Epiphyllums – Abundantly Blooming Forest Cacti-Care

Despite the confusion accumulated over the past decades with the name “Christmas cactus”, one of the most recognizable and striking forest cacti, epiphyllums, remain universal favorites. Leafless, with flattened stems, amazingly profusely blooming, hybrid epiphyllums with their hanging shoots and delicate flowers do not require particularly difficult care from their owners. Hardy and durable, taking root well in living rooms, they can become the brightest flowering succulent plant in any collection.

Epiphyllum ‘Wendy’. Farmer Burea-Uinsurance.com facilisimo
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Epiphyllums – plant description

Among indoor plants, it is difficult to find plants whose name would cause as much controversy and confusion as among representatives of the genus Epiphyllum (Epiphyllum). These cacti sometimes disappeared from the shelves, sometimes they got bored, but in the whole history they never really left the greenhouse-flower scene.

As soon as the name of the epiphyllums was not distorted and used: the name of this cactus was attributed to Schlumberger, Ripsalidopsis and almost all zygocactus. Phyllocactus were excluded from their ranks and then included back. And today, in catalogs, epiphyllums are very often mistakenly confused with Schlumberger, although in fact this plant is quite distinctive.

The easiest way to distinguish epiphyllums from their relatives is by flowering. Any assignment of leafless epiphyllums to leafy cacti is erroneous, albeit a common misconception.

The epiphyllums got their name because of the blooming of flowers directly on separate “leaves” – leaf-shaped, flat stems, which in this cactus are very often confused with the leaves of other forest epiphytes. Popular nicknames call them flaming, then leaf-shaped, then orchid cacti.

In nature, epiphyllums are distributed throughout the planet in a tropical climate, where they settle as fairly large epiphytes in humid forests on lianas and woody ones.

Epiphyllums are leafless dwarf shrubs with drooping rather than upright shoots. These are one of the most famous leafless epiphytes and the hallmark of the entire group of abundantly flowering forest cacti. The base of skeletal shoots gradually lignifies, they change shape from flattened to round or triangular.

The height of the epiphyllums ranges from half a meter to 100 cm, the actual size of the plant is determined by the length of their shoots. Epiphyllums are not “crumbs” or compact. Their huge flowers and long stems look massive, and the plant itself can be quite spreading.

In the development of the epiphyllum, a dormant period is pronounced, lasting from November to March, when the growth of shoots resumes. Without the creation of appropriate conditions during this period, the cactus will not bloom.

Epiphyllum oxypetalum
Epiphyllum oxypetalum. Farmer Burea-Uinsurance.com
Jindrich Shejbal

Leafy shoots of epiphyllums

Epiphyllum stems do not divide so actively, but skeletal old shoots release many new young stems, similar to giant rigid leaves. They grow upright at first and remain quite delicate, but gradually curl like linear leaves.

Epiphyllums do not form dense bushes even with age, but the number of stems still increases, as does their growth rate. They are strongly flattened, very rarely – flattened triangular, tough, but still very fleshy, long, either spread or droop. Typical dull bluish medium green color perfectly emphasizes the beauty of the flowers and looks very attractive.

The stems, due to their large size and bends, seem to be leaf-shaped, even despite the filigree wavy or jagged edge typical of all epiphytic cacti. Spines do not form in adult plants.

Epiphyllums do not release true leaves, remaining, although forest, but leafless cacti. But they form aerial roots directly on the stems, which most epiphytic cacti cannot boast of.

Epiphyllum serrated (Epiphyllum crenatum)
Epiphyllum serrated (Epiphyllum crenatum). Farmer Burea-Uinsurance.com ErikaVr

Flowering and fruiting of epiphyllums

Epiphyllums bloom very profusely, starting in May and finishing their parade towards the end of summer. Usually this cactus blooms from the third year. Epiphyllums blooming at Christmas are artificially driven out with a shift in the resting phase to correct the timing of flowering. But typical epiphyllums are summer flowering plants.

They, unlike many flowering cacti, are in the budding stage for an amazingly long time. Differing in shape, size (from 3 cm to almost 35 cm) and structure, the funnel-shaped flowers of epiphyllums with a sufficiently long tube can be simple or double. But they still seem very large and catchy.

The receptacle is almost the same length as the flower, with a pale color, small green bracts. Epiphyllums have ten thin, pointed, forming a perfect circle or slightly bent back outer perianth lobes. Lanceolate petals with rounded edges are straight, forming a funnel-shaped, gradually opening flower.

Despite the fact that the lengths of the inner and outer lobes are the same, even the monochromatic epiphyllums have the effect of an outer wrap or outer circle on which a luxurious flower rests. In the pharynx, beautiful, arranged in two rows, luminous stamens and a white long pistil are perfectly visible.

Large flowers of epiphyllums fade very quickly, staying on the plant for only 2-3 days. But a large number of buds allows the cactus to bloom continuously and such fragility of the general flowering is almost imperceptible.

Almost all epiphyllums are quite aromatic and pleasantly surprise not only with their beauty of the structure, but also with the intensity of their refreshingly sweet scent.

The color gamut of epiphyllums includes all the classic “cactus” shades – from bright scarlet, which is usually associated with the flowering of epiphyllums, to white, cream, orange, pink, purple and even lilac varieties. Red-colored epiphyllums seem to be engulfed in a blooming fire, but even with a different color, the effects of colored waves, cascade, cloud or flame persist.

Unlike stems, the ovary and tube of epiphyllums are covered with thorns and hairs. Fruiting from epiphyllums can be achieved only with artificial pollination of plants. Edible, very beautiful, bright red fruits adorn the cactus no less than its flowers.

Эпифиллюм 'Reward
Epiphyllum ‘Reward’. Farmer Burea-Uinsurance.com Priscilla Burcher

Types and varieties of epiphyllums

Species epiphyllums are not found in indoor collections today. Despite the presence of almost 20 species in the genus Epiphyllum, the species growing in Central and South America are rarely used as cultivated plants.

The still occurring species epiphyllums include:

  1. Epiphyllum acuteness (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) Is a beautiful species with capable of growing up to 2 linear dark green, flat shoots and snow-white flowers, similar to double stars and slightly reminiscent of edelweiss. This epiphyllum is famous for its aroma.
  2. Epiphyllum serrated (Epiphyllum crenatum) Is a spectacular, well-bushy cactus with shoots up to 1 m high, forming bushes of almost the same diameter. The medium green color of flat shoots is combined with a bright, beautiful jagged edge and abundant flowering, creating a cascade effect.

But still, most of the plants that can be purchased are hybrid varieties obtained from crossing these species with various cereus. They boast improved characteristics, mainly much more abundant flowering and greater compactness. But the most important thing is the ability to bloom not only at night, like their wild relatives, but also to show off luxurious flowers in the daytime.

Very often, epiphyllum hybrids are labeled with a synonym – as phyllocactus (Phyllocactus).

Conventionally, epiphyllums are divided into ampelous, with hanging, cascading shoots and bushy, with more straight, drooping shoots only with age. The latter are divided into tall and short, and the “dwarfs” have almost ousted their large counterparts.

Epiphyllums are always chosen by flowering – the shade of color, size and structure of flowers, which differ in different varieties. The best varieties of epiphyllums are yellow-flowered Reward и George French, dark yellow King Midas, green Nicole, yellow with intricately twisted petals Queen Anne, pinkish Meadow Pink, purplish pink Wendychanging color from pink to purple variety Impello, pink-fawn Madras Ribbon, orange-lilac variety Pegasus, red-pink variety Space Rocket etc.

Эпифиллюм 'Meadow Rose
Эпифиллюм ‘Meadow Rose’. Farmer Burea-Uinsurance.com mattslandscape

Growing conditions for indoor epiphyllums

Light-loving, but not sun-loving, epiphyllums would be one of the easiest to grow cacti, if not for the requirements for a cool winter. Lighting and dormant temperatures are critical for this cactus to bloom.

Lighting and placement

Unlike many very capricious to bright light during the flowering period of cacti, the epiphyllum fully justifies its forest status, it grows well and blooms in any bright place or light partial shade. It does not tolerate direct sunlight on the southern windows (and it is always better to protect it from midday rays), but it is not necessary to place epiphyllums only on the windowsill.

During the flowering period, it is unacceptable to reduce lighting, rearrange the plants further from the window (but it can be increased at the budding stage). In winter, it is better to adjust the lighting to maintain familiar conditions.

Temperature control and ventilation

During the period of active growth, epiphyllums remain one of the most heat-loving cacti. They feel good at room temperatures, but they are not afraid of the heat, provided they are properly watered.

The dormant period of epiphyllums should be carried out in a cool, in a temperature range from 10 to 15 degrees. An abrupt transition is undesirable; if desired, the temperature in the fall is gradually lowered. Cool wintering is one of the main conditions for flowering. But without reducing irrigation, it will be difficult to achieve success.

Epiphyllums are big lovers of fresh air, they can die in closed rooms without regular ventilation. If only the weather permits, this cactus will prefer constant airing at all or moving to an open balcony, terrace, to the garden in the floor, shaded, protected from precipitation.

Epiphyllums that spent the summer in the garden traditionally bloom more abundantly than their counterparts left in the rooms during the hottest season, and they grow much faster.

Epiphyllum 'Queen Anne
Epiphyllum ‘Queen Anne’. Farmer Burea-Uinsurance.com Peter Sch

Home epiphyllum care

This is not a difficult cactus to care for, which surprises with its moisture-loving nature. He prefers rather frequent watering during the period of active growth and will not refuse even modest, but frequent feeding. Subject to the correct selection of conditions for the dormant period, growing an epiphyllum will be easy even for novice growers.

Watering and air humidity

Despite belonging to cacti, the epiphyllum is very afraid of the drying out of the substrate, and during the period of active growth, it is necessary to organize watering for it so that the substrate is stably moderately moist.

Watering is carried out with a small amount of water, but often trying to allow the top 2 to 3 centimeters of soil to dry out in containers. Abundant watering increases the risk of waterlogging and root decay and is tolerated by this plant worse than moderate, but more frequent.

The transition to a dormant period with very rare irrigations supporting only turgor of the stems, sharply different from irrigations during the period of active growth, should be smooth for epiphyllums. They begin to reduce watering after the termination of fertilizing, gradually reducing their frequency and amount of water.

At any time of the year, watering should be done carefully, without soaking the stems and immediately draining the water from the pallets.

In addition to the usual such procedures, epiphyllums need regular hygiene measures. It is necessary to remove dust from the surface of their shoots, non-flowering shoots will not refuse to shower or immerse in water for 2-3 hours.

This cactus tolerates and loves spraying, which is carried out when heating systems are in operation and in very dry air in summer. But for epiphyllums it is necessary to use finely dispersed “foggy” nozzles.

Top dressing and composition of fertilizers

No matter how actively the epiphyllum blooms, it remains a plant sensitive to an excess of fertilizers. Top dressing is carried out only during the period of active growth, completing them in August for the normal preparation of the cactus for wintering. Top dressing can be carried out with a standard frequency, but reducing the concentration of fertilizers by 2-3 times, or more rarely – once a month. For epiphyllums, feeding is carried out only by the liquid method and only after watering.

Special fertilizers for cacti and succulents are preferred, which can be alternated with organic fertilizing in summer.

Epiphyllum 'Pegasus
Epiphyllum ‘Pegasus’. Farmer Burea-Uinsurance.com lobivia2003

Trimming and shaping epiphyllums

On this forest cactus, pruning is only sanitary. Damaged, elongated and non-flowering, dry, like deformed shoots, are usually removed completely in the spring, stimulating the growth of new flowering branches. Partial pruning of “leaves” usually still leads to their gradual death.

Transplant, containers and substrate

Epiphyllums love stable conditions and do not tolerate transplantation very well. It is carried out only when the plant has nowhere to grow, annually replacing only the top contaminated soil layer.

Oddly enough, it is better to transplant this plant not at the usual time, but after flowering: adaptation before the dormant period allows you to get more abundant flowering. But a transplant in February for epiphyllums is quite acceptable.

Epiphyllums, unlike many cacti, love humus-rich soils. They will prefer to grow in slightly acidic, high-quality, drained substrates that are slightly coarser than conventional succulent substrates, although they are fine for epiphyllums.

In addition to the obligatory sand, the substrate should contain acidifying peat, sphagnum, horn shavings and wood ash. If the soil is mixed independently, then for epiphyllums, leaf, humus and sod soil are combined in equal parts.

Epiphyllums require neatness, because the bushes are not easy to hold. When planting, it is impossible to deepen the plant, leaving the same level of location. After transplantation, epiphyllums should not be fed. If they are carried out after flowering, then feeding is included in the care only in spring. If the transplant is unscheduled – not earlier than 5-6 weeks after this procedure.

Diseases, pests and problems in growing epiphyllum

It is not the most resilient of the cacti. Epiphyllums often suffer from spider mites, aphids and scale insects. Moreover, aphids adore blooming epiphyllums and most of all threaten them when taken to fresh air. To protect plants, it is necessary to combine and treat pests with bio- or conventional insecticides, and adjust the conditions of detention, increasing the humidity and carrying out hygienic procedures.

Of the diseases on epiphyllums, rot is most often found, and even then, provided that they are kept in the cold and systemic overflow. They can only be dealt with by transplanting with the removal of damaged parts.

Эпифиллюм 'Space Rocket
Эпифиллюм ‘Space Rocket’. Farmer Burea-Uinsurance.com Gary Ashley

Reproduction of epiphyllum

The main method of propagation of epiphyllums is cuttings. From seeds, this plant is practically not grown at home.

Cuttings of epiphyllums are cut from strong, young and intact shoots. Usually, the stems are cut into 4-6 cm pieces, treating the cuts with charcoal and leaving them to dry for 2-3 days, until a dense film forms at the cut site. Holding in a growth promoter speeds up the rooting process.

Cuttings are rooted in sand, best of all in coarse or river sand, pre-calcining it, under a hood or film, keeping the soil moisture light and stable. With a large amount of planting material, rooting can also be carried out in water, deepening the lower sections by 1-1,5 cm.

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Anna Evans

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