Pedilanthus tithymaloides
Common Name: redbird flower
Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Euphorbiaceae
Native Range: West Indies
Zone: 9 to 11
Height: 2.00 to 6.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: Rarely flowers indoors
Bloom Description: Red
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Evergreen
Tolerate: Drought

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 9-11. In St. Louis, grow as an indoor plant in a sandy potting mix in sun, with some protection from hot afternoon sun. Water plants moderately but consistently throughout the year with only a slight reduction from fall to late winter. Tolerant of somewhat poor soils. Tolerant of some soil dryness, but leaf drop will occur if soils become too dry. Prune as needed to keep plants compact.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Pedilanthus tithymaloides is commonly called devil’s backbone in reference to the zigzag stems that purportedly resemble a spinal column. Native from southern Florida and the Caribbean to Venezuela, this clump-forming succulent shrub or subshrub will grow in nature to 6’ tall and to 3’ wide. Indoors, it more typically grows to 2’ tall. Ovate to elliptic, medium green leaves (to 3” long). Showy, two-lipped, red bracts encase insignificant tiny scarlet flowers in late spring or early summer. Flowers are clustered at the branch ends. Fruits are small capsules. Plants rarely bloom indoors, however. Zigzag stems exude a poisonous milky sap when cut.

Genus name comes from the Greek words pedilon meaning sandal and anthos meaning a flower for the shape of the flowers.

‘Variegatus’ has leaves with pink or white variegation.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Watch for mealybugs or spider mites. For more information see: Problems Common to Many Indoor Plants

Garden Uses

Small succulent subshrub for sunny indoor areas.