Epiphyllum are the gems of the cactus world. Commonly called orchid cactus, they produce absolutely stunning flowers. The delicate blooms open only briefly and produce an entrancing scent. There are many types of Epiphyllum, but the majority are epiphytic and live in trees while a few species are terrestrial. New hybrids are also being introduced to the market, which means numerous types of cactus orchid from which to choose.
What is Epiphyllum?
These plants are native to the tropical Americas and range from Mexico to Central America and even into the Caribbean. They are called cactus orchid plants because of the outstanding blooms which resemble some orchid species. Choosing an Epiphyllum can be tough since there are dwarf, hanging, epiphytic, and other traits, as well as numerous flower colors from which to choose.
Orchid cactus have flat, fleshy stems with serrated edges. Most have a trailing appearance but since there are hundreds of cultivars, other habits can be found as well. In warm climates, these cacti need a bit of shade during the hottest part of the year. Otherwise, they need temperatures between 45 and 70 degrees F. (7-21 C.). All Epiphyllum varieties are heat lovers and cannot tolerate any freezing temperatures.
There are both day flowering and night blooming species. Epiphyllum varieties of flower colors range from purples to pink hues, oranges, reds, and even white. In their native range, they are tree dwelling plants whose roots take nutrients and moisture from the air. As such, they have very low nutrient needs, and their primary requirement is humidity.
Types of Cactus Orchid
There are several genera of cactus orchid. The primary ones are Selenicereus, Epiphyllum, Rhipsalis, and Disocactus. Much of this labeling is being reordered as genetics defines which plants are related to each other. Of the plants in the Epiphyllum genus, the number of cultivars and bloom colors is astounding. Here are common names and bloom colors for some popular Epiphyllum cactus varieties:
- Beautiful Red
- Miss America
- Dragon Fruit
- Miss Hollywood
- Jennifer Anne
- King of Yellows
- Desert Falcon
- Dragon Heart
- French Sahara
- Fred Bouton
- College Queen
Growing Cactus Orchid Plants
Epiphyllum plants require humid conditions that mimic their tropical rainforest home. Mist plants frequently, especially in hot conditions.
Use a light, well-draining, humus-rich potting mixture. Cactus orchids prefer to be pot bound but, when necessary, repot them do after flowering.
Feed the plant with low nitrogen in late winter/early spring and again in midfall. Suspend fertilizing in the winter months and reduce watering by half.
During the growing season, keep containers evenly moist, especially during flowering. If you want to make more of these elegant plants, simply remove a length of stem, allow it to callus over for a couple of weeks, and then insert the stem in moistened sand. Keep the cutting in moderate light and slightly on the dry side until rooting occurs. This is the quickest, easiest way to get more of these brightly colored plants.