Epiphyllum Cultural Instructions
The most important and widest grown of all the epiphytic cacti belong
to the genus EPIPHYLLUM. These plants were introduced in the last century
from the jungles of Central, North and South America. They are nearly
all white flowered, night-blooming plants.
Hybrids were produced by crossing them with day-flowering Heliocereus
species, which have vivid scarlet and mauve flowers. An Englishman,
F.A. Watson, was one of the first hybridisers, and some of his hybrids
- Agatha, Dante and Wrayi, introduced in about 1845 - are still in cultivation.
Subsequently, many German, Belgian and French hybrids were produced.
Since 1945, California has been the main centre of activity and there
are now several thousand named hybrids.
These plants give a fantastic array of colour to rival any group of
plants. The flowers are breathtaking, and the commonly grown red flowered
Epiphyllum ackermannii with 5" (13cm) diameter blossoms is small
and uninteresting by today's standards. Some flowers are more than 12"
(30cm) across and the colours range from pure white to deep purple,
whilst others are pink, apricot, gold and yellow.
In the early 1980's, I encouraged a retired Derbyshire policeman,
Eric Hodkinson, to continue the start he had made in 1974 hybridising
Epiphyllums. It takes about 5 years to flower from seed and, as Eric
says, the opening of an entirely new flower is an exciting time and
well worth the trouble involved.
Eric has produced some wonderful hybrids, which, after careful selection,
he has named after his many friends. I am delighted to say he has named
one of his best hybrids after me, Brian Fearn.
CULTURE Epiphytes do not like full sun, semi-shade is idea. In other
words the same conditions favoured by many ferns and orchids. It is
worthwhile remembering that the cultural conditions are entirely different
from the rest of the Cactus family. Lack of this understanding may have
caused failure in the past. These plants are very easy to grow and flower
in the right conditions.
The parents of most of these plants, in natural habitat, grow epiphytically
on forest trees and vegetation. they use the trees as support, but do
not derive any nourishment from them. They root in accumulated humus
material on, for example, tree branches. They produce long aerial roots
which can take up water from the humid atmosphere.
COMPOST There are many potting composts which are suitable but one
we recommend consists of:
3 parts house plant compost
1 part of coarse lime free sand
1/2 part rotted cow manure or organic material like 6X
Any potting compost used for epiphytes should ideally be porous and
contain a high proportion of organic material. The addition of a small
quantity of Bone Meal, which is a slow releasing fertiliser, can be
POTTING When you receive the rooted cuttings, plant them in slightly
moist potting compost, and then withhold water for a couple of days
or so, and then water normally. Do not use very large containers as
epiphytes do not produce as large a root system as other plants.
LABELLING As these plants are virtually impossible to name correctly
when not in flower, we always label the cuttings themselves with an
indelible marker pen. Customers are then always sure that they receive
a plant which is correctly labelled.
WATERING and FERTILISER Root moisture should be available all the
year round, but remember to water freely in hot weather. An addition,
spraying with water is particularly beneficial in hot weather, to maintain
a high humidity. From March onwards water with a low nitrogen, high
potash fertiliser such as Cactus or tomato fertiliser. This helps promote
After flowering change to a high nitrogen fertiliser to promote growth
for enhanced flowering the next year.
TEMPERATURE Minimum winter temperature is 7 C (45 F). In cold conditions
brown spots may appear on the stems. These are not caused by a disease
and so do not harm the plants but are nevertheless unsightly. In hot
summer weather dry compost followed by copious watering can cause the
stems to turn brown. This is a physiological disorder like blossom end
rot in tomato fruits. These plants are killed by frost.
PESTS There are two main pests of epiphytes - mealy bugs and green
aphids. Proprietary brands of insecticides, both contact and systemic
can be used. Always remember to follow the instructions on the labels
before using, so as to make up a spray liquid of the correct strength.
Do not add more than recommended - it may harm your plants. Suitable
insecticides are available for purchase at the nursery.
FLOWERING Flowering time for Epiphyllums is mainly April-July, the
main month being May. If grown on correctly, rooted cuttings should
produce enough growth to flower in 1-2 years. do not worry if some of
the buds do not mature, the plant will only support those buds it can
sustain. Remember the larger the plant, the more flowers that can be
produced in a season. do not over feed with nitrogenous fertilisers
as these tend to produce growth rather than flowers.
FLOWER SIZE This is indicated, where known, after the name and is
based on the average flower. Blooms can vary considerably in size depending
on how the plant has been grown.
S SMALL 6-13CM (21/2"-5")
M MEDIUM 13-18CM (5"-7")
L LARGE 18-23CM (7"-9")
XL EXTRA LARGE OVER 23CM (9")