Pedilanthus tithymaloides ‘variegatus’
Variegated Devil’s Backbone is a succulent shrub with a stem that grows in a zigzag fashion, switching direction every time a leaf forms. Its Latin name means “slipper flower” or “foot-shaped flower” and it can grow up to six feet. It’s native to the dry subtropical forests of Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and northern South America and popular in the United States as a house plant. The leaves can be white, cream, green, pink, and red while the shoe-shaped flower clusters are red or yellow. It grows well in indirect sunlight and well-drained soil. It doesn’t tolerate cool temperatures very well and needs constant temperatures above 80ºF to thrive.
This plant is pollinated by hummingbirds and reproduces very readily through propagation. It’s sap is toxic and can cause irritation when it comes in contact with skin and is especially harmful to eyes and open cuts. A lot of research is being done on the plant in order to determine whether it’s an effective anti-inflammatory drug or can be used as a general antibacterial. Researchers are also looking into its effects on the organisms responsible for malaria, tuberculosis, and schistosomiasis. Another interesting fact is that some scientists believe it’s possible that Variegated Devil’s Backbone could be used as a renewable fuel source.