How to Care for a Pedilanthus Plant (Devil’s Backbone, Zig-Zag Plant)?

How to Care for a Pedilanthus Plant (Devil's Backbone, Zig-Zag Plant)

The genus Euphorbia, which includes the Pedilanthus plant, is in the family Euphorbiaceae. Trees and blooming shrubs of a low height are examples of this species. Pedilanthus is endemic to the subtropical and tropical regions of North, Central, and South America. The plant’s stem has a peculiar zigzag shape, earning it the alternate name “Jacob’s ladder” among Europeans and “devil’s backbone” among indigenous.

The word Pedilanthus means “flower shoe,” which is how the name was derived. His inflorescence looks much like a slipper, which is why it caught people’s attention. There are 15 different types of Pedilanthus, and some of them are even grown in home gardens.

Pedilanthus Tithymaloides Features

The genus Pedilanthus is comprised of low trees and shrubs with densely intertwined branches when grown in their natural environments (about 3 meters). Dark green or a bluish-gray coloration can be seen on the surface of cylindrical shoots. The diameter of the stem in specimens cultivated at home can reach up to 20 millimeters, while the plant’s height can reach approximately 200 centimeters.

Wax covers the surface of the wavy green ovoid leaf plates, giving them a pointed top, and they are shaped like leaf plates. The length of the foliage is approximately 10 centimeters, and its width can be up to 3 centimeters. The foliage can be sessile or it can have short leaves. Pubescence can be found on the surface of the leaves of certain species. During the period in which it is dormant, the shrub may lose all of its foliage.

When the plant is in its flowering stage, dense umbellate apical inflorescences measure around 30 millimeters in length form. Small pink or red blooms that, from the outside, have a shape that resembles either the head of a bird or a shoe can be found on them. The flowers each feature a pair of bracts that are pointy and deep crimson colors.

Grow the Devil’s Backbone in any light spot within your home as a houseplant. When grown outside in the warm season, it makes a lovely patio plant. In regions without winter frost, this is an excellent landscaping plant.

How to Care for a Pedilanthus, Devil's Backbone, Zig-Zag Plant

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How to Care for a Pedilanthus, Devil’s Backbone, Zig-Zag Plant?

– Soil

The characteristics that set Pedilanthus at home apart are its lack of pretense and its lack of particularity about the substrate’s composition. While it may be grown in virtually any soil combination, it does require a drainage layer of small stones, bits of foam plastic, or coarse sand at the bottom of the container. This type of plant requires a special soil mixture, which can be made by combining sand, leafy soil, and soddy soil by hand (1: 1: 1). Antiseptic treatment is required for the resulting soil combination. To achieve this, place the item in a water bath and heat it to a temperature of 125 F for 15 minutes.

The bottom of the container must have holes for drainage, so make sure these stay unblocked. Thus, a toothpick or knitting needle should be used to clean them if necessary. The root system of the bush has a very adverse reaction to standing water.

– Lighting

The plant requires a lot of strong light but should not be left in direct sunlight for extended periods of time. When deciding on window placement, Pedilanthus thrives in the warm, sunny conditions found in the southeast and southwest. Light curtains should be used to block the sun if the bush is located in front of a south-facing window.

– Temperature

It is advisable to keep the bush on the street through the end of spring and into the summer, so it is moved out onto a balcony, loggia, or patio. When the weather is warm, he prefers an environment where the temperature is between 20 and 26 degrees. Room temperature in the winter should be kept between 13 and 15 degrees. If the room is too hot, the foliage’s leaves will fly off, the stem will extend, and no flowers will bloom the following year.

However, it’s important to remember that Pedilanthus typically experiences a growth slowdown and a fluttering of some of its foliage throughout the winter months. Keep in mind that the plant is sensitive to both rapid temperature shifts and drafts.

– Watering

During the summer, the shrub needs frequent, heavy watering; this is done about three times a week, right after the top layer of the substrate has dried off. Also in the winter, it receives copious amounts of water, although only around once every seven days. The substrate dries at a considerably slower rate now since the environment is cooler. When leaves begin to fall off, it’s an indication that your plant needs foliage.

The Pedilanthus needs water that is either at or slightly above room temperature. Before using the water, filter it so that any sediment is removed. Only on really hot summer days should you mist the bush with a watering can. Many florists, however, like to set the planter on a tray of damp stones.

– Fertilizer

From April through the end of September, or the growing season, once every 20-30 days is spent applying a top dressing. Pedilanthus is neither watered nor fed throughout the winter months. You should pick a low-nitrogen fertilizer for him, as an overabundance of this element is detrimental to the bush. Organic feeding (such as mullein) is beneficial, although a particular mineral complex designed for succulents and cacti can also be used.

How to propagate Pedilanthus plants

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Pedilanthus transplant

Only in extreme cases, such as when the root system has become too congested in the pot and the roots are beginning to protrude out the drainage hole, is a transplant considered for such a plant. The bush is transplanted in the spring before its shoots begin to grow leaves.

Don’t try to fit a Pedilanthus into a pot that’s too big for it. The recommended diameter increase from the old to the new pot is 20 to 30 mm. Do not dig out the entire soil system; instead, carefully examine it, cutting off any diseased roots while saving roughly 20 mm of healthy tissue. Apply some powdered activated or charcoal to the wounds. Wear gloves and only touch disinfected tools during work. The juice can inflict severe burns if it comes in contact with the skin.

Pour enough drainage material to fill up about a quarter of the container’s depth into the bottom of the pot. Sod and green soil, along with sand, make a great transplanting substrate. The newly transplanted bush has to be watered and then moved to a shady location where it can remain for a few days.

The top layer of the soil mixture can be replaced with a new substrate if the bush has been growing in the same pot for several years without being transplanted and if the root system is not crowded. When a light yellow or white crust appears on the substrate, the same process must be repeated.

Pruning Pedilanthus plants

Slowing the Pedilanthus’s expansion and keeping it looking well requires regular pruning. The best time to prune is in the spring after the dormant phase has ended but before vigorous growth begins. A room with good ventilation and a temperature of around 13°C to 15°C is ideal for this.

When trimming, use a clean, sterile blade. The length of each stalk is cut by a third, and at least two or three buds should remain. After that, sulfur or charcoal is applied to the pieces. Pruning encourages new growth and strengthens existing branches in a bush.

How to propagate Pedilanthus plants?

Cuttings or seeds are used to propagate indoor Pedilanthus throughout the spring and summer. Since setting seeds is so unusual under controlled conditions, vegetative propagation of the bush is the preferred method of growth.

– Growing from seed

If you have any Pedilanthus seeds from a purchase or a collection, you can plant them in bowls of moistened peat and sand. Seeds are buried in the substrate to a depth of 15 mm, and the resulting crops are covered with glass or film and heated (from 22 to 25 degrees). It is important to regularly provide the crops with fresh air and, if necessary, water.

A maximum of 15 days will pass before the first sprouts show. When this occurs, the safe haven will no longer be accessible. High humidity and heat are essential for plant growth and development. After 4 genuine leaf plates have formed, the young bushes in individual pots are harvested. This substrate is utilized in the same way as it would be for an established plant.

– Cuttings

When compared to establishing a Pedilanthus bush from seeds, rooting a cutting is incredibly simple and quick. You’ll need a mature bush of at least 80 mm in length in order to take apical cuttings. Remove any remaining foliage from the base of the cuts and air dry them in the open air for a day or two. The cuttings should then be planted at an angle in damp sand, and a cut plastic bottle or glass jar placed on top to encourage root growth.

If you want your cuttings to take root, you need to keep them at a warm temperature (from 22 to 25 degrees). Regular airing will keep the cuttings from showing any signs of decay. During the time when the segments are rooting, the sand should be kept slightly damp at all times. The emergence of new foliage on the cuttings of the branch is a clear indication that roots have formed. Once this occurs, the segments’ protective covering is taken off. They are first grown in bulk, then separated into individual containers as they mature. If you have an adult Pedilanthus, you should continue caring for it the same way.

Water can also be used to root cuttings. Place them in a glass of room temperature water and provide soft lighting. Always remember to refill the glass with fresh water or whatever you like each day. When roots form on the pieces, they are transplanted to their own pots.

Don’t forget to wear gloves when you’re gathering cuttings, because the milky fluid is quite toxic. A razor-sharp knife, previously sterilized, is used to trim the shoots.

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Pests and diseases

Keep in mind that weakening Pedilanthus, which is common in homes, is more susceptible to diseases and pests. We avoid damaging pests and diseases while protecting the plants’ health.

– Diseases

If the substrate of a pot containing a bush remains consistently damp, the plant may become infected with a fungal disease. The following indicators point in this direction: The plant’s stem turned black, and brown blotches appeared on the foliage. You should consider transplant surgery as soon as these symptoms develop. The new soil combination should also be treated with a solution of Topaz or Fitosporin-M, and any decaying roots should be cut off the bush. The next step is to change the settings for the irrigation system. You should take cuttings from the bush to root if it has been severely damaged and cannot be saved.

– Pests

Whiteflies, spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids are the most common pests to cause damage to such a plant. Most pests can be eliminated by spraying an insecticide on the bush, but spider mites require special treatment with acaricidal preparations such as Aktar, Aktellik, or Karbofos.

– Possible problems

Winter stem stretching. The room temperature is too warm, and the lighting is inadequate.

  • The bush fails to produce flowers. It’s likely that the plant did not have ideal conditions throughout its resting phase.
  • Browning and drying can be seen at the leaf tips. The air in this room is quite dry.
  • The foliage is an unacceptable shade of green. The nitrogen content of the substrate is too high.
  • Thin and light metal plates. Unsatisfactory lighting.

Types of Pedilanthus, Devil’s Backbone, or Zig-Zag Plant

– Pedilanthus Tithymaloides

Pedilanthus Tithymaloides care

Often referred to as “Jacob’s ladder” or “devil’s backbone,” this plant has earned some unflattering nicknames. The fact is that each of its thick, fleshy stalks is twisted in a different way. Leaf plates develop on the folds in the same way that steps develop on a staircase. When grown inside, a bush can reach a height of about 200 centimeters and produce a handful of sprouts. Approximately 70 mm in length, these smooth sheet plates feature a pointed top and a wavy edge.

The leaves of this plant are notable for their ability to change color in response to environmental conditions. Foliage borders may be pink or white, plate color may shift to olive, and a few light specks may appear in the plate’s center. At the blossoming stage, the blooms are a vibrant shade of pink or red.

The blossoms are used to make a juice that has powerful antibacterial properties. It’s a key ingredient in lots of different treatments. The hazardous milky fluid found in the plant’s foliage can irritate or even trigger an allergic reaction if it comes into contact with your mucous membranes.

This plant is commonly cultivated in both indoor and outdoor settings in the southern hemisphere. Excellent for use in erecting privacy or sound barriers. As a matter of fact, the Pedilanthus bush quickly recovers from pruning.

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– Pedilanthus Finca

Pedilanthus finca

The fact that this species thrives in damp environments is one of its defining characteristics. Because the beautiful green foliage has a darker center, it is also referred to as a variegated variety. After some amount of time, the color of the foliage begins to fade, and it only retains its green shade in the center. The outermost edge of the leaf plates has a color that fades progressively into a pinkish hue. The pattern of the foliage looks like a zigzag.

The Pedilanthus plant has the appearance of a shrub, however, the lower portions of its stems do not branch out. In the upper section of the shoots, one can see the beginning stages of the development of the crown as well as the side branches. When planting, it is recommended that you use a mixture of the soil that is not too light.

– Pedilanthus macrocarpus

Pedilanthus macrocarpus

The plant’s aesthetic value is low. The dense shrub is comprised of clusters of succulent, naked, greyish-green branches. They can be shaved down flat, but more typically they retain their rounder cut. This plant’s succulent nature allows it to store water in its stems and leaves, making it resistant to dry conditions.

Tiny leaf plates resemble scales. Those vibrant petals can be any shade from red to pink to orange. The inflorescences-shoes consist of these clusters of flowers that form at the tips of the stems.

– Pedilanthus calcaratus

Pedilanthus calcaratus

The height of this evergreen species averages around 300 centimeters. Its broad top is covered in nearly black-green branches. Glossy, green leaves are long and narrow and have a wave down one edge. Roughly 60 millimeters in length, the leaves are relatively small.

– Pedilanthus coalcomanensis

Pedilanthus coalcomanensis

One of the most impressive Pedilanthus species is this one. The Mexican mountains are its native habitat. The species only responds by shedding foliage to unexpected changes in weather because it is very resistant to such changes. Unusual inflorescences, which are far larger than those of other species, are a defining characteristic. They are peach-tinted pink in color. This plant can grow into both a tiny tree and a spreading bush.

– Pedilanthus nana

Pedilanthus nana

This bushy decorative form only has a pleasant texture when there is high humidity. The thick shoots are adorned with rich oval-shaped foliage that has a pointy tip at the top. In its natural habitat, this species is typically found in close proximity to large trees and shrubs, which provide shade and offer some degree of protection from the sweltering heat and direct sunlight. Due to the fact that this kind of plant grows best in sandy soil, you won’t find it in nature anywhere near any animal or human paths.

Is Pedilanthus an indoor plant?

The plant’s scientific name, Pedilanthus tithymaloides, translates to “foot-shaped blossom” in Latin. The plant’s native range includes the tropics of the United States, but it can only survive in USDA hardiness zones 9 and 10. The plant’s 2-foot height and wide leaves make it a great choice for a home indoor plant (61 cm.)

What is the Devil’s Backbone plant good for?

In Ayurveda, narale is known as asthisamharaka, which translates to “bone mender,” due to its well-documented therapeutic properties. Research confirms it helps heal torn tendons and ligaments, reduces inflammation and pain in the joints, fortifies bones, aids in weight loss, and protects against osteoporosis.

Is Pedilanthus poisonous?

When ingested, the substance may produce nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you get sap in your eyes, it will most likely cause pain or redness. Caution: If any of the substance gets into the eye, wash it out with water for 15 minutes.

Why is it called the Devil’s Backbone?

The devil’s backbone got its name from the unique shape its stems take on as they expand. A stunning houseplant, the devil’s backbone is best displayed in a tall, narrow container that emphasizes the plant’s erect form.

Is the plant known as the Devil’s Backbone dangerous to animals?

Cats should not consume the devil’s backbone since it is dangerous and could kill them.

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