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Abbey Brook Cactus Nursery
Old Hackney Lane
Matlock
Derbyshire
DE4 2QJ

 

Epiphyllum Cultural Instructions

EPIPHYTIC CACTI

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 beneficial.

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 flowering.
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")