Euphorbia, Variegated Devil's Backbone, Japanese Poinsettia, Slipper Spurge, Redbird Cactus 'Variegatus'

Euphorbia tithymaloides

Family: Euphorbiaceae (yoo-for-bee-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Euphorbia (yoo-FOR-bee-uh) (Info)
Species: tithymaloides (tith-ee-mal-OY-deez) (Info)
Cultivar: Variegatus
Synonym:Pedilanthus tithymaloides


Tropicals and Tender Perennials

Cactus and Succulents

Water Requirements:

Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping

Sun Exposure:

Partial to Full Shade


Good Fall Color

Foliage Color:

Unknown - Tell us


6-8 ft. (1.8-2.4 m)


18-24 in. (45-60 cm)


USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)

USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 C (30 F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 C (35 F)

USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 C (40 F)

Where to Grow:

Unknown - Tell us


Parts of plant are poisonous if ingested

Bloom Color:


Bloom Characteristics:

Unknown - Tell us

Bloom Size:

Unknown - Tell us

Bloom Time:

Mid Spring

Other details:

Unknown - Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)

6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:


Propagation Methods:

From softwood cuttings

Seed Collecting:

N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed


This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Fort Payne, Alabama

Phoenix, Arizona

Long Beach, California

Louisville, Colorado

Anna Maria, Florida

Apopka, Florida(2 reports)

Bartow, Florida(2 reports)

Big Pine Key, Florida

Boca Raton, Florida

Bonita Springs, Florida

Cape Coral, Florida

Captiva, Florida

Cocoa, Florida

Cocoa Beach, Florida

Crestview, Florida

Daytona Beach, Florida

Deland, Florida

Dunnellon, Florida

Floral City, Florida

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Fort Pierce, Florida

Hobe Sound, Florida(2 reports)

Hollywood, Florida

Homestead, Florida

Jacksonville, Florida(2 reports)

Lakeland, Florida(2 reports)

Longboat Key, Florida

Merritt Island, Florida

Miami, Florida

Middleburg, Florida

New Port Richey, Florida(2 reports)

Niceville, Florida

North Fort Myers, Florida

North Port, Florida

Oakland, Florida

Ocala, Florida

Ocoee, Florida

Oldsmar, Florida

Orange Park, Florida

Orlando, Florida(2 reports)

Palm Coast, Florida

Parrish, Florida

Pompano Beach, Florida(4 reports)

Port Charlotte, Florida

Port Saint Lucie, Florida

Ruskin, Florida

Saint Cloud, Florida

Saint Petersburg, Florida(2 reports)

Sarasota, Florida(3 reports)

Seffner, Florida

Spring Hill, Florida

Tampa, Florida(2 reports)

Titusville, Florida(2 reports)

Venice, Florida

Vero Beach, Florida

Wauchula, Florida

Wellborn, Florida

West Palm Beach, Florida

Winter Springs, Florida

Augusta, Georgia

Grovetown, Georgia

Ainaloa, Hawaii

Hawaiian Beaches, Hawaii

Hawaiian Ocean View, Hawaii

Laie, Hawaii

Leilani Estates, Hawaii

Nanawale Estates, Hawaii

Ocean View, Hawaii

Pahoa, Hawaii

Belle Rose, Louisiana

Covington, Louisiana

Gonzales, Louisiana

Jeanerette, Louisiana

Lake Charles, Louisiana

Paulina, Louisiana

Youngsville, Louisiana

Starkville, Mississippi

Roswell, New Mexico

Rocky Point, North Carolina

Northfield, Ohio

Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

Caguas, Puerto Rico

Conway, South Carolina

Alice, Texas

Andrews, Texas

Austin, Texas

Baytown, Texas

Brenham, Texas

Brownwood, Texas

Corpus Christi, Texas

Eagle Lake, Texas

Galveston, Texas

Harlingen, Texas

Houston, Texas(3 reports)

Huntsville, Texas

Katy, Texas

Longview, Texas

Mcallen, Texas(2 reports)

Plano, Texas

Port Arthur, Texas

Portland, Texas

Richmond, Texas

Rockport, Texas

Rowlett, Texas

San Antonio, Texas

Stephenville, Texas

Woodway, Texas

show all

Gardeners' Notes:


On May 20, 2018, RBLick from Longboat Key, FL (Zone 10a) wrote:

Love this one. It was growing wild on an empty lot near my home--zone 10a; island off the Gulf Coast of FL--and a few years back I pulled out some handfuls and stuck them in the alley passage that's mostly shaded behind my house. (I had no idea at the time that it's poisonous; thankfully I'm still here & no worse for the wear.) The plant thrives in this environment. It spreads over time, and I break off small branches and stick them in the ground to propagate. The little red pointed flowers are great! Neighbors frequently comment on it and ask where they can get some; I point them to the vacant lot down the road!


On Apr 2, 2015, coriaceous from ROSLINDALE, MA wrote:

This is an attractive houseplant in the north, grown for its variegated foliage and its zigzag stem habit. It rarely blooms.

Best cultivated in well-drained soil. It easily drops its leaves and grows like a succulent, though the stems aren't fleshy.

The sap is highly toxic. It can cause serious rashes on the skin, and blindness if it gets in the eyes.


On Apr 1, 2015, gaagee from Rocky Point, NC wrote:

I've had one of these plants for at least 10 years. it has never bloomed. This year for some reason it is dying and I am very sad about it. I have tried to take some of the pieces that are still green and repot them but they also are dying. I would really like to get some more cuttings if anyone has any. I am in North Carolina on the coast.


On Jan 16, 2014, Huck_Treadwell from Fort Payne, AL wrote:

I took a clipping off one of my mother's plants and she got got a clipping from her mother's plant. It's very easy to grow. I had one about six feet tall that I cut back to about two feet because it got to difficult to manage. I rooted about 40 cuttings from that.

I moved about three years ago and stashed a couple of these on my mother's front porch while I was moving. She called me a few days later and told me to come look at the plants. They had tiny red blooms all over them. I've had one for 10 years and it never bloomed. My mother has been around them all her life and that was the first one she had ever seen bloom.


On Oct 2, 2012, carmag from Chicago, IL (Zone 5b) wrote:

I have had this as an indoor plant since my son was about 4 years old. He is now 46. It is easy to grow just don't over water. I have shared cuttings with many people in my old neighborhood of Kenwood in Chicago. One problem, how do you make it bloom? Great color on leaves in summer since it is outdoors in the morning sun, but never a bloom.


On Sep 27, 2012, Lindabgood from Ainaloa, HI wrote:

I would of never gussed that this crooked, varrigated, spindley plant growing in my garden was in fact this wonderous herb.
According to this other site ( Here is an herb(Devil's Backbone) that is qute the miracle. This site claims,
"the Wests discovery of an ancient Eastern substance that heals injured muscle, tendon, ligament, and joints...even brokenbones and old, chronic pains...faster than anything everseen by classic medicine." Here I thought all this time that the plant was toxic! I must really do more research. If all this is true then this plant has an overabundance of merit and I will begin earnest propagation by cuttings immediately! More research wil... read more


On Jan 22, 2011, sunkissed from Winter Springs, FL (Zone 9b) wrote:

I took a clipping a few years ago off my brother's plant which he has planted in the ground. I kept that one in a pot and in one year it grew quite large, took another clipping off it and now have two in huge pots. They can tolerate pretty cold temperatures, however last year I left them out in temperatures down below freezing and they lost all the leaves and several branches. They did rebound and grew back the leaves and looked great by the mid summer, but this year if the temperatures are below freezing I've been taking them in the porch. They are both in mostly shady areas, seems to like morning sun and afternoon shade. They have tinges of pink on some of the more mature brances. My brother's is very big and survived the freezing temperatures with just minimal damage. They are noticed b... read more


On Aug 25, 2010, blodwedd from Covington, LA (Zone 8b) wrote:

The plant I have now on my front porch is from cuttings of my mothers plant, which is well over 5 feet tall. Her cuttings came from my great grandmother who had them planted by her front porch and a huge pot in her kitchen.

I tend to keep mine in the dappled shade as it tends to burn if I sit it out on the back patio. Those are my only choices, shade, or bright, bright too hot sun.

I love being able to share it so freely, a long stem, snapped into pieces and someone else has a lovely pot to eventually share.


On Mar 25, 2009, CostaRica from Guayabo de Bagaces, Guanacaste,
Costa Rica (Zone 10b) wrote:

I must proclaim the merits of Pediilanthus tithymaloides, commonly called called Jacob's ladder or Zig-zag plant.
If you live in or have a hot and dry area, please try this plant! It may only be sold in your area as a houseplant, but if it is ignored in the full sun, it will be covered in these tiny red blooms...which I know for a fact the Ruby throats and other hummingbirds love...for an extended period.
If given shade and water, it will stay 'green and dull...'


On Nov 15, 2008, riddler from Saint Petersburg, FL wrote:

Years ago I was given a cutting from a very old Devil's Backbone plant. I stuck the cutting in a pot in back of the house and forgot about it. The plant continued to grow and never complained about the lack of attention. After a year or two I realized the plant was a survivor so I stuck it in the ground in a hot part of the yard. It receives direct sun during the first half of the day and so far it has happily endured several Florida summers in its new location. I'm posting a picture that I took earlier this year when the plant was slightly smaller. Lately it has become bushier and today the plant is over 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Some plants die of fright when they see me coming so I'm always happy to find one that can thrive under my care.


On Jul 19, 2008, adajean from Pompano Beach, FL wrote:

Have to constantly check plant for CABBAGE WORMS & remove them. Hard to locate them, look just like the stem
and they bite!!


On Jul 18, 2008, vossner from East Texas,
United States (Zone 8a) wrote:

a dear DGer gave several cuttings and it rooted effortlessly. While I was rooting it, I had it in full shade. I have since transplanted to a nice pot and moved it to part sun. Today it looked a little wilted but I'm hoping it will adjust. If it doesn't then I'll move it.

this is a great plant.


On Jun 16, 2008, goofybulb from Richland, MI (Zone 5b) wrote:

Happily growing in Miami Fl. Interesting, decorative leaves and zig-zagged stems. Easy to root in soil. I've grown mine in dappled shade and full afternoon sun.


On Aug 28, 2007, tgif from Starkville, MS wrote:

I'm above its native zone (I'm 7b), but by moving the planter into a greenhouse for winter it does well here and stays green/white - less pink until its back outside for the summer - year round. I have seen hummingbirds at the flowers. Roots easily in water or moist soil. Makes a great color accent in the yard.


On Jul 18, 2007, Jode from Rowlett, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:

I got mine from one of my terrific neighboors. I've always loved its uniqueness and how well it grows with hardly any maintenance whatsoever. My neighboor called it "Adam's Rib" but I never could verify it otherwise until DG. Thanks a TON you guys for helping. Now I know what to call this feller. Sorry ya'll, my Texan is coming out. :)


On Jul 29, 2006, crowellli from Houston, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:

I have grown this plant here in Houston in a large outdoor pot for years. It is a very easy care plant with no disease or pest problems. I do cover it with a sheet if we have a hard freeze predicted. The edges of the leaves turn a beautiful pink color with cooler weather and sun. Mine is in a full sun location.


On Jul 29, 2006, DonnaA2Z from Jacksonville, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:

Very hardy plant. Roots very easily. Pinch off center leaves to promote fuller growth.


On May 23, 2006, wyvern_ryder from Lakeland, FL wrote:

This is one of my fevorite plants! We took our mother plant with us when we moved but found that it did not agree with the sunny spot we put it in. When we moved it under a tree in sandy soil it thrived. We have red tipped leaves most of the year and adorable red flowers in spring.


On May 22, 2006, JaxFlaGardener from Jacksonville, FL (Zone 8b) wrote:

I received one pot of this plant from a friend and now have dozens of them. It roots easily just by breaking off a stem and sticking the stem in the soil. My many plants came about as a result of my neighbors pit bulls getting into my temporary vizqueen plastic greenhouse one winter, turning over the pot of Pedilanthus which had grown profusely to about 4 ft high, and breaking most of the stems into bits and pieces. I repotted most of the larger pieces and they all grew.

I gave away as many of the potted up plants as I could, but most everyone in this area already has the plant. Last year, I planted all the remaining pots of Pedilanthus directly into my garden in various spots, in both sun and shade. They survived this past winter with temperatures as low as 28 F on a f... read more


On Oct 23, 2005, artcons from Fort Lauderdale, FL (Zone 10b) wrote:

Variegated Devil's Backbone, Pedilanthus tithymaloides is a succulent shrub with zigzagged stems native to dry tropical forests of Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America.

The plant exudes milky sap when broken. The sap has been known to cause contact dermatitis in some individuals.

It's easy to grow, and can add nice year round color and interest to gardens in the zone 10 area. Light has a lot to do with the colorations of the leaves. More light and the leaves get a rosey edge. Less light provides green and white leaves. The plants will bloom easier if they get more light.
This plant is a Florida native.


On Sep 9, 2004, Forrest05 from Louisville, CO wrote:

I grew this plant as a houseplant in Houston. It thrived very well. I live in Colorado now and would like to obtain another one. Who sells this plant? [email protected]


On May 8, 2004, MotherNature4 from Bartow, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:

Pedilanthus grows in a hot, dry, half sun area where nothing else would grow. It is always colorful. It is hardy in this protected area of our yard.


On Apr 22, 2004, sunnyfla wrote:

I live in the Orlando Florida area. I have had my Devil's Backbone for at least 18 years. If it is kept in the sun, the white on the leaves turns pink. Mine is covered during the cold snaps but is otherwise left outside. It has grown so much that I've had to repot it several times. It is now in a 24" round pot and is still growing. I guess the next time I repot it, it will have to go in the ground. It is a really easy plant to care for.


On Sep 18, 2003, miseryschild from Monterey, TN (Zone 7a) wrote:

I have a start of this plant that I'm trying to root. The mother, however is HUGE!!! The lady that gave me my cutting has had the plant for years. It is well over 6 feet and absolutely gorgeous!!! She has it in a big pot. I was starting to worry it wasn't going to root. I just checked it and it has 2 roots on it. The lady told me it would root in water. It will, but it takes about 2 months.


On Apr 17, 2003, easter0794 from Seffner, FL wrote:

This plant was growing on the side of my house when we bought it nine years ago. I installed a trellis behind the plant and trained it upward. It is doing great, and is a conversation piece. Propagating is easy - I just cut off a piece and place it in the ground to start a new plant.


On Dec 18, 2002, Chamma from Tennille, GA (Zone 8b) wrote:

I find this plant extremely attractive in raised beds with other tropical plants. Mine have bloomed with tiny red flowers from slipper shaped bracts. The plants are extremely easy and will tolerate half a day's sun and a very well draining soil. If the soil becomes too wet I find the leaves will drop off.


On Apr 24, 2002, Dinu from Mysore,
India (Zone 10a) wrote:

It is also called 'red-bird plant'. The little flowers at the tips of new growth resemble a bird.


On Aug 31, 2001, smiln32 from Oklahoma City, OK (Zone 7a) wrote:

It thrives in partial shade and well-drained sandy soil. Planting should be done in the spring. Devil's backbones do best in bright indirect or curtain-filtered sunlight; if only artificial light is available, provide at least 400 foot-candles. High humidity, nighttime temperatures between 50 and 70 and daytime temperatures ranging from 70 to 85 are ideal. Keep the soil barely moist at all times. Fertilize established plants at two- to three-month intervals from early spring until late summer; do not fertilize them the rest of the year, and wait at least four to six months before fertilizing newly potted plants.