Pedilanthus tithymaloides variegatus or Devil's Backbone

I've had this plant for over a year now but didn't take much notice since I just thought it was a common landscaping plant. It has interesting zig-zag stems and the leaves' colors give a nice accent to any garden spot.

Well today, I saw tiny red flowers that looked like little red birds.

Thanks to Joe and Karyn at the GardenWeb (, I was able to identify this plant as Pedilanthus tithymaloides variegatus.

The plant goes by the following common names: Devil's Backbone, Christmas Candle, Jacob's Ladder, Japanese Poinsettia, Redbird Cactus, Slipper's Spurge, Zigzag Plant.

Although the plant may be grown indoors, it rarely blooms in such a location. This plant loves direct sunlight and will yield vivid red flowers.

Here are some of the plants at our front garden by the bay window. The stems form an interesting zigzag pattern hence the names Devil's Backbone and Zigzag Plant.

It's easy to grow them from cuttings. The plant can be divided as it gets older and produces a clump of vertical stems.

Here's a few more information from toptropicals:
Pedilanthus tithymaloides
Family: Euphorbiaceae
Devil's backbone, Zigzag plant, Jacob's ladder
Origin: Tropical Americas

Pedilanthus is very easy to grow as a houseplant. It needs some protection from hot summer sun, but it will be happiest in full sun during the fall and winter. Take care not to over-water, which can cause rotting. Water sparingly, just enough to make the potting mixture moist. Water even more sparingly if the room temperature is below 60 degrees; the temperature should never go below 55 degrees. Liquid fertilizer should be used once a month. Plant in well drained sandy mixture. It does best in a small pot; you can change pots to just one size larger when roots become extremely crowded. The sap is moderately caustic, although mild by Euphorbia standards, it should still be handled with caution.

The flower in the photo below appears to be a group of birds drinking from a center fountain.

The above plant is from our garden at the back.

Go ahead, post your comment below!

LLynn McCoy said...

Thanks for this post about this plant. I have one and did not know it had so many names. I grow mine in a pot but it sounds like I could try growing it in the ground. Although I live in the northeast area of the US which includes Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina area, and that area can frezze in the winter so I would be afraid to put more than a piece of my plant out to try. If I may ask what general area do you live in since you have the plant growing outside. I do not need to know the exact state you live in just the general area. Thanks so much for this post.

Blackdove said...

Hi Llyn. I'm in Asia, specifically, the Philippines. So growing anything outdoors isn't much of a problem. Good day!