Cissus quadrangularis: How to Care for the Strange and Beautiful Cucumber Cactus

Cissus quadrangularis is a succulent plant in the grapevine family.

It has the characteristic grape vine tendrils for climbing and scrambling and produces little leaves at each node but is unusually succulent. With four distinct sides, it has a box-like stem that scrambles about, looking for something to climb.

Its unique ability to store water makes it a fantastic houseplant, unlike many of its thin-leafed siblings, which are much more difficult to care for.

I recently visited our local botanical garden and saw Cissus quadrangularis growing more than ten feet high, up and down other cacti and succulents. Its stems were nearly the diameter of my wrists.

Because of the high light conditions in the desert portion of the botanical gardens, C. quadrangularis had developed a blue, glaucous sheen.

This made the plant even more beautiful.

The waxy, glaucous coating serves as a sunscreen for the plant, reflecting a bit of the sunlight to protect it from burn.

Cissus quadrangularis at Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan

It’s stem segments have resembled cucumbers to people throughout time, earning it a common name of cucumber cactus.

Though, it is neither a cucumber nor a cactus! No prickles or cucumbers to eat here.

I went through a phase of collecting old houseplant care books from the 1970’s and one of them describes Cissus quadrangularis in such a glorious way:

“Our concern here is not conventional beauty but oddity… and here comes the unbelievable one of the family– the nonconformist Cissus quadrangularis— a succulent from Africa and Asia. […]

We suppose, though we’ve never tried it, that it could be trained to grow onto a dried branch of a shrub stuck into a pot, and that it would look rather interesting that way. A trellis would be good support but unsuitable aesthetically.

Some people and plants look best when you conform to their habits. Quadrangularis is an untidy plant and should have the proper untidy surroundings. “

The Succulent Grapevine, Fun with Growing Odd and Curious Houseplants, by Virginie F. and George A. Elbert, pg. 52-53. Crown Publishers, New York, 1975. Second Printing, February, 1976.

Table of Contents

How to Care for Cissus quadrangularis

Cissus quadrangularis living on a window shelf in my kitchen

How much light does Cissus quadrangularis need?

Cissus quadrangularis grows best in a window that receives some direct sunlight. As mentioned above, this plant can tolerate very high light and live among desert plants, so it wants receive a good amount of light.

I am growing mine in a west-facing window that receives afternoon sun. P

erhaps if you live closer to the equator than I do (I’m in Michigan in the United States where we have particularly dark winters), you can pull your plant a little farther away from a window.

If it is not receiving enough light, you may notice that your plant will not grow or will take a very long time to dry out between waterings – leaving it more prone to rot. Or, your plant may grow, but the growth may be smaller and stretched.

How often does Cissus quadrangularis need to be watered?

Cissus quadrangularis would prefer to dry out between waterings and then be thoroughly watered.

While it does like to dry out, I’ve noticed that it does not want to stay dry for long. If it is allowed to stay dry, it will begin to drop its little leaves and its growth tips will die back.

Conversely, the plant does not want to stay wet for long. As a succulent plant, it is prone to rot if sitting in a wet mix or low light conditions.

If you find your plant is not drying out within a week, the potting mix and lighting conditions should be assessed.

What kind of pot and potting mix does Cissus quadrangularis prefer?

A well-draining setup, like that of other succulents, works well for Cissus quadrangularis.

I am using a houseplant mix amended with a good amount of pumice to ensure lots of good drainage and also growing the plant in a terracotta pot.

Both the potting mix and the pot help to ensure the mix dries out quickly, so I do need to check the plant regularly. However, the plant seems very happy and growing well in this setup.

If you would prefer to check the plant a little less, a plastic or ceramic pot might be preferable.


What pests are attracted to it?

Cissus quadragularis can attract mealybugs, like many succulents. It can also have spider mites, which many Cissus plants are susceptible to.

I would also imagine that scale or aphids might like this plant. Both of these pests are fond of succulents.

How do you know what you might have?

Mealybugs are white cottony bugs or occasionally a pale pink bug. They prefer new growth and to hide in the nooks and crannies of the plant.

Spider mites are often barely noticeable to the naked eye. They are sometimes white, black, or red. We may not notice them until there is fine webbing formed between branches or on leaves or stems. Webbing is a sign of large numbers.

Scale can be many colors, but is typically brown and oval. They do not move and look like little scales on the plants. When you use your fingernails, you can pick them off.

Aphids are tear-drop shaped bugs that can be found in groups, particularly where new growth is. You can find them in all kinds of colors: white, green, yellow, orange, red, brown, black. You name it.

Mealybugs, scale, and aphids (if in small numbers) can be easily controlled by using rubbing alcohol on a q-tip. Just dab the q-tip on the bugs and wipe them off.

If the pests are found in larger numbers, more may be needed, so I will link articles below to help.

Spider mites, if in small numbers, can often be controlled just by spraying them off with water every few days for a couple of weeks.

A more aggressive method may be needed if the mites are persistent or if the numbers are too large.

Use the post below to see pictures of each pest and find more detailed content about treating each one!

What Pest is on My Houseplant & What Can I Do About It?

Where is it found in the wild / How does it grow naturally?

Cissus quadrangrularis is native to tropical Asia and Africa. It can be found climbing and scrambling among other plants and even on rock faces.

I’ll insert some photos below, courtesy of iNaturalist, so you can see this plant growing in its natural habitat.

Cissus quadragularis growing in India, Photo by Chief RedEarth, iNaturalist, Source

Both photos above: Cissus quadrangularis growing in India by Dinesh Valke, iNaturalist, Source

Cissus quadrangularis growing in South Africa, Photo by magdastlucia, iNaturalist, Source

Other Interesting Information

Cissus quadrangularis has been used medicinally for hundreds of years in Ayurvedic medicine to help reduce pain, swelling, and heal broken bones.

It is also sold as an herbal remedy for pain and swelling, particularly in the physical health industry.

I don’t personally have experience taking this plant as a supplement, so I can’t speak to its effectiveness. Still, it is neat to learn that one of my houseplants is being used this way!

Please do your own research if you decide to pursue this topic further.

Cissus quadrangularis
Cissus quadrangularis growing up a trellis outdoors


Clinical evaluation of Cissus quadrangularis as osteogenic agent in maxillofacial fracture: A pilot study, Hemal R. Brahmkshatriya, Kruti A. Shah, G. B. Ananthkumar, and Mansi H. Brahmkshatriya1, National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, PubMed Central, Source Link

The Succulent Grapevine, Fun with Growing Odd and Curious Houseplants, by Virginie F. and George A. Elbert, pg. 52-53. Crown Publishers, New York, 1975. Second Printing, February, 1976.

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