • A liquid fertilizer like those formulated for orchids works well. Once a week, during the spring and summer, give it some plant food.
  • When your plant finally needs to be repotted, do so during the spring or summer.
  • Occasionally trim an older Ric Rac cactus because the leaves can get quite long. Pro Tip: Wear gloves when trimming because the plant is still a cactus and its tiny fine thorns—though small and barely visible—can prick you.

For more succulents we like, see:

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