An Illustrated Guide to Epiphyllum

While I work on my book, I'll be posting an illustrated series of unique and amazing plants to get everyone excited about the possibilities of what can be grown indoors. Epiphyllum cactus is one of those plants. It tolerates neglect, overwatering, shade and any other abuse, yet its magically iridescent blooms would convince anyone that you're an expert growing a rare and finicky rainforest treasure. While you won't have any problem keeping your Epiphyllum alive, here are some tips to make it thrive.



Special thanks goes to Svante Lundqvist of Sweden for providing the reference photo for this illustration of Epiphyllum 'Evanston'. As you can see by this 'in progress' photo, I had to draw this one in little chunks at a time. I wasn't expecting this one to take so long, but those petals are a lot more intricate than they at first appear.

Epiphyllum oxypetalum

Despite all of the colorful hybrids available, 'Queen of the Night' remains the most popular species of the genus. Epiphyllum oxypetalum has been a favored passalong plant for at least a century. Huge white and iridescent blooms appear at night on flattened stems and release a fragrance rivaling the finest perfumes... but unfortunately each bloom is only open for a night at a time. My own neighbor's plant just sits in a pot outside and handles anything from soggy to bone dry soil, tolerating neglect with such ease that it's grown into a large shrub. Even though they're known for only blooming once a year, a mature and well grown plant like my neighbor's specimen will put on a show like fireworks throughout the summer months with numerous flushes of flowers. I counted about twenty flowers this year before I lost count.




Other species range from the delicately vining Epiphyllum pumilum to the the zig-zagging stems of Epiphyllum anguiler, appropriately named the 'Ric-rac cactus'. For unusual curly and spiraling stems, look no further than E. guatamalense 'monstrosa'. If space is an issue, look for one with rigid upright stems like E. hookeri that won't clamber all over your home like some of its more unruly brethren. Apart from the myriad forms and shapes of the stems, flowers are also available in a rainbow of colors, sizes and shapes. Thanks to hybridizing efforts, flowers can be found across the spectrum in sparkly hues of crimson, peach, orange, salmon pink and everything in between.


Epiphyllum as Houseplants

Without a doubt, Epiphyllums are some of the easiest houseplants available. They'll survive for weeks or even months without water, yet when treated to a consistent watering schedule, they reward you by producing vigorous growth and prolific blooms. While bright light encourages more blooms, they also tolerate the dim conditions of most rooms. They'll stay alive despite your worst treatment, but proper care will result in healthy, attractive blooming specimens.  So what's the best way to grow Epiphyllum? It depends on the season.

Spring through Fall


This is the Epiphyllum growing season; the best time to water, feed, prune, repot and propagate plants.
Water when the mix has become dry,
Feed plants lightly with a manure tea or orchid fertilizer.
Repot only when the growing soil has broken down to the point where water can't be absorbed.
Prune diseased, weak or unsightly stems with clean clean pruners at the very base of the stem.
Root cuttings by letting them dry and callous over for a few days before planting them in perlite or a potting mix. Rooting Epiphyllum cuttings is really easy, by the way.

Winter

Water about once every two weeks, letting the soil thoroughly dry in between waterings.
Keep the Epiphyllum where it won't be disturbed, as even a passing light bump might bruise the plant. Resist the temptation to move or disturb the plant until spring.
It's not the end of the world if you fail to follow these winter guidelines, but doing so will help produce the most attractive plants.

Epiphyllum in the Garden

In tropical zones, plant Epiphyllum at the base of a big tree in dappled sunlight and watch it take off. A mature plant outdoors can put out over a hundred blooms at once! Strictly speaking, these tropical rainforest cacti should only be grown in zones 10 and up, but I have seen them do well in zone 9 with protection from frost. Outdoors they benefit from warmth and humidity, and if especially happy, they might even develop aerial roots to grasp onto any nearby object. If you don't want a monster taking over your garden, that's okay. They thrive in containers too.


Epiphyllum for Flower Arrangements

While they're certainly interesting looking enough in a vase, Epiphyllum cuttings really stand out for their durability. The cuttings pictured above were used for a Halloween themed arrangement last year. Exactly one year later, they have stayed in the same vase and grown very little... but they're still alive. Can you think of a more durable filler for an arrangement than that? I've even seen vase grown cuttings bloom, believe it or not. Want to bring a single bloom indoors? Just clip off a flower at the base and enjoy it in a bud vase for the evening.

Epiphyllum 'Evanston'


5 comments:

  1. Nice, Steve! I have had surprisingly good success with these guys indoors, and those blooms are absolutely stunning! I may try them outside with your encouragement.

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  2. Steve, This sounds my like kind of houseplant, assuming it survives the car ride home! I'll definitely put it on my list of things to buy for my new office. As always, your illustrations are simply amazing.

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  3. Thanks guys! I really can't think of an easier houseplant with such a big impact. I hope you give them a shot!

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