Last updated on August 25th, 2023 at 11:45 am
The pencil cactus plant, also known as fire sticks succulent, sticks of fire plant, sticks on fire succulent, firestick plant, or Euphorbia tirucalli, is a popular houseplant because of its attractive striped appearance and easy-care requirements.
If you’re looking to add some unique flare to your houseplants or office decor, consider planting a pencil cactus plant. Fire sticks succulents, also known as haworthias, can thrive indoors with minimal effort, and their beautiful and unusual leaves make them stand out from the crowd.
The pencil cactus fire sticks actually goes by several different names including pencil cactus, green pencil plant, and fire sticks plant, all of which are extremely fitting considering its spiky appearance.
While it has the nickname fire sticks because of its red and orange coloring, it’s actually technically not a cactus at all.
Origin and distribution
Firesticks cactus is native to Mexico and Central America. This popular houseplant, also known as pencil cactus, firesticks cactus, fire sticks succulent or sticks of fire plant, is a drought-tolerant houseplant.
It can be grown in full sun in USDA plant hardiness zones 9b and 11 , but does best in bright light with temperatures of 70 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. It has been known to survive outdoors year-round in subtropical areas with similar conditions.
The plants are propagated by removing the end of the stem. The stem will develop into a new plant within a few weeks. The plant should not be exposed to temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods of time.
Pencil plant propagation
The pencil cactus plant can be grown from seed, but it is often propagated by taking a cutting of an existing healthy plant. Pencil cacti do not require much attention, but they will need to have their soil lightly moistened once or twice a week.
When given sufficient water and nutrients, a pencil cactus will grow about six inches per year. These plants are also very easy to care for in indoor environments and are popular among those who enjoy succulents as houseplants.
A pencil cactus takes its name from the resemblance between its spines to a pencil’s eraser. The general shape of the spines resemble needles that have been sharpened with a pencil sharpener, making them look like graphite sticks on fire!
Thus, the plant has been nicknamed firesticks succulent or sticks of fire plant. As many cacti species come with different levels of toxicity, this one is relatively safe when handled carefully.
However, all parts of this species should still be treated as hazardous if ingested because they may cause irritation to skin and mouths.
Pencil cactus care information
Pencil cactus plants require very little attention. They should be watered only when they become slightly dry, as too much water can cause them to rot. Take care not to over-water your pencil cactus plant, as that can kill it. In very hot weather you may want to move your pencil cactus indoors so that it will not sunburn or bleach out in its current container.
The pencil cactus fire sticks plants are among several kinds of indoor cacti that can live on sunny windowsills. These cacti require lots of bright light throughout the day, particularly morning sun and afternoon sun.
Pencil cacti, like all types of succulents, can also survive in lower-light environments as long as they’re watered more often to compensate for their slow transpiration rate.
Pencil cactus soil/potting mix
Make sure you have a good container. Most succulents need porous soil, which helps them retain water, as well as drainage to prevent root rot. To combine and create a quality potting mix, use one part cactus soil or regular potting soil and one part perlite or pumice.
The best pot for this type of plant is an open-top terracotta planter with a saucer underneath to catch the runoff.
You can also put the firestick plant in a shallow pot with rocks on the bottom to provide additional drainage. Keep your firestick plant near an east-facing window where it will get plenty of light but avoid too much heat from direct sunlight.
Water when you notice your pencil cactus plant’s soil is dry. Try to water evenly, making sure all of your pencil cactus plant’s leaves get a good drink. Fire sticks succulents do not like getting too much water, though, so try to avoid overwatering and use tepid water whenever possible.
They also prefer brighter light than most other succulents, so make sure they are in a well-lit spot that gets plenty of direct sunlight. When watering them again, be sure to let the soil dry out between each watering session as well.
Fire sticks like fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. However, over-fertilizing can burn your plant, so fertilize sparingly. To test how much you should use, stick a finger down into potting soil and then remove it. If it feels moist, you have enough fertilizer.
If it feels dry or still has fertilizer stuck to your finger, you don’t need to add more for now. If the dirt feels very wet, you probably added too much fertilizer at once. In this case, pour off some of the water from the saucer below the pot and let the excess water drain out of the bottom before watering again.
Water your pencil cactus plant once or twice a week, keeping it well-watered. Pencil cacti like warm temperatures but do not like direct sunlight, which can dry out their flesh and leaves; bright indirect light is best.
Temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal for pencil cacti. However, you should not leave them in temperatures above 90 degrees for extended periods of time, this will damage their flesh and leaves.
Pencil cactus plants require good air circulation and a high level of humidity. To maintain ideal conditions, place your pencil cactus plant on a pebble tray, which will hold water for you and release humidity into the air.
Never allow your pencil cactus plant to sit in water or it will rot from above-ground roots. If your plant does become wet, leave it out until it dries to prevent fungal diseases from forming.
The humidity range is 20%-80% but they can survive without any humidity if need be. These sticks on fire succulents like to grow up so be sure to give them some room when planting them! They are great as an accent piece or small grouping with other succulents such as a Jade plant.
Pencil cactus pruning
Like any other plant, you should prune your pencil cactus regularly. Doing so will keep it healthy and maximize its growth potential. Even though it’s a cactus, pencil cacti need to be watered once or twice per week if you want them to thrive.
Also make sure you prune them during springtime, when their new growth is beginning to emerge from its bulbous exterior. If the stem of the plant is long enough, cut the top off completely in order to encourage branching near the base of the stem.
If not, simply pinch off one of the branches at its base for more branching.
When to repot
If you choose to repot your pencil cactus plant, do so during spring or early summer. It’s best to move it into a larger pot than its previous container, as well as provide richer soil with adequate drainage. How much you should repot depends on how many years it has been in its current pot.
If you’ve had it for only one year, don’t move it up a size; wait another year and then do so. But if you’ve had the plant for two or more years, it may be time to give it more space by moving up a pot size. However, before any such decision is made, make sure the roots are not overwatered or at risk of rotting because of soggy soil conditions
Just like our body needs a break every once in a while, so does our succulent. A dormancy period gives your pencil cactus plant time to absorb and store energy and nutrients it got during its growing season.
This is also a good time to let some of its leaves fall off naturally, remember, your pencil cactus doesn’t need any help! It will only create more opportunities for new growth.
Finally, be sure to give your pencil cactus plenty of light when it starts waking up from winter rest. That’s when the shoots will start looking healthy again!
Flower & fragrance
The pencil cactus plant produces small, white flowers that are followed by bright red, juicy berries. Both flowers and berries have a strong fragrance. The leaves of a pencil cactus plant look very much like traditional pencils; that’s why it is also called fire sticks in English-speaking regions.
The skin of each leaf is coated with fine bristles that prevent it from drying out in desert heat, but they also produce an irritating sensation if you touch them.
The fire sticks pencil cactus plant tends to grow at a slow rate. If you have tried to grow them from seed before, you will already know that they can take a very long time to get going.
The main reason for their slow growth is how temperamental they are when it comes to light levels, so be sure that your fire sticks succulent has as much light as possible if you are growing them outside in sunny conditions.
Is pencil cactus toxic?
The pencil cactus plant is known to contain toxins that cause severe discomfort, blindness and even death if ingested. Don’t let your kids or pets play with these plants! If you’re interested in growing these interesting fire sticks succulents, it’s best to do so behind a barrier made of glass or plexiglass.
USDA hardiness zones
Pencil cactus thrives best in USDA hardiness zones 9b-11. It is a native to the Mexican desert and will have little to no issues adapting to your climate.
With the spines of this plant it can be difficult for animals and insects to eat, but for people it’s a bit more dangerous. Stick on fire succulent contains an alkaloid called phenanthrene which can cause headaches, heart palpitations, nausea, and possibly death if consumed.
Pests and diseases
It is common for pencil cacti to get insects such as mealybugs, mites, or scale insects. These pests suck on sap and cause infection to appear near cuts or wounds. In some cases, you might find that a specific insect only attacks one portion of your plant so you can identify which part is not healthy.
It will also be beneficial if you pay attention to insects regularly since they are easier to get rid of in early stages when their population is smaller.