Grow & Care Guide for Zigzag Plant

zigzag plant

Zigzag plant (Euphorbia tithymaloides) is a perennial succulent spurge. It is mostly grown indoors as a houseplant, but in tropical climates can be grown outdoors as well. It is native to Central and South America. It has many common names, such as redbird flower, devil’s backbone plant, and redbird cactus.

Confusing Names

Mother of thousands, the alligator plant (Kalanchoe daigremontiana) is also called the devil’s backbone plant. It is native to Madagaskar and is a completely different plant.

Euphorbia tithymaloides has a lot of different common names like Jewbush, buck-thorn, Christmas candle, ipecacuahana, Jacob’s ladder, Japanese poinsettia, milk-hedge, myrtle-leaved spurge, timora misha, gin-ryu, aperejo, zapatilla del diablo and more.

The zigzag plant has very interesting flowers, which are actually not flowers at all, but leaf bracks. They are shaped like slippers with a pipe coming out of them. Its colorful and unusual shape of the leaf bracks is the reason, why it has so many names. Leaf bracks are not fragrant.

The leaves of the zigzag plant are pointed at the tips. The colors of the leaves are green and white, sometimes a little pink. Leaf bracks (flowers) of the redbird flower are red, white, pink, or green. Stems of this tropical succulent sometimes grow in a zigzag pattern, giving it the popular names zigzag plant and devil’s backbone plant.

Grow & Care

The zigzag plant is a low-maintenance houseplant and is easy to propagate, which makes it so popular. One thing this plant will not tolerate is the cold, other than that it will be fairly easy to grow and care for it. Let us tell you exactly how!

Devil’s backbone plant should be repotted every three to four years, due to it growing quite slowly. Cut back on stems and leaves that look unhealthy, other than that, it requires no pruning.

zigzag plant
The stem of zigzag plant Source: tortxof


Redbird cactus can be grown outdoors in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 and 11. The perfect temperature range to grow this tropical plant is 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 27 degrees Celsius). Redbird cactus is not too fussy about humidity, although very low humidity may impact the plant. Mist your plant once in a while when dealing with low humidity during winter periods.


The zigzag plant is drought-tolerant, so do not worry about watering too much. The worst thing you can do is overwater it. The soil should be kept slightly moist, but not soggy. During winter periods the zig-zag plant should be watered infrequently.


This tropical plant thrives in bright indirect light. This is particularly important when growing a zigzag plant outdoors, it must be planted in partial shade. Too much sunlight can burn the leaves of the plant.

devil's backbone plant leaf bracks
Devil’s backbone plant Source: Francis

The zigzag plant has toxic sap inside the stems. The milky sap is a skin irritant. Indigestion of this plant can lead to vomiting and diarrhea.

Soil & Fertilizer

The zigzag plant can grow in most soils, which are well-draining. It does not need a lot of nutrients either. You can make your own perfect soil mix by taking regular potting soil and mixing it with sand, perlite, or vermiculite. Half or one-third should be well-draining to prevent overwatering the zigzag plant accidentally. Grow it in a container with drainage holes.

Since it’s a tropical succulent, do not feed it fertilizer during winter, when the plant is dormant. During the growing season, feed it diluted all-purpose houseplant fertilizer once a month.

Pink 'slippers' of redbird cactus
Pink ‘slippers’ of redbird cactus Source: Dinesh


The best time to propagate zigzag plant is in the spring. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Wear protective gloves and long sleeves
  2. Take a cutting of new growth from a stem that is not blooming
  3. Cutting should be at least 1 inch long (2,5 cm).
  4. Remove the leaves from the lower half of the cutting
  5. Place the cut end into water, to stop the sap from flowing
  6. Take the cutting out of water and dry it on paper, out of sunlight
  7. Let the cutting dry out for a day or two, until the end of the cutting is calloused
  8. Place the cutting in the beforementioned soil, dip the end in rooting hormone if you want to increase chances of success
  9. Roots should form in two weeks

Pests & Diseases

Powdery mildew is a disease that can affect the zigzag plant, other than that it should not have any problems. Powdery mildew appears in high-humidity environments and should not be a problem in dry or medium conditions. Powdery mildew is sometimes also caused by poor ventilation.

To get rid of powdery mildew, use neem oil on the infected leaves or make a diluted milk spray (1 part milk 10 parts water) and spray the plant. Avoid watering the plant for a while.

Spider mites are the pests you should look out for, although they mostly thrive in low-humidity environments.

Final Thoughts

Zigzag plant is easy to care houseplant with beautiful foliage and distinctive flowers, it is also easy to propagate! Keep it in well-draining slightly moist soil at a location with bright indirect light. Look out for spider mites and powdery mildew!

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