Epiphyllum or the Orchid Cactus are one of those plants that everyone has seen and dismissed as an ugly, ungainly and gross looking plant – until it blooms. The flowers are absolutely stunning, up to the size of a dinner plate, with silky looking petals in all shades from palest cream, white, pale shell pink to hot pink, purple and bright red.
The prominent stamens and anthers drape over the backs of pollinating insects.
They bloom from around the end of September until early in the spring, depending on the exact species and varieties of which there are many.
These plants cross breed easily, taking pollen from one type of plant – even from other closely related genera, and fertilizing the stamens of a different one.
Epiphyllum breeders can be quite enthusiastic about their hybrids. Their enthusiasm seems a little off - until you see a whole greenhouse in full bloom.
'Eppies', which is the pet name that aficionados give the Epiphyllum, are epiphytes, or tree dwellers. The most commonly grown is Epiphyllum oxypetalum; the original one had pale pink flowers and shows many different variations.
They originate high in the boughs of trees in warm jungles, watered by the rain storms, and living in the leaves and detritus caught in the axils of tree branches. The view upwards when these plants all bloom in their natural habitat is breath taking, and awe inspiring.
The habitat that they have evolved in will give you some ideas of the conditions that these plants like; give them good drainage and high organic matter in their soil, and bright but filtered light and your Epiphyllum will be happy.
The flower buds are set in the cooler fall temperatures when the plant is exposed to twelve hours of daylight, the photoperiod.
Near the equator where they evolved, they will always get this amount of daylight, but here in the Northern Hemisphere, they will only start to set the buds in the fall due to this phenomenon.
Other relatives are the Christmas or Holiday cactus, Schlumbergera. These require similar conditions, but are much smaller.
Epiphyllum cuttings are relatively easy to grow. A chunk of a mid aged leaf allowed to dry out and callous before sticking in pasteurized potting soil will root in several weeks. They need to be kept on the dry side until roots form, and prefer to be quite pot bound before repotting.
To grow them from your own seed, make sure the flowers you choose fertilize each other by transferring the pollen from the one parent to the ‘mother’ plant with a small paintbrush or q-tip. The fruit will form as a swelling behind the fading flower, gradually forming a red fruit filled with several to many seeds. Once the fruit ripens the seeds can be removed and will germinate almost immediately.
You’ll get bitten by the propagating bug, and be growing your own hybrids in no time.
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