Epiphyllum (orchid cacti) are often grown as houseplants as they are relatively trouble-free. They produce large, showy flowers, which are usually sweetly-scented and last two days or more.
Epiphyllum cacti are mostly epiphytic (they grow on other plants, but only use them as a support). They are often grown in hanging baskets to accommodate their long, pendent, leaf-like stems, but can be grown in containers.
They are hardy to about 10°C (50°F), but require at least 15°C (60°F) during the growing season, so are best grown in a heated greenhouse, conservatory or indoors.
Place the pots in bright, filtered light, with moderate to high humidity. To increase the humidity, position the pot on a tray filled with gravel and keep this topped up with water, but not enough so that the water reaches the surface.
Orchid cacti require sharply-drained growing media. Grow them in a standard cactus compost with added grit or perlite. Alternatively, mix three parts loam-based compost, such as John Innes No.2, with two parts grit or perlite and one part peat-free multipurpose compost.
- From mid-spring until late summer, water the plants when the compost begins to dry out, but do not let the plants stand in water
- Apply cactus fertiliser fortnightly
- To encourage blooming, move the plants in winter into a cooler place, about 11-14°C, (52-57°F) and keep the compost just moist until the flower buds form
- Once this has happened, increase the temperature and resume the normal watering regime
Pruning and training
Overlong stems can be cut off or shortened. New shoots will usually develop just behind the cut. However, be careful not to overwater after pruning as the plant’s water requirements will be reduced.
Large Epiphyllum can become unstable in their pots. Either repot in to a heavier pot, such as terracotta, or a wider container, such as a pan. Alternatively, try using canes and tying the stems up, but this can look unsightly.
The two most successful methods of propagation are by seed and cuttings.
- Sow seed in spring or summer
- Fill a container with cactus compost and scatter the seed evenly on the surface
- Moisten the compost lightly with a fine mist sprayer
- Top-dress with a thin layer of fine grit
- Cover the pot with a clear plastic bag or place into a propagator and keep at 21°C (70°F)
- Remove the covering once the seeds have germinated
- Keep the compost moist, but not wet
- Prick out when the seedlings become crowded and large enough to handle comfortably
- They will take four to seven years to flower
Take stem cuttings in spring to late summer.
- Cut the leaf-like stem into 15-22.5cm (6-9in) sections and let it callus (dry) for several days in a warm place
- Fill a pot one third full with cactus compost and cover with a layer of grit. Insert the cuttings 2.5-5cm (1-2in) deep
- Keep the compost just moist and maintain temperature of 18-24°C (65-75°F)
- They should root in three to six weeks and flower the following year, if taken early in the season
Epiphyllum cultivars are often sold as unrooted cuttings by mail order suppliers.
Try cultivars such as ‘Calypso’, ‘Buttercup’, ‘Dante’, ‘Flamingo’, ‘Firewell’, ‘Appeal’ and ‘Bliss’.
Some species such as E. oxypetalum are nocturnal – with their flowers opening during the night.