Devil’s Backbone Plant Info: How To Grow The Devil’s Backbone Plant Indoors

Devil’s Backbone Plant Info: How To Grow The Devil’s Backbone Plant Indoors

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

There are numerous fun and descriptive names for the devil’s backbone houseplant. In an effort to describe the blooms, devil’s backbone has been called red bird flower, Persian lady slipper, and Japanese poinsettia. Descriptive monikers for the foliage include rick rack plant and Jacob’s ladder. Whatever you call it, learn how to grow the devil’s backbone plant for unique and easy to care for indoor flora.

Devil’s Backbone Plant Info

The scientific name for this plant, Pedilanthus tithymaloides, means foot-shaped flower. The plant is native to the American tropics but only hardy in USDA zones 9 and 10. It makes a superb houseplant with its 2-foot (0.5 m.) tall stems, alternate leaves and colorful “flowers” which are actually bracts or modified leaves.

The leaves are lance shaped and thick on wiry stems. The bract color may be white, green, red, or pink. The plant is a member of the spurge family. No devil’s backbone plant info would be complete without noting that the milky sap may be poisonous to some people. Care should be exercised when handling the plant.

How to Grow the Devil’s Backbone Plant

Growing the plant is easy and propagation even simpler. Just cut a 4- to 6-inch (10-15 cm.) section of the stem from the plant. Let the cut end callus for a few days and then insert it into a pot filled with perlite.

Keep the perlite lightly moist until the stems root. Then repot the new plants in a good houseplant potting soil. Care of devil’s backbone babies is the same as the adult plants.

Growing Pedilanthus Indoors

Devil’s backbone houseplant likes bright indirect sunlight. Plant in direct sun in fall and winter, but give it a little protection from stinging hot rays in spring and summer. Just turning the slats on your blinds can be enough to keep the tips of the leaves from sizzling.

Water the plants when the top few inches of soil feel dry. Keep it only moderately moist, yet not soggy.

The plant produces the best growth with a once per month fertilizer solution diluted by half. Devil’s backbone houseplant does not need to be fed in the dormant seasons of fall and winter.

Choose a draft free location in the home when growing Pedilanthus indoors. It doesn’t tolerate cold breezes, which can kill off the tips of the growth.

Long Term Care of Devil’s Backbone

Repot your plant every three to five years or as needed in a rich houseplant mix with plenty of sand mixed in to increase drainage. Use unglazed pots, which allow excess moisture to freely evaporate and prevent wet root damage.

Unchecked plants may get up to 5 feet (1.5 m.) in height. Prune off any problem branches and trim back lightly in late winter to keep the plant in good form.

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Variegated Devil's Backbone Plants

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With a Latin name that means “slipper flower” or “foot-shaped flower,” Pedilanthus tithymalpides ‘Variegatus’ is known by many common names, including variegated devil’s backbone, Japanese poinsettia, Jacob’s ladder, Persian lady slipper, rick-rack plant, and red bird flower. A member of the Euphorbiaceae family, the drought-resistant plant works equally well as a xeriscaping option or as a houseplant. The plant also has potential as a renewable fuel source.

Euphorbia, Variegated Devil's Backbone, Japanese Poinsettia, Slipper Spurge, Redbird Cactus 'Variegatus'

Family: Euphorbiaceae (yoo-for-bee-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Euphorbia (yoo-FOR-bee-uh) (Info)
Species: tithymaloides (tith-ee-mal-OY-deez) (Info)
Cultivar: Variegatus
Synonym:Pedilanthus tithymaloides


Tropicals and Tender Perennials

Water Requirements:

Drought-tolerant suitable for xeriscaping

Sun Exposure:


Foliage Color:




USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)

USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)

Where to Grow:


Parts of plant are poisonous if ingested

Bloom Color:

Bloom Characteristics:

Bloom Size:

Bloom Time:

Other details:

Soil pH requirements:

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:

Seed Collecting:

N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed


This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Hobe Sound, Florida(2 reports)

Jacksonville, Florida(2 reports)

Lakeland, Florida(2 reports)

New Port Richey, Florida(2 reports)

Pompano Beach, Florida(3 reports)

Saint Petersburg, Florida(2 reports)

Sarasota, Florida(3 reports)

Titusville, Florida(2 reports)

Hawaiian Ocean View, Hawaii

Rocky Point, North Carolina

Gardeners' Notes:

On May 20, 2018, RBLick from Longboat Key, FL (Zone 10a) wrote:

Love this one. It was growing wild on an empty lot near my home--zone 10a island off the Gulf Coast of FL--and a few years back I pulled out some handfuls and stuck them in the alley passage that's mostly shaded behind my house. (I had no idea at the time that it's poisonous thankfully I'm still here & no worse for the wear.) The plant thrives in this environment. It spreads over time, and I break off small branches and stick them in the ground to propagate. The little red pointed flowers are great! Neighbors frequently comment on it and ask where they can get some I point them to the vacant lot down the road!

On Apr 2, 2015, coriaceous from ROSLINDALE, MA wrote:

This is an attractive houseplant in the north, grown for its variegated foliage and its zigzag stem habit. It rarely blooms.

Best cultivated in well-drained soil. It easily drops its leaves and grows like a succulent, though the stems aren't fleshy.

The sap is highly toxic. It can cause serious rashes on the skin, and blindness if it gets in the eyes.

On Apr 1, 2015, gaagee from Rocky Point, NC wrote:

I've had one of these plants for at least 10 years. it has never bloomed. This year for some reason it is dying and I am very sad about it. I have tried to take some of the pieces that are still green and repot them but they also are dying. I would really like to get some more cuttings if anyone has any. I am in North Carolina on the coast.

On Jan 16, 2014, Huck_Treadwell from Fort Payne, AL wrote:

I took a clipping off one of my mother's plants and she got got a clipping from her mother's plant. It's very easy to grow. I had one about six feet tall that I cut back to about two feet because it got to difficult to manage. I rooted about 40 cuttings from that.

I moved about three years ago and stashed a couple of these on my mother's front porch while I was moving. She called me a few days later and told me to come look at the plants. They had tiny red blooms all over them. I've had one for 10 years and it never bloomed. My mother has been around them all her life and that was the first one she had ever seen bloom.

On Oct 2, 2012, carmag from Chicago, IL (Zone 5b) wrote:

I have had this as an indoor plant since my son was about 4 years old. He is now 46. It is easy to grow just don't over water. I have shared cuttings with many people in my old neighborhood of Kenwood in Chicago. One problem, how do you make it bloom? Great color on leaves in summer since it is outdoors in the morning sun, but never a bloom.

On Sep 27, 2012, Lindabgood from Ainaloa, HI wrote:

I would of never gussed that this crooked, varrigated, spindley plant growing in my garden was in fact this wonderous herb.
According to this other site ( Here is an herb(Devil's Backbone) that is qute the miracle. This site claims,
"the West’s discovery of an ancient Eastern substance that heals injured muscle, tendon, ligament, and joints. even brokenbones and old, chronic pains. faster than anything everseen by classic medicine." Here I thought all this time that the plant was toxic! I must really do more research. If all this is true then this plant has an overabundance of merit and I will begin earnest propagation by cuttings immediately! More research wil. read more l tell me if this a hoax.

On Jan 22, 2011, sunkissed from Winter Springs, FL (Zone 9b) wrote:

I took a clipping a few years ago off my brother's plant which he has planted in the ground. I kept that one in a pot and in one year it grew quite large, took another clipping off it and now have two in huge pots. They can tolerate pretty cold temperatures, however last year I left them out in temperatures down below freezing and they lost all the leaves and several branches. They did rebound and grew back the leaves and looked great by the mid summer, but this year if the temperatures are below freezing I've been taking them in the porch. They are both in mostly shady areas, seems to like morning sun and afternoon shade. They have tinges of pink on some of the more mature brances. My brother's is very big and survived the freezing temperatures with just minimal damage. They are noticed b. read more y anyone that is strolling through my garden.

On Aug 25, 2010, blodwedd from Covington, LA (Zone 8b) wrote:

The plant I have now on my front porch is from cuttings of my mothers plant, which is well over 5 feet tall. Her cuttings came from my great grandmother who had them planted by her front porch and a huge pot in her kitchen.

I tend to keep mine in the dappled shade as it tends to burn if I sit it out on the back patio. Those are my only choices, shade, or bright, bright too hot sun.

I love being able to share it so freely, a long stem, snapped into pieces and someone else has a lovely pot to eventually share.

On Mar 25, 2009, CostaRica from Guayabo de Bagaces, Guanacaste,
Costa Rica (Zone 10b) wrote:

I must proclaim the merits of Pediilanthus tithymaloides, commonly called called Jacob's ladder or Zig-zag plant.
If you live in or have a hot and dry area, please try this plant! It may only be sold in your area as a houseplant, but if it is ignored in the full sun, it will be covered in these tiny red blooms. which I know for a fact the Ruby throats and other hummingbirds love. for an extended period.
If given shade and water, it will stay 'green and dull. '

On Nov 15, 2008, riddler from Saint Petersburg, FL wrote:

Years ago I was given a cutting from a very old Devil's Backbone plant. I stuck the cutting in a pot in back of the house and forgot about it. The plant continued to grow and never complained about the lack of attention. After a year or two I realized the plant was a survivor so I stuck it in the ground in a hot part of the yard. It receives direct sun during the first half of the day and so far it has happily endured several Florida summers in its new location. I'm posting a picture that I took earlier this year when the plant was slightly smaller. Lately it has become bushier and today the plant is over 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Some plants die of fright when they see me coming so I'm always happy to find one that can thrive under my care.

On Jul 19, 2008, adajean from Pompano Beach, FL wrote:

Have to constantly check plant for CABBAGE WORMS & remove them. Hard to locate them, look just like the stem
and they bite!!

On Jul 18, 2008, vossner from East Texas,
United States (Zone 8a) wrote:

a dear DGer gave several cuttings and it rooted effortlessly. While I was rooting it, I had it in full shade. I have since transplanted to a nice pot and moved it to part sun. Today it looked a little wilted but I'm hoping it will adjust. If it doesn't then I'll move it.

On Jun 16, 2008, goofybulb from Richland, MI (Zone 5b) wrote:

Happily growing in Miami Fl. Interesting, decorative leaves and zig-zagged stems. Easy to root in soil. I've grown mine in dappled shade and full afternoon sun.

On Aug 28, 2007, tgif from Starkville, MS wrote:

I'm above its native zone (I'm 7b), but by moving the planter into a greenhouse for winter it does well here and stays green/white - less pink until its back outside for the summer - year round. I have seen hummingbirds at the flowers. Roots easily in water or moist soil. Makes a great color accent in the yard.

On Jul 18, 2007, Jode from Rowlett, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:

I got mine from one of my terrific neighboors. I've always loved its uniqueness and how well it grows with hardly any maintenance whatsoever. My neighboor called it "Adam's Rib" but I never could verify it otherwise until DG. Thanks a TON you guys for helping. Now I know what to call this feller. Sorry ya'll, my Texan is coming out. :)

On Jul 29, 2006, crowellli from Houston, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:

I have grown this plant here in Houston in a large outdoor pot for years. It is a very easy care plant with no disease or pest problems. I do cover it with a sheet if we have a hard freeze predicted. The edges of the leaves turn a beautiful pink color with cooler weather and sun. Mine is in a full sun location.

On Jul 29, 2006, DonnaA2Z from Jacksonville, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:

Very hardy plant. Roots very easily. Pinch off center leaves to promote fuller growth.

On May 23, 2006, wyvern_ryder from Lakeland, FL wrote:

This is one of my fevorite plants! We took our mother plant with us when we moved but found that it did not agree with the sunny spot we put it in. When we moved it under a tree in sandy soil it thrived. We have red tipped leaves most of the year and adorable red flowers in spring.

On May 22, 2006, JaxFlaGardener from Jacksonville, FL (Zone 8b) wrote:

I received one pot of this plant from a friend and now have dozens of them. It roots easily just by breaking off a stem and sticking the stem in the soil. My many plants came about as a result of my neighbors pit bulls getting into my temporary vizqueen plastic greenhouse one winter, turning over the pot of Pedilanthus which had grown profusely to about 4 ft high, and breaking most of the stems into bits and pieces. I repotted most of the larger pieces and they all grew.

I gave away as many of the potted up plants as I could, but most everyone in this area already has the plant. Last year, I planted all the remaining pots of Pedilanthus directly into my garden in various spots, in both sun and shade. They survived this past winter with temperatures as low as 28 F on a f. read more ew nights with little damage.

On Oct 23, 2005, artcons from Fort Lauderdale, FL (Zone 10b) wrote:

Variegated Devil's Backbone, Pedilanthus tithymaloides is a succulent shrub with zigzagged stems native to dry tropical forests of Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America.

The plant exudes milky sap when broken. The sap has been known to cause contact dermatitis in some individuals.

It's easy to grow, and can add nice year round color and interest to gardens in the zone 10 area. Light has a lot to do with the colorations of the leaves. More light and the leaves get a rosey edge. Less light provides green and white leaves. The plants will bloom easier if they get more light.
This plant is a Florida native.

On Sep 9, 2004, Forrest05 from Louisville, CO wrote:

I grew this plant as a houseplant in Houston. It thrived very well. I live in Colorado now and would like to obtain another one. Who sells this plant? [email protected]

On May 8, 2004, MotherNature4 from Bartow, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:

Pedilanthus grows in a hot, dry, half sun area where nothing else would grow. It is always colorful. It is hardy in this protected area of our yard.

I live in the Orlando Florida area. I have had my Devil's Backbone for at least 18 years. If it is kept in the sun, the white on the leaves turns pink. Mine is covered during the cold snaps but is otherwise left outside. It has grown so much that I've had to repot it several times. It is now in a 24" round pot and is still growing. I guess the next time I repot it, it will have to go in the ground. It is a really easy plant to care for.

On Sep 18, 2003, miseryschild from Monterey, TN (Zone 7a) wrote:

I have a start of this plant that I'm trying to root. The mother, however is HUGE. The lady that gave me my cutting has had the plant for years. It is well over 6 feet and absolutely gorgeous. She has it in a big pot. I was starting to worry it wasn't going to root. I just checked it and it has 2 roots on it. The lady told me it would root in water. It will, but it takes about 2 months.

On Apr 17, 2003, easter0794 from Seffner, FL wrote:

This plant was growing on the side of my house when we bought it nine years ago. I installed a trellis behind the plant and trained it upward. It is doing great, and is a conversation piece. Propagating is easy - I just cut off a piece and place it in the ground to start a new plant.

On Dec 18, 2002, Chamma from Tennille, GA (Zone 8b) wrote:

I find this plant extremely attractive in raised beds with other tropical plants. Mine have bloomed with tiny red flowers from slipper shaped bracts. The plants are extremely easy and will tolerate half a day's sun and a very well draining soil. If the soil becomes too wet I find the leaves will drop off.

On Apr 24, 2002, Dinu from Mysore,
India (Zone 10a) wrote:

It is also called 'red-bird plant'. The little flowers at the tips of new growth resemble a bird.

On Aug 31, 2001, smiln32 from Oklahoma City, OK (Zone 7a) wrote:

It thrives in partial shade and well-drained sandy soil. Planting should be done in the spring. Devil's backbones do best in bright indirect or curtain-filtered sunlight if only artificial light is available, provide at least 400 foot-candles. High humidity, nighttime temperatures between 50° and 70° and daytime temperatures ranging from 70° to 85° are ideal. Keep the soil barely moist at all times. Fertilize established plants at two- to three-month intervals from early spring until late summer do not fertilize them the rest of the year, and wait at least four to six months before fertilizing newly potted plants.

What to Look for When Shopping for Indoor Plants

Figure 8. Healthy roots are typically white without any discolorations.

Purchase only healthy looking plants with medium to dark green foliage (unless foliage is supposed to be a different color).

Avoid plants with unnaturally spotted, yellow, or brown leaves. If the plant is unhealthy at the nursery, chances are that it will die soon after consumer purchase. Look for pests on the undersides of leaves. Remove the plant from the pot and examine the root system. Healthy roots generally are and should be visible along the outside of the soil ball and should have an earthy smell (Figure 8).

Any discolorations, generally brown or blackened roots, are signs of problems. Some plants, such as Dracaenas, have roots with colors other than white. Unhealthy roots also may smell foul. If shopping for ferns, do not be alarmed if you see brown-colored spots or long rows of structures on the lower leaf surface these “spots” are reproductive structures called spores.

Horrible Houseplants to Grow for Halloween

These plants aren't really horrible. They're just twisted, contorted, prickly and fun to grow for spooky decorations.

Crested Euphorbia

Crested Euphorbia is grafted, which makes it a kind of Frankenstein plant for Halloween.

Crested Euphorbia is grafted, which makes it a kind of Frankenstein plant for Halloween.

Related To:

Some houseplants are weird and otherworldly, with strange shapes and creepy names that make them perfect—and perfectly fun—to grow for Halloween. Don’t be afraid to try them just because there’s a little boo in these beauties.

Are you going for an alien theme? You need a Crested Euphorbia (Euphorbia lactea). This grafted plant looks menacing with its spiky, cactus rootstalk and twisted, red-rimmed comb. It doesn’t need much water. A drink every couple of weeks will do, but it does like a warm room and plenty of light. Use a mulch of pebbles around the base and display it with other creepy cacti and sinister succulents.

Celosia Dracula

Move your celosia houseplants outside in spring, after all chance of frost has passed.

Photo by: National Garden Bureau/PanAmerican Seed

National Garden Bureau/PanAmerican Seed

Move your celosia houseplants outside in spring, after all chance of frost has passed.

Celosias come in several colors, but you need a dark red variety like ‘Dracula’ to really spook things up. Typically grown as garden annuals, celosias bloom until frost, but you can pot them as temporary houseplants or use the cut, dried blooms for arrangements. ‘Dracula’ is a novelty celosia that produces one big flower on the top of each plant. When grown outdoors, the foliage, which starts out green and red, becomes more purple. The flowers turn dark purple, too. Unlike the real Drac, celosias love sun.

Alocasia Polly

Unusual Alocasia poly has big, shield-shaped leaves.

Unusual Alocasia poly has big, shield-shaped leaves.

Also known as African mask or elephant's ear, Alocasia poly has big, dark leaves with what we’ll call "dead-white" veins, around Halloween. This exotic tropical needs bright light and the kind of high humidity found in kitchens and bathrooms. Show it off as a specimen or group it with other foliage plants. Then weave some fake spider webs through the leaves, dim the lights, play a tape of creepy, chattering insect sounds, and turn your party room into a menacing jungle.

Senecio vitalis ‘Serpents’

Serpents Senecio vitalis

You may find this plant called blue chalk sticks or blue chalk fingers.

Photo by:

You may find this plant called blue chalk sticks or blue chalk fingers.

Senecio vitalis ‘Serpents’ is often grown as a garden annual. It’s hardy in USDA zones 10-11, but can be grown as a low-maintenance houseplant, too. This succulent tolerates heat, likes part sun to sun and needs watering about once a week in warm weather. In the winter, water it only enough to prevent wilting. The fleshy, blue-green leaves give the plant its common name, blue chalk fingers. Grow it for Halloween, and conjure up images of ghostly fingers reaching for the sky.

Scatter pots of Venus flytraps around, and wait. Someone is bound to say, “Feed me, Seymour,” when the plant’s “teeth” snap shut. Your guests are safe, but Venus flytraps will trap and digest ants and other small insects. Use this carnivorous beauty in a terrarium or give it high humidity, good air circulation and moist soil. The plant will catch its own dinner when grown outside, but you’ll have to feed it indoors. That means giving it live flies or other insects, since dead ones won’t simulate the traps to open. Nasty? Yes. That's why this is a good choice for Halloween.

Devil's Backbone, Zig-Zag Plant (Pedilanthus tithymaloides)


A fun plant for growing indoors or out during warm weather. The thick succulent stems grow in a zig-zag direction, back and forth between each leaf. The green and white variegated leaves take on a rosy blush in bright, sunny conditions. Devil's Backbone can be grown as a landscape plant in frost-free areas where it develops into a shrub from 6-8' (2-2.5m) and produces small red flowers. Plants grown indoors rarely bloom but are prized for their beautiful form and colorful foliage.

A word of caution all parts of this plant contain a milky sap that can irritate skin and may be harmful if eaten. Take care to locate the plant where it won't be in contact with children and pets. Wear garden gloves when pruning or transplanting to avoid possible skin irritation.

Grow as a houseplant in any bright location. Makes a nice patio plant outdoors during warm weather. A useful landscape plant in frost-free climates.

Plant Feed

Apply a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly during active growth.


Allow soil to dry between thorough waterings.

Well-drained potting mix for cacti and succulents.

Basic Care Summary

Easy to grow. Provide a bright location indoors or a sunny to party shaded location outside. Requires well-drained soil and minimal watering, just once a week is usually adequate. Prune freely to maintain size and shape.

Planting Instructions

Start with a good quality, commercial potting soil. These are usually lighter in weight than topsoil, sterile and pest-free. Many are available with a mild starter fertilizer in the mix.

Select a container with a drainage hole or be prepared to drill holes for drainage if there are none.

Prepare the container by filling with potting soil up to 2” (5cm) from the rim of the planter. Remove the plant from its pot.

Make a small hole in the soil slightly larger than the root ball either by hand or using a trowel. Insert the plant into the hole and press soil firmly around the roots and just covering the root ball. When all the plants are potted, water thoroughly to settle the soil and give plants a good start. Place plant in a reliably sunny location.

Repot every 2 years in the same container or in a container slightly larger than the diameter of the roots.

Watering Instructions

Prefers moist but well-drained soil. Check the soil moisture with your finger. If the top 2-4” (5-10cm) of soil is dry, or plants are wilted, it is time to water.

Apply water at the soil level if possible to avoid wetting the foliage. Water the entire soil area until water runs out the base of the pot. This indicates that the soil is thoroughly wet.

Fertilizing Instructions

Fertilizers are available in many forms: granulated, slow-release, liquid feeds, organic or synthetic. Determine which application method is best for the situation and select a product with a nutritional balance designed for foliage plants.

Too much fertilizer can damage plants so it’s important to follow the package directions to determine how much, and how often, to feed plants.

Slow-release fertilizers are an especially good, care-free choice for container plants. A single application can often provide plants with the proper level of nutrition all season long.

Pruning Instructions

Most container plants can be pruned freely to maintain the desired size and shape. Keeping the foliage trimmed also keeps the plants looking neat and tidy, encourages the plant to develop more side-shoots and flowers, and reduces the demand for the plant to develop a larger root system. This is important since the roots are in a confined space.

Pedilanthus Tithymaloides Nana

Plant Size – Approx. 5 inches.

Pot Size – 4 inches (Thermoform or plastic pot).

Light – The houseplant likes bright indirect sunlight. Plant in direct sun in fall and winter, but give it a little protection from stinging hot rays in spring and summer. Just turning the slats on your blinds can be enough to keep the tips of the leaves from sizzling.

Water – Water the plants when the top few inches of soil feel dry. Keep it only moderately moist, yet not soggy.

Soil – The plant produces the best growth with a once per month fertilizer solution diluted by half.

Plant Tip – Devil’s backbone houseplant does not need to be fed in the dormant seasons of fall and winter.

The zigzag growth of the Pedilanthus Tithymaloides Nana makes it look exotic. The plant belongs to the Spurge family. There are numerous fun and descriptive names for the devil’s backbone houseplant. Descriptive monikers for the foliage include rick rack plant and Jacob’s ladder. Whatever you call it, learn how to grow the devil’s backbone plant for unique and easy to care for indoor flora. Pedilanthus Tithymaloides Nana Plant, Ideal for windowsills Pedilanthus Nana is a succulent of most unusual form. An excellent plant for the urban gardener where ease of maintenance and lack of space is of prime importance. Usually height of 4 – 6 feet Pedilanthus only requires half a days sun and is drought tolerant. The growth rate of Tithymaloides Nana will vary greatly depending on soil type, sunlight, temperature and other factors.

Watch the video: Devils backbone plant and its easy care- Mita Bishnoi Garden tips