How to Care for Devil’s Backbone Plant – Jacob’s Ladder Plant

Hi. I am having problems with my devils backbone plant. It is in the home in a pot, and I have struggled with the plant since I have had it. The leaves have sort of brownish, red colored spots on the leaves (like in the middle and towards the tips) and some white matter on the spots. What can I do for the plant.


Hi Denise,

Green, zigzag, thick stems on Devil's Bckbone Plant
Devil’s Backbone Plant

Jacob’s Ladder Plant, or Devil’s Backbone plant as it is sometimes called, likes very bright indirect light but avoid direct intense afternoon sun during the spring and summer. Keep the soil barely moist but not soggy. Water less during the spring and fall. Leaves fall off if the soil gets too dry and the plant gets root rot if the soil stays too wet. This plant likes warm temperatures and does not do well in temperatures below 55°F (12.8°C)F.  Feed a Jacob’s Ladder plant monthly, when the plant is actively growing, in the spring and summer with a balanced liquid plant food. These plants like to be root-bound in a small pot. These plants are very tolerant of  poor soil, but grow best in a sand based soil that drains quickly (cactus mix works well). Look out for mealy bugs and spider mites. The latex based sap of a Devil’s Backbone is caustic so always wear gloves when pruning the plant. These plants are considered poisonous and should be kept away from pets and children. Read more about common houseplants that are poisonous in Don’t Feed Me To Your Cat! A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants.

From your description of the leaves, it sounds like your plant has powdery mildew. To prevent this plant disease: water in the early morning to allow the soil to dry out before cooler night temperatures, keep the leaves dry, and provide good air circulation around the plant. Remove any diseased leaves to prevent the powdery mildew from spreading. Spray the plant with my “Green Solution,” a non toxic, inexpensive spray you can make in 5 minutes. (recipe in the Glossary of the website).