So I got this cutting from my mom about a year or so ago, having no idea what it was-nor did she. Mom couldn’t recall where she had gotten the plant or what its name was. So I had to do a little research. It turns out that my interesting looking cutting, which mom said to “stick in the dirt and it will root,” was actually a Ric-Rac cactus (Cryptocereus anthonyanus)-AKA: Fish Bone cactus, Zig-Zag cactus, or Anthony’s Ric-Rac.
This succulent plant is native to southern Mexico. Considered an epiphytic cactus, it can be found growing naturally within the canopies of the rainforests, cascading down from the tree branches. Outside of its natural habitat, Ric-Rac is typically grown in hanging baskets where its zig-zagging, succulent leaves may dangle anywhere from two to four feet down. Some people have also had success with training the exotic succulent to climb along a trellis.
The unusual-looking foliage, which resembles fish bones, is the plant’s most attractive feature. Although these leaves are smooth, if you look closely enough you’ll see small, needle-like hairs just behind the buds and along the inner leaf edges. As with all cacti, these need to be handled with great care (in fact, gloves are helpful) to avoid painful pricks. Unfortunately, I found this out the hard way. In addition to the interesting foliage, Ric-Rac cactus may on occasion surprise you with amazing pink or white starburst blooms. By surprise I mean it rarely, if ever, blooms and when it does, flowers only appear on old, rootbound plants-usually a few years old. These blooms will pop up in spring and only at night, where in the wild, their fragrance attracts nighttime pollinators. Furthermore, each bloom lasts only one night so unless you’re at the right place at the right time, I wouldn’t stake too much on the flowering.
One of the greatest things I’ve found with growing my Ric-Rac cactus is its easy maintenance. While I can grow just about anything outside, indoor gardening normally gives me a fit. Not the case, however, with this wonderful evergreen. Like I said (well actually mom did), stick it in some dirt and it will grow. Most people prefer to use orchid substrate or a cactus growing medium with this plant, but not me. My Ric-Rac is in regular potting soil and does just fine. I think as long as your container drains well, the plant is pretty much happy. It’s very important that this cactus be allowed to dry out some between waterings.
Since this is a succulent plant, it doesn’t require frequent watering. In fact, it even tolerates some neglect, bouncing back readily once water is restored. The leaves store moisture and use this reserve during times of extensive dry spells, such as with overwintering when watering is decreased to about once a month. While Ric-Rac can handle some sunlight, it generally prefers to grow in bright shade. I usually keep mine outdoors throughout spring and summer, bringing it back inside once cool temperatures begin in the fall. Although the plant is hardy enough to withstand near freezing temperatures, as with most tropical-like plants, temperatures above 40 degrees F. (preferably between 65-70 degrees F.) are best.
If you want to fertilize Ric-Rac, do so in spring once water is increased. If your cactus becomes overgrown, you can trim it back as needed, using the cuttings to make additional plants or giving them away to others. Broken pieces can be used the same way. It can also be repotted once it outgrows its container. Don’t forget those gloves, however! I attempted to snap a picture of my Ric-Rac for this article, managing to get pricked in the meantime. Now I know why I’m a writer and not a photographer.
Resources: personal experience and The Evening Garden: Flowers and Fragrance from Dusk till Dawn by H. Peter Loewer 2002