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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How to Care & Cultivate Different Types of Zig-Zag Plant (Pedilanthus tithymaloides / Euphorbia tithymaloides) (Updated 2021)


To have or not to have.
What if all the neighbors around your surrounding area plants this same plant,
Would you consider planting this plant in your garden?
That is the underlining questions that makes my garden.

That question about gardening:
keeping it in common terms - would want to keep my garden different from my neighbors
(OK - I'm repeating myself again)
or consider all those hardy easy plants planted with minimum care.

It would be a folly to purchase this plant,
its so easy to take care & propagate that I think many nurseries
would have wished this planted had spend it days and died
(since this plant is so successful, you don't need to buy this plant a second time)
but I guess its a curse, probably that's why they call it the Devil's Backbone?
(Hmm.. why the Devil's Backbone - expect it to be twisted?)

I had found this huge plant cut and thrown out - more like a castaway.
Its just one plant with many branches - many I mean about 20 or so
(with mini-branches from the secondary stalk)
that's quite heavy for one plant to bear.

Regardless, when I found it it was bare without leaves - just those zigzag branch.
Thought that was exotic - sort of those modern contemporary garden idea theme
- a garden without leaves?

Anyway, I have finally decided to invite this plant in,
no worries about it's survival, very aware that this one never dies,
unless its drowned with tonnes of over watering -
otherwise I never heard this plant had ever died.

The first two pictures where taken near my mother in law place.
Someone had an open concept in gardening without fence - these are by the street side.
I guess it must be the variegated type - Didn't realize that the ones I have was lacking the white & pink tinge - probably the good sunlight may have attributed to the color.

Here are the some detailed description concerning this plant:

Synonym & Name: 
Pedilanthus tithymaloides  / Euphorbia tithymaloides 

One of the things with names is that I had found that botanic names don't seemed to stay permanent and often used interchangeably or with synonym. 

Common name:

Devil's backbone, Zigzag plant, Jacob's ladder
Japanese Poinsettia, Variegated Devil's Backbone, Slipper Spurge, Redbird Cactus, Christmas Candle
Pedilanthus tithymaloides
Family: Euphorbiaceae

Is Zigzag Plant a Succulent Plant?

Often it is considered a succulent plant which I say...
Well, it's an Euphorbia species hence very close to a cactus family genes.

This particular Genus 'Euphorbia' named after Euphorbus who served as a physician to Juba II, King of Mauretania (52BC- 23AD). King Juba called a plant he found at Mount Atlas Euphorbia in honour of his physician.
However similarly another plant name synonym to this one 'tithymaloides' comes from this an ancient Greek name for a group of plants with milky sap. 
Again from this subspecies, hence 'smallii'  comes from an American botanist : Dr. John Kunkel Small (1869-1938), who served as the first Curator of Museums at New York Botanical Garden, and travelled extensively across Florida to document its flora and landmarks.

It is interesting to know that names of plants seems to live forever with those who had dedicated their lives as doctors and botanist. Personally I find Euphorbia is a bit repulsive to do the toxicity on their milky sap especially the unpopularity of causing almost blindness and skin troubles similar like Dieffenbachia - unless one have found a love-hate relationship with toxic plants.



they can withstand without watering at the maximum duration about 2 weeks to a month depending how deep is the roots or the pot size. If the plant gets too dry, the leaves starts to wither and falls off but it won't die and will recover when watered adequately.


Keep it slightly dry, over-watering can cause root / stem base rot.
However if the plant had acclimatized in your garden - it can handle daily watering regime.


This plant is in the Euphorbia family where the sap is toxic.
Do be careful about this:


In case if you get them on your eyes,
do rinse with running water for 15 minutes immediately before getting medical help.


Just take short cuttings and press it in the soil but allow the milky sap on cuttings to dry out before planting. You can even leave it out for few days to dry before planting - just as planting any succulent & cactus plants.
( I had kept this aside for few weeks until got the time to purchase the soil & pots - so they are really really hardy plant)

Or if you are short of time, do place the cutting in water and let the milk/sap to dilute in water for few minute. It would be considered safe to propagate in that manner.


I also found that this particular species works very well as a Vertical Garden Plants where they tend to cascade very well and only requires less watering and able to diversify excellently in such tight conditions (able to grow well together in tight medium condition with other plants)

However, their plant growth is slow and that helps to maintain a constant stable look in the overall garden outlook.

Different Types / Cultivars of  Pedilanthus tithymaloides

Do click on the names of the plant below for more detailed information concerning this particular plant:


Do click on the names of the plant above for more detailed information concerning this particular plant.


Noelle Johnson said...

I do tend to stay away from plants that are overused in the landscape. But, sometimes I make an exception because there is usually a good reason that a particular plant is often used :^)

mr_subjunctive said...

I love these as houseplants (ref.), so it'd be an easy decision for me: I'd take it, propagate it, and plant them all over.

I don't really understand worrying about whether or not you should plant something just because the neighbors all have them. I mean, if you're tired of looking at them in everybody else's yards, then maybe you shouldn't bother in your own. But it's your garden, not everybody else's. No?

Floridagirl said...

I love the Devil's Backbone plant. It does very well over here in Central Florida as well.

I know what you mean, though. When I moved here, I definitely noticed which plants were most common and avoided them like the plague in my first big planting phase. But...I've since come to grips with the fact that these plants are so popular because they're so easy. I have used them so much more in later planting phases...bottlebrush, camellias, viburnums, hawthorns, and date palms come to mind.

Stephanie said...

Devil's backbone plant is everywhere here in PJ especially at those 'older' homes. It's one of those plants that were planted long time ago and still popular. The nurseries are still selling them. I saw some with a little pink. But I was not sure if there are new hybrids or new leaves. It's an unusual looking plant to have in the garden. Good that you rescued it :-D

Lavender and Vanilla Friends of the Gardens said...

Hi James, I had a zigzag plant but somehow some time ago, it got lost. I must say I was never really exited about it, I don't know why, as it is a pretty and interesting plant. My neighbour and I have many plants in common as we share with each other new and old plants.
If I like a plant it does not matter to me if somebody else plants it too. The gardens here are big and secluded.

Rosie said...

I too try to steer clear of overused landscape plants here - I call them the "roundabout" plants as they seem to be planted at every roundabout - but some are worthwhile in the garden - just like this one of yours which I had never heard of till I came over here. This is'nt seen on the housemarket scene here either in the UK - maybe because of its toxicity. Lovely plant leaves - it looks like the leaves of a cornus.

Corner Gardener Sue said...

That is a good looking plant. I like to be different, too, but if lots of people were growing a plant I really loved, I would go ahead and plant it. I'm a bit afraid of the euphorbias that grow around here. Most are quite spready. I just have one kind, and pull out any runners I see.

I had to laugh about your hair dryer comment on my blog. I hope all the snow is melted soon.

James David said...

Thanks Noelle, Mr.Subjunctive, Floridagirl, Stephanie, Titania, Rosie & Sue.
For your thoughtful comments.

It doesn't trouble me to have the same plants as what the neighbours have. I guess it sort of the Asean thing not to have the same garden plants as that would indicate a copy-cat factor.
Especially when my garden is mostly open for all to see from my house - practically nothing is hidden.
Regardless, at the end of the day - like what Mr.Subjunctive mentioned: Its my garden and so Im the master of what I decide to plant (what stays & what goes)

Like Stephanie mentioned - I remember zigzag as an "old-world garden" here as they had been planted ages ago. And that might subconcious may have triggered that I don't what to be identified as an "old gardener"
Perhaps (lol)

Autumn Belle said...

I am thinking of growing this one. Yours is doing fine and I see a tinge of pink among the leaves. I have seen a revival of these plants around my neighbourhood.

Urban Green said...

First time here...your blog is lovely. following you.
You got a great collection of foliage. I have similar ones, but didn't have all the names - now i do...see you around.

Jacqueline said...

Your plant is so healthy and have such beautiful variegation...the pink tinge is so attractive! James, is its sap that oozes when cut toxic? I remember planting a solid green variety many years ago that caused a skin allergy for me when in contact with its sap during a pruning session. Since then I've never dared plant this variegated beauty even though I'm very attracted to it.

James David said...

Belle - Do grow them Belle, they are very hardy. The pink tinge are taken (pic) near Jinjang area. Somehow I realise that they appear when receive good sunlight.

Urban Green - Thanks & welcome. Good to know that you can identify them. Hope to hear from you more often.

Jacqueline - The sap does oozes out and Im very careful when I attend to this one but comparing this to dumbcane - I found dumbcane seemed to be very toxic and had severely caused much pain than the zigzag. Do wear gloves if you intend to introduce this one in your garden.
I had not pruned any of it since I last planted this plant. They are slow growers.

Anonymous said...

mary usa mo.
i have a good size devils back bone and i was told it would blooms is this so cause mine has never blood, and can i set it out side in the summer mary from missouri

James David said...

mary usa mo.
Devil backbone needs good sunlight for it to bloom.

KLbalconynovicegardener said...

Thanks allot. I saw this plant in Tesco last night - the flowers looked like little pink birds facing each other and the foliage was unique - there was no lable on the name of the plant . Due to the thick green stems and leave appearance I thought this was a succulent and can live in partial shade. I live in apartement block and only able to garden on the balcony. After goggling all night on what can be the possible plant name -using keywords like bird like flowers and finally able to locate it using zig zag stem and at your website.

James David said...

KL balcony novice gardener,
Glad to note that my blog helped you in your search for the ID.
I'm guessing that the plant you have is a new hybrid but of the same similar species of this zig-zag plant.
The plant is quite hardy - just watch out for overwatering as they might tend to rot.

Anonymous said...

I found this plant several years ago,and gave mom some and I couldn't believe how fast it grew and how big it got.for me in the summer time it had 2 toned green leves some time green and white,but during the cold months the leaves started turning red,thought wow that's interesting.i lost mine but now I see they grow like crazy my sis has moms plant in her yard she wont miss a couple cuttings plusi might do same for her and she wont miss what I took.shes gonna freak when she sees them start to over grow her big pot heehee

marypage56 said...

Can someone please give me a devil backbone plant. I just love this plant. I'm from Brewton Alabama but I live in Northfield Ohio now. .

Kathy13 said...

Is the zig zag plant a succulent plant ??? I would appreciate it. Thanks

William Martins 'Wigandia' said...

A splendid plant I have long admired it (in Southern Australia) but had to come to Thailand to actually buy one!! Nice blog.

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My Malaysian Tropical Garden mainly focused on unique and colorful plants ranging from rare to common plants all around the tropical belt across the world. Ideal for inspiration for challenging areas in the garden space - indoor gardening, balcony gardening and small green spaces especially for ariods, bromeliads, begonias, edibles, cascading & vertical garden plants, succulents & cacti, orchids, together with both shade and sun loving plants.

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