Epiphyllum are epiphytic cacti as their name suggests. Some call them orchid cactus due to their large bright blooms and growth habit. Epiphytic plants grow on other plants, not in a parasitic fashion but as hosts. They are not cold hardy and generally can be found only as houseplants or greenhouse specimens. Caring for Epiphyllums is a water balancing act. They can’t be allowed to dry out, yet overwatering is a death sentence to these cacti. Here are a few tips on how to grow Epiphyllum and achieve healthy plants that will astound with their blooms and fruit.
Epiphyllum make excellent hanging baskets with their jointed stems that grow 18 to 30 inches long. They are native to tropical Central and South America and span approximately 20 species. The pendant stems crown with spectacular flowers that last only a couple of days but produce from early winter through spring. They are a peculiar plant that flowers best when exposed to cool temperatures and shortened light periods.
These cacti grow in tropical forests, nestled in tree crotches and rotting vegetation. They can live off of leaf mold and other organic wastes. In cultivation, they perform well in standard potting soil amended with peat and sand. Use clean sand, not the saline laden sand from a beach. They can be fussy about their water, so use bottled or de-mineralized water to prevent unfavorable reactions to treated tap water.
An interesting bit of Epiphyllum information is that they grow edible fruit. The fruit is said to taste much like passion vine fruit and has a texture similar to kiwi, including the small black seeds.
Collectors that are growing Epiphyllum cactus tend to call them “epis” for short. There are true Epiphyllums but also several hybrids available for trade. The plants start readily from seed but may take up to 5 years to bloom.
A more common method of propagation with quicker results is from stem cutting taken in spring or summer. Make a clean cut on new growth and allow the end to callus for a couple of days. Push the callused end into clean potting soil that is moderately moist. Place the container in bright indirect light and keep soil misted. It can take 3 to 6 weeks for the cutting to root.
New Epiphyllum plant care is the same as that for a mature plant.
Caring for Epiphyllum Cacti
Choose a filtered light location for growing Epiphyllum cactus. A site where they get full morning sun but shelter from high noon light is best for their growth.
Use a diluted fertilizer of 10-10-10 during the growth periods in spring and fall. In February, use a ratio of 2-10-10 to promote flowering and root development. Once flowering has commenced, suspend feeding the plant until October.
These plants appreciate cool temperatures and actually need to be exposed to 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 15 C.) in winter for a couple of weeks to force blooms. Temperatures below 35 F./1 C. will kill the plant, however.
Epiphyllum plant care is all about balancing water and light needs. They have few insect or disease problems and will bloom, and possibly fruit, for an entire season with good management.