THE AMATEURS' DIGEST
Epiphyllums ... Epi Hybrids ... Orchid Cactus
Readers' Comments, Questions and Answers
Plant & Photo: Bev and Kermit Bender, USA
Epiphyllums (type Epiphyllum phyllanthus) are epiphytic cacti with flattened leaf-like stems and large white flowers that open at night. Outer petals usually have some color, usually yellow. You may read elsewhere that one Epiphyllum species, E. ackermannii, produces red flowers but that is no longer correct since E. ackermannii has been transferred to the genus Disocactus.
More familiar in collections are the many epis with fantastic colorful flowers which bloom during the day. In the past these have been referred to as Epiphyllum hybrids. In fact these hybrids rarely involve species of Epiphyllum as a parent. They are mostly hybrids of related genera such as Disocactus, Pseudorhipsalis and Selenicereus.
Some have suggested the hybrid epis with colorful flowers should have a name of their own. Nothing has ever been officially decided about that so until a formal name is decided upon, hobbyists and growers alike continue to call them Epiphyllum hybrids .. epis for short.
Epis are frequently referred to as Orchid Cactus. This is not correct since Orchid Cactus are not epiphyllums at all but rather they are found in Schlumbergera or Disocactus which are closely related genera.
While the night blooming white flowered epis are beautiful, people tend to more often grow the hybrids since flower colors are stunning in many shades of pink, red, orange, violet, yellow, etc. It is also more convenient to have day flowering species so one can enjoy the flowers for a longer period of time during daylight. Unless of course you don't mind staying up all night to view the white flowers of night blooming species.
The following are answers to questions I have been asked over the years along with some growing advice which I hope will be helpful.
Why are they called epiphytes?
Plants which in nature grow on other plants are called epiphytes. In the case of epis, the 'host' plants (trees on which epis grow in nature) are used only for support and not as a source of food to the epis.
The word 'epiphyte' is derived from Greek word meaning 'upon a leaf' because when the flowers appear we see them 'on' the 'leaves'. This is misleading because technically epis have stems-not leaves.
How can I know a plant is an Epi when I see it?
Epis usually have flat leaf-like stems (although in some hybrids the stems are 3 angled). In mature plants the stems can be 18 inches to 30 inches long (45cm to 75 cm) and their general habit is to grow new stems from the base of the plant. There are exceptions where a new stem will develop somewhere along an old stem. This will usually happen if the growing tip of an old stem has been damaged or if indiscriminate pruning is done.
Note: It is wise to discourage new stem growth from along the older stems. If you allow them to grow you will soon have a tangled mess of a plant which will need much pruning and when that happens it will leave the plant with a lot of very unattractive, scarred stems. If you nip off the new growth that appears along the stems, as soon as it appears, it will leave a far less serious mark than if you allow the new stem to grow and have to cut it off later.
The average width of the stems at the widest part is usually between 2 and 4 in (5 and 10 cm). There are a few which are narrower than that.
Along the edges of the stems are usually indentations which may be shallow or deep. The shape and depth of some of these indentations adds lots of interest to the overall appearance of the plants. Areoles (little furry tufts out of which the spines grow) can be found along these indentations.
Flowers (often very large) with long tubes are produced at the areoles. A few hybrids have smaller flowers which are no less beautiful than the larger ones.
Where do Epis come from and what is their natural habitat like?
Epis originate from tropical forests of Mexico, Central and South America and the West Indies. Most grow in trees where they tuck their roots into pockets of decaying vegetable matter which settle into nooks and crannies of tree branches. A few Epis may be found lower down near often rocky ground where their roots find their way into rocky crevices where also is found composted dead remains of surrounding vegetation.
Their tropical environment provides them with lots of warmth and high humidity and most important .. shading from full sun. Other plants that can be found growing in the same habitat are orchids, bromeliads, ferns and mosses.
Why do some stems put out long stringy things and others do not? Should I cut them off?
Those long stringy things are adventitious roots! Do not cut them off. It is quite natural for many epis to produce these roots. If they appear in large numbers, however, this may signal problems exist such as perhaps the plants may be too moist, too dry or in too much shade. The adventitious roots could be reaching for the moisture, light and even food that the plant is not receiving in sufficient quantities through watering, natural light and fertilizer.
When these adventitious roots appear, you should ask yourself if you are giving the plants enough water and/or fertilizer, if there is enough humidity around the plants and perhaps you should check the soil in the pot for signs of pest infestation which might be damaging the roots. Also, although I will tell you later that these plants do better if a little pot-bound, it is just as possible to underpot the plants which can also force roots to be produced along the stems.
Are epis daytime or night-time flowering?
True Epiphyllum species flower at night. Hybrids flower during the day.
When do they flower?
Most hybrids bloom anywhere from about the end of February through April, May and June. A few hybrids bloom later than that as do the true Epiphyllum species.
Are flowers on all Epis the same shape?
No. They are not the same shape. The different shapes of flowers are described as wide, bell-shaped, funnel-form, cup-shaped and irregular. The arrangement of the outer petals and their number are described as:
- Wheel-shaped (with few radiating narrow petals)
- Overlapping with 15 to 20 petals overlapping in two circular rows
- Thick with 5 to 25 petals giving an appearance of three or more rows
- Loose with the petals irregular and not symmetrical. They may be single or overlapping, ribbony or twisting and with textures described as transparent, waxy or shiny, iridescent or with a sheen.
- The edges may be smooth, finely serrated and wavy or crepe-like. Inner petals can be wheel-shaped, overlapping, double and single loose.
- The shape of petals can be narrow, oblanceolate (narrow and tapering to a point), obovate (oval with narrow base), spatulate (spoon-shaped), elliptic (oblong with both ends narrowing down).
How long do the flowers last?
Flowers of most plants last about two days in hot weather and longer in cool weather.
What is bud drop?
When flower buds do not mature but instead drop off the plant, this is called bud drop. This can happen naturally if the plant produces more buds than it can reasonably handle. If the plants drop an awful lot of buds then something is wrong with growing conditions. The first thing to suspect is too much heat around the plant.
Bud drop can also occur if you move the plants too soon after buds begin to form such as taking the plant from the greenhouse into the house-especially if the house is a lot warmer than the greenhouse. To minimize the risk of bud drop, wait to move the plant until buds are well formed. Note I said 'minimize the risk' because it is always better not to move a plant from a location where it has been happy for some time.
My epi won't flower. Why not?
Epis need a period of several weeks at the end of winter when they should only have the same amount of light as light appears outside. These short days trigger flowering in spring for spring blooming species. This poses a problem for plants indoors which receive light from artificial lights in the house. You have to cover the plant at dusk and remove the cover next morning to give the short day effect. Another factor in blooming has to do with pot size. If the pot is too big a plant it will spend its time producing roots to fill the pot at the expense of concentrating on flowering.
Can I preserve the flowers?
If you want to keep a flower beautiful for a special occasion, place an epi flower in a sealed jar and put it in the refrigerator. The flower will often stay fresh for up to one month.
Do the flowers have a fragrance?
Some species have flowers with a fragrance. It is most noticeable in late evening or early morning when the temperature is coolish rather than warm.
What do I do when flower buds form?
When buds begin to show, plants are best kept at a minimum temperature of 50F (10C). It is important to note that too much heat at this time can hinder flowering and even cause the flowers buds to abort. A temperature of around 65F (15C)
Epis should now be in a very bright situation, preferably with some filtered sun and given plenty of water.
On a bright, warm day a light misting with warmish water will be appreciated. It takes a lot of energy for a plant to bloom so when the buds turn into blooms, the plant should be fertilized.
What do I do after the plants have finished flowering?
Do not be tempted to 'twist off' the remains of flowers. Let the flowers dry up and then cut them off with a knife. Don't cut them off too soon. If you wait a while you will see if fruit is going to form. It is interesting to let the fruit develop just to see what it looks like if you haven't seen one before. If you remove the fruit, don't twist it off. Also cut it off with a sharp knife.
Because plants flower at different times, it is impossible to say which month or months in the year when all epis may want to rest. It stands to reason that an Epi that produces an abundance of flowers will have exhausted itself in the process and may decide to have a rest once flowering is over. On the other hand some plants begin to put on new growth right after flowering. Since plants are living things with minds of their own, while we can develop a schedule of sorts for them, we cannot perfectly predict what any plant will do. Regular observation of a plant's condition and growing habits will tell us what the plant needs, when those needs should be met and whether or not it wants to rest.
Should I ever prune epis and how do I do that?
Pruning or cutting back should not be necessary. Healthy branches will produce flowers for several years. However, if the areoles along a stem look dead or lifeless or a stem has become unsightly for some reason, it is better to remove that stem. Always remove it from the base of the plant. Never cut half a stem off since the half left on the plant will produce new shoots usually near the cut end and eventually ruin the overall appearance of the plant. New growth should always be encouraged from the bottom of the plant for best appearance.
Potting: What pots should they be planted in and what size?
The use of plastic pots rather than clay pots helps to keep the soil cool and moist which epis enjoy. An added advantage to plastic pots is that roots don't stick to the inside of plastic pots as they do to the insides of clay pots which can result in many broken roots when re-potting. This is important since epis don't like to have their roots disturbed too much when being re-potted.
As mentioned earlier, epis in their natural habitat put down their roots into smallish pockets of decaying material. They should therefore never be grown in pots bigger than they need to be comfortable. They are happier if slightly under-potted. Being a little root-bound appears to encourage better flowering. At the other extreme if the pot is much too small the plant may stop growing. Potting on to the next size pot should only be necessary every two or three years.
After re-potting, do not water for a week or so to give any injured roots a chance to heal.
Plants with a pendant habit are suitable for hanging baskets. As stems grow they fall over the sides of the pot. When hanging these up in the greenhouse keep in mind the plants do not like high heat and full sunshine which is often found high up in a greenhouse. If you must hang the plants there make sure enough shading is provided.
On the greenhouse bench, you can reduce the space needed for each plant by using a small fan type trellis (or other type support) inserted into the soil in the pot at the back of the plant. Stems are then placed upright against the trellis and secured to it with a piece of soft material such as the stretchy tape used for tying up outdoor garden plants. For added stability the trellis can be screwed to the plastic pot. It is obviously easier to do this before you put a plant in its pot .. but it can also be done without disturbing a plant by simply screwing the support on the outside of the pot. It is probably better to do that with any plant that is well established as you don't want to risk injuring roots by pushing the trellis down into the soil. Epis have a shallow and fibrous root system which is easily damaged.
Soil: What soil should I use?
The soil for Epis must contain some organic matter. It needs to have a slightly acidic reaction. Leafmold is the best organic matter to use and oak leafmold the very best of all. A little well aged manure is also helpful. If you don't have access to these types of organic matter, the addition of horticultural peat to a good, sterilized houseplant potting soil will fit the bill. Coarse sand or grit must be added to this for drainage.
If you plan to use compost in the soil mix - remember that a little goes a long way.
Never use ordinary outdoor garden soil. There is too big a risk of introducing bugs and other problems which can attack epi roots causing serious damage. In any case most outdoor garden soil is far too heavy for any houseplants even with the addition of products to lighten its weight.
Can you suggest a basic mix?
A basic mix might be:
** The amount of coarse sand, grit or perlite may need to be adjusted up or down as soils vary from different suppliers and may be lighter or heavier from one source than it is from another. Just keep in mind epis prefer a rather loose soil mix. A loose mix helps avoid root breakage when re-potting.
- 50% sterilized houseplant potting soil low in peat. If it is high in peat depending on how peaty the soil is you may not need to add more organic matter. By low in peat I mean not the bagged potting soil that is 90% peat with very little soil.
- 30% organic matter (leafmold, compost, peat)
- 20% Coarse sand or grit or horticultural perlite to encourage drainage. I personally won't use perlite because eventually it washes up to the top of the soil. I use No. 2 chicken grit.
- A big helping of common sense**
- A little bonemeal is optional.
What about watering?
Epis should never be allowed to totally dry out. On the other hand they will rot at the roots if the soil is always soaking wet. After thorough watering, excess water must drain off quickly through the pot drainage holes so the soil is left moist and not soaking wet. Yes, there is a difference between soaking wet and moist. I always use the comparison of a sponge that has been soaked (soaking wet) to one that has been wrung out (left moist) to explain the difference. If the water drains out of the soil well, it is left moist. If it doesn't drain well the soil will be soaking wet.
How much light do these plants need?
When sun reaches Epis in their natural environment, it is filtered down to them through the branches and leaves of the trees. They are never subjected to full sun. However, it is interesting to note that plants growing in very dense trees will be found growing high up in the trees where more light is available to them than would be available further down the tree. This tells us that while epis don't want full sun, they nevertheless need very bright light. In fact, if an epi is grown in too much shade, flowering will be poor or the plant may not flower at all. When you see recommendations for growing Epis in the shade, therefore, this does not mean you should put the plants in a dark area under the greenhouse bench.
Can I grow epis under Artificial Light?
Yes. Epis can be grown successfully under grow lights. The plants should be positioned so that the lights are about 12 inches above the tallest stems. Lights should be kept on for the same length of time as natural daylight occurs out of doors, changing with the seasons of the year. More on this a little later.
If you grow the plants under lights, it will do them the world of good if you put them in a shady spot outside in late spring and summer to enjoy the fresh air and natural light for at least a few months of the year. To minimize infesting the plants with outdoor pests, don't put the plants on the ground but rather put them on a bench or a table well away from outdoor soil. More on the outdoor situation later.
What Temperature, Humidity and Ventilation do epis need?
Epis do well in temperatures between 45 and 70F. They run a high risk of damage if the temperature drops below 40F. If it goes higher than 70F some humidity must be provided by misting and/or keeping a container of water nearby which evaporates into the air adding humidity around the plants. 50% humidity is best but the plants will tolerate less than that for a while.
Ventilation is important. Don't ever cram the plants together, even for the winter months, so that air cannot circulate in and around the stems. If air cannot circulate freely you will be creating a good breeding ground for fungal infection.
Should I put epis outside in spring and summer?
Where should they go in winter months?
Epis benefit greatly by being put out of doors in a shady place in spring and summer. The heat in a greenhouse can become too much for them in the middle of summer. If grown in the house, a period out of doors is a good idea so that the plants can have some much needed fresh air. That being said .. it is often reported that once plants are put outside they encounter all sorts of problems such as spots on the stems, rotting stems, etc. While it may he handy to hang the plants from tree branches, that is where I believe the problems occur. Outdoor trees and their leaves often have all sorts of problems such as bug infestations, fungi, etc. which transfer down to the epis hanging there. I recommend not to hang the plants from trees in your yard but rather put them in a place well away from other overhanging outdoor plantings. Do not put the plants on the bare ground which invites a host of creatures to invade the pots through the drainage holes. Slugs in find epis a tasty treat!
You should also provide some rain protection so that you can continue to control the amount of water the plants receive. An unexpected dump of rain for several days could be too much for the soil in the pots to handle and rotting roots could result. If your rain water is fairly pure, however, an occasional rain watering is beneficial.
If you must grow the plants in a heated house in winter, put them in the coolest room of the house where they receive natural daylight and no artificial light after sundown. A cool period in winter along with long, dark nights not interrupted by artificial lighting will (in my own experience) encourage flower buds to form.
How much water do they require?
Unlike many other cacti, the biggest danger to epis is under watering them. Established plants should never be allowed to dry out completely. When you water the plants, water them thoroughly so that the water flows freely out through the drainage holes. Allow the soil mix to almost dry out before watering again. If you don't have a water meter to check moisture in the soil, do as I do. Go out into the garden and find a flat stone to place on top of the soil in each pot. Every few days lift the stone. If there is moisture under the stone you do not need to water. If the spot is dry, it is time to water thoroughly again.
If plants are grown in the home where there is winter heating, extra care is needed to see that the roots don't totally dry out. Sometimes in winter we tend to forget about our plants because they are resting and not performing. It is really not good to keep the plants through winter in a hot room in the house but if you have no cool room in which to put them near a bright window, make sure the roots don't go dry or the plants will either be damaged or set back and the next season's flowering will either be poor or totally curtailed.
The ideal over-wintering of these plants is in a cool greenhouse at around (45-50F). Here they may go through an entire winter on only one or two waterings and misting is not required except on a sunny day when sun warms the greenhouse. Cooler temperatures along with reduced light intensity (compared to spring and summer) and shorter days all mean the soil will not dry out nearly as fast as it does in spring and summer.
What do I do about fertilizing?
If you have just repotted a plant into fresh soil mix and the mix is adequate as outlined earlier, you don't have to add fertilizer for about 6 months. After that ...
From early spring through fall months, feed the plants at least once a month with a balanced houseplant fertilizer (20-20-20 is fine) with trace elements - taking care to dilute the fertilizer to one quarter the recommended strength. Diluting the fertilizer will ensure you are not feeding the plants with too much nitrogen which you would be doing if you mixed it at full strength. Too much nitrogen will encourage growth of stems at the expense of flowers.
Do not fertilize your plants in late fall and winter months.
Do not fertilize plants that are sickly.
I prefer to use a liquid fertilizer for all my plants rather than a granular one because a liquid fertilizer will immediately mix well with the water and be readily available to the plants' roots. Some recommend using a bloom booster fertilizer a few weeks before flowering, also at quarter strength.
When do the plants actively grow?
Epis begin active growth in later winter or spring and many put on new growth in early fall. Then there are my own plants which often put out new shoots in the middle of winter! As I said before, we can set a schedule but the plants do what they want to do when they want to do it and not when we think they should.
In nature a resting period is brought about by a long dry spell or cold period and during these conditions growth stops. It follows therefore that if there is a period of cooler weather or short days and colder weather, it is important not to try to stimulate growth. Let the plants rest through that period as they would in nature. That means water only enough to prevent the roots from drying out and do not fertilize.
How do I get seeds from my own plants?
True species come true from seed. Epi hybrids do not. For hybrids, only cuttings will produce a duplicate of the original plant.
To get true seed a flower must be pollinated with pollen from another individual of the same species. If all the plants in your collection came from cuttings of the same plant, which means they are all part of the same individual, there is no point trying to pollinate the flowers.
The procedure is simple. The ripe stigma is liberally dusted with pollen from a freshly opened flower. The trick is to know when the stigma is ripe. Sometimes the stigma is ripe and receptive when petals collapse and it is left sticking out of the faded flower and sometimes it can even be ripe before the buds open. If the pollen 'takes' the ovary remains green and attached to the plant after the rest of the flower fades. If it doesn't take, the entire flower fades and eventually drops off.
Tell me about fruits and seeds
If plants are growing in a greenhouse many flowers will be pollinated by bees and fruits will form on the stems as a result. One fruit is produced per areole. Fruit will only mature if the seed has been fertilized. If it is not fertilized the partially developed fruit will fall off.
There is a wide variety of color, surface texture, spines and flavor of epi fruits. Yes, the fruits are edible. Although I must warn you if you are tempted to taste them that some fruits have a very unpleasant, acrid taste. On average fruits take about a year to ripen. Some ripen much earlier and some later. When the fruit is ripe the color usually changes to red but sometimes also to yellow. A few varieties remain green. The best way to determine if a fruit is ripe is by feeling it. When it becomes slightly soft it is ripe.
If you plan to sow the seeds, try to be patient if you are waiting for a fruit to ripen because seeds from pods that are not ripe will take a very long time to germinate .. if ever. Seeds of epis are often disappointing in their low rate of germination which is another good reason to propagate from cuttings.
When the pods are cut open you will see shiny black seeds embedded in a soft pulp. Seeds and pulp are removed from the fruit. There is no really quick way to separate the two. Try putting both in a jar of water and let them soak overnight. The water will separate much of the pulp from the seeds. Next day drain off the water and spread the seeds on a piece of kitchen paper towelling. Let them dry in a warm place. Seeds can then easily be flicked off the paper into a container. Most if not all of the dried pulp will remain stuck to the paper. Do not try this on Kleenex from which, for some reason, the seeds and pulp refuse to let go.
When sowing seeds, strong light promotes germination. Sow the seeds on the surface of the soil. Do not cover them. If you cover the seeds with soil they could take up to two or three years to germinate, if ever! Germination should happen in three to five weeks.
How do I take stem cuttings?
Cuttings are best taken in spring and summer. They may root at other times but rooting is not as good or as fast as in warmer weather and in fall and winter you run a bigger risk of the cuttings rotting.
Cuttings of newer growth usually root faster than cuttings of much older stems. Cuttings of complete stems make the best cuttings although smaller section cuttings will also root.
Sever the stem from the plant. Then take another cut on the bottom of the cutting to about a 1/8 inch below an areole. Allow the cutting to dry and callous over well for about two weeks and then insert into a pot of mix pushing it down about a half inch into the soil.
If the cutting rots, take it out of the soil and make another cut to healthy tissue again just below an areole and try again.
Cuttings may be dipped in rooting hormone powder but I have tried cuttings with and without rooting hormone and I have found no advantage to using the powder. Others may have a different experience. If you do use rooting hormone powder, be aware that you must dust off all the excess because according to the manufacturers of these products, too much rooting hormone will actually inhibit rooting.
If it happens you have a cutting that keeps rotting all the way to the growing tip of the stem, believe it or not you can root the small cutting that's left - upside down! It will take a lot longer for the upside down cutting to grow and produce new shoots but eventually it will and the new shoots will grow the right way up.
Do not take stem cuttings immediately after flowering because this is when the plants have spent a lot of energy on flowering. Give them time to recoup that energy and wait to take cuttings for two or three weeks after flowering has finished.
Cuttings can take anywhere from three to six weeks to root. During the time the cuttings should be kept in a warm, bright, humid place.
When taking cuttings to begin new plants, don't brandish the knife carelessly. Trim the plant with a view to keeping its appearance unspoiled. Don't take so many cuttings that you have only a sad skeleton of the plant left. You can prune a plant to death if you are not careful.
All cuttings should be staked to avoid the need to push the cutting too much into the soil where moisture can cause rot. The stake should be removed as soon as the roots are sufficient to take the weight of the cutting and support it.
Another way to root a stem is to take a stem with adventitious roots (while leaving it on the plant) and pin it down into another pot of soil. The roots will go down into the soil. The stem can be severed from the main plant when roots have sufficiently established themselves in the soil so as to support the new plant.
You should label every cutting. If you are taking multiple cuttings you can easily forget which plant had which color flower. To save time while propagating from cuttings, you can write on the stem itself with a ball point pen (careful not to press too hard to break the skin) and this will last quite a long time. Then when you have more time you can write out proper labels and insert them in each pot.
Larger plants can be divided by splitting the plant root system down the middle into two pieces with roots on each plant portion. Allow the two separated plants to dry for a couple of days before potting up and then don't water for about two weeks. During this time keep the plant in a cool, shady place to prevent the roots drying out too much before watering is started again. If weather is very hot, mist the stems to provide humidity.
Can I graft epis?
Yes you can. Grafting can be used to create an interesting standard plant by grafting epi stem cuttings on to a tall growing columnar cactus. The result is a fountain of epi stems cascading over the top of the columnar cactus. Opuntias and selenicerei are often suggested as good stocks for epis. Selenicerei are especially recommended for grafting epi seedlings. Stocks are the plants onto which we graft other plants. The plants we graft on to the stocks are called scions.
As soon as seedlings are big enough to handle they are big enough to graft. For Selenicereus and other stocks, cut the tip off the stock and place the seedling, after cutting off its own base, on to the stock. There should be no need for weights as the seedling should stick to the stock without pressure. For more on cactus grafting in general (too long to go into here) see our how-to booklet entitled Cactus Grafting Made Easy.
What pests do I look out for on epis?
Mealy bug, scale and fungus gnats are the worst culprits. Slugs love epis if plants are left out of doors.
Mealy bug are whitish insects that leave a cottony residue. These can be removed by hand if you find only a few. They can also be controlled by spraying the stems with an insecticidal soap. I find this a drawback because unless thoroughly washed off later, it leaves a sticky residue. I prefer to use a spray of water to which I add a couple of tablespoons of isopropyl alcohol. The alcohol dissipates quickly without harm to the plant but kills off the pests it touches.
Never spray the stems of epis with insecticides which can damage the stems and/or kill the plants.
If mealy bugs are on the stems chances are they are also in the soil mix. It is best to knock the plant out of its pot to check to see if the bugs are present in the soil. If they are you will see masses of white whispy stuff like cotton wool adhering to the soil and sometimes to the insides and bottom of the pot.
If you find mealy bugs in the soil try a soak with soapy water which often kills the bugs or if the infestation is really bad, I'm afraid you have to unpot, remove as much soil from the roots as possible, wash the roots and the plant under warm soapy water, rinse well with warm water and repot into fresh soil mix. Sterilize the old pot so that no trace of bugs can transfer to the next plant you put in it. Epi roots will not appreciate this treatment but the pests can cause far more damage if not dealt with.
Scale are small round usually tan colored insects which hide under a hard shell. These can easily be removed by hand if caught in their early stages. These too can be treated with insecticidal soap and sometimes the isopropyl alcohol treatment will work on them too.
If you summer your plants in the garden, remember that slugs love epis and can do tremendous damage in a very short time. Do not put the plants on the ground giving slugs easy access not to mention other garden pests which might be very difficult to get rid of.
Fungus gnats are real pests and are attracted by the moist organic matter in the soil. You must get rid of these or they will spread to all your plants. Add a little insecticidal soap to the water when you do a thorough watering through the soil. I have found adding a little isopropyl alcohol to the water helps deter them too. Do not overdo the addition of peat or other organic matter to the soil which attracts these gnats. A top dressing of small grit over the soil helps to deter these unwanted pests.
Are there any other problems with these plants?
Yes. Here are a few and I hope you never encounter them!Fungus and bacteria
Epi hybrids seem subject to a number of fungal and bacterial diseases sometimes showing up as black rot. Not much is known about why this happens or how to cure the problem. Infected plants should be destroyed at once before the problem(s) spreads to other plants. The best control is to give your plants the growing conditions they prefer and to make sure the areas where they grow are really well ventilated. The addition of a small fan in a greenhouse can work wonders. Don't, however, aim the fan at the plants. Drafts and chills should be avoided.
Spots or Holes on Stems
Spots on stems or holes in them can sometimes appear. These are usually due to a drastic difference in temperature from day time to night time with rapid cooling in the evening. The plants and flowers are not really affected by these problems. You cannot avoid the occasional spot or hole unless you can provide a perfectly controlled environment and most of us just cannot do that.
Some spots may appear on stems which have come into contact with spines on other cacti or other Epis. These are harmless. They just ruin the look of the stems. It is wise to keep your epis from coming in contact with other plants with spines or thorns. And of course avoid having them so close together that they tend to puncture each other.
Sunken spots on stems creating a mottled effect may be caused by improper feeding or forcing by too strong fertilizers.
Plants that have had too much sun will take on a yellow look. If moved to a shadier place they should regain their green color in time.
A bad sunburn may not kill the plant but will scar the stems permanently.
A stem will wither when it has literally almost flowered itself to death. After a rest period and attention to watering, the stem may return to normal. If it doesn't, remove it.
If stems die back it is a sign that either the root system is damaged or the plant is not getting enough food either from spent soil or from lack of proper fertilizing.
Dried sunken areas on stems
These are an indication of root rot.
Dried sunken areas on stems with yellow/orange discolored blotches
This is a sign that soil is too soggy or roots have been badly disturbed in the repotting process.
Of general interest
Cuttings of stems left in a dry place have been known to root perfectly well after as long as a year without being potted up.
Epi stems don't signal a lack of water by shrivelling as some cacti do.
When young, epi seedlings are cylindrical and covered with whitish spines. They will not flower until this stage has been passed and the mature flattened stems are produced. When the flattened stems appear, it is thought to be a good idea to take them as cuttings because it is said they will flower earlier than if left on the seedling roots.
Epiphyllum species (night flowering)
According to The Cactus Family by Edward F. Anderson (2001) the following are the species of Epiphyllum which are night flowering:
E. cranatum and var crenatum, var kimnachii
Many species previously known as epiphyllums have been transferred to other genera including Disocactus, Hatiora, Pseudorhipsalis, Rhipsalis, Selenicereus, Schlumbergera.
If you would like to share your successes (and even failures) with these fabulous plants, I would be delighted to hear from you. Your photos would be an added bonus. Please send photos as jpgs maximum size 65K.
Readers' Comments, Questions and Answers
Subject: What's wrong with her Epiphyllum?
Kathy L. - USA
Kathy L. USA wants to know what's wrong with her Epiphyllum. See photo.
AnswerSubject: EPI advice please
After receiving an outline of Kathy's growing conditions for the plant, I suspect a number of problems in the plant's care have caused the stems to dry up. My questions, her answers and my conclusions as follows:
Do you put it outside in spring/summer? ....No it has always been in our sunroom set on a shelf in the corner at about eye level.
Where is it most of the year. .....Has always been where it is in the photo How much light does it get year round. being in the corner like that its indirect light, but fairly well lit The plant needs more light. It does not want full sun but it does need the brightest light possible and that cannot be had where it is in the corner against what appears to be darkish walls.
When was the last time you repotted it with fresh soil? What kind of soil was it? ....It was miracle gro, probably about five years ago.
This plant urgently needs repotting into fresh soil which should be acid rich. In other words add peat to a good potting soil. The pot is too big for the plant as well.
How often do you feed it and with what fertilizer? ....It has been a long time since fertilized i believe it was a 10.19.10 fertilizer
After five years in the same soil and no fertilizer you will not have a healthy plant.
If there are any stems (leaves) that are problem free, if it were my plant I'd take cuttings and start again.
Did you read my article at http://www.theamateursdigest.com/epis.htm It will tell you all you need to know about caring for these plants.
Craig S. - USA
I finally got the courage to prune my epi as you suggested and now have a few more questions. I started by removing the stems which I found what I believe is scale &the brownish bumps on the underside of the stems. Have I identified this correctly?AnswerCraig S. - USA
Good idea to get rid of the stems with the scale as you were pruning. Yes, it looks like scale to me.
What causes the scale..soil conditions, external environment, growing conditions, cold winter environment? I tried scraping the bump off with my finger nail on a removed stem and it looked like it would leave a bruise.AnswerCraig S. - USA
I have no idea. Different types of scale are attracted to different plants. It doesn't have anything to do with environment as far as I know. One possibility .. you might have brought them in on another plant? Removing scale always leaves a mark. You can use a soft sponge soaked in alcohol to rub them off which would cause less damage than your fingernail.
Your article says scale can be treated with insecticidal soap or sprayed with a water/isopropyl alcohol mixture. You suggest a couple of tablespoons of isopropyl alcohol with water & 2 tablespoons mixed with how much water?AnswerCraig S. - USA
A regular spray bottle holds around 20 ounches (568 ml). You could fill this with water and add 2-4 tablespoons of alcohol. I'd start with 4 since you seem to have a bit of an infestation.
Do you spray the entire plant top and bottom surfaces with a fine spray or soaking spray until dripping?AnswerCraig S. - USA
A fine spray top and bottom of leaves is fine. I'd water a little into the soil as well.
Which method do you suggest I start with?AnswerCraig S. - USA
I'd try the alcohol/water treatment first. The insecticidal soap is more work since it has to be rinsed off after a couple of days. Sticky you know.
I also found a critter that was chewing holes in a few stems &..black bug (mealy bug?) in a web directly under a leaf he was working on.AnswerCraig S. - USA
I have no idea what this is cause I can't see it. Mealy bugs are white. This may be spider mite but usually you can't see those without a magnifying glass. They do, however, chew pieces out of plants.
My last question/concern&you can see from the pictures how much material I removed from the plant. I think that I removed most if not all of the scale, but I stopped pruning because of concern of shocking the plant. Did I prune too much? Would you still recommend further pruning to open up the plant more?
I hope that the next pictures I send you are of blooming.Answer
It is not wise to prune more than 1/3 of the plant at a time to keep shock to a minimum. I think you pruned it enough for now.
Subject: EPI leaf curl
Craig S. - USA
I am a novice at EPI s&&
Is there a reason that many of the leaves on my epi have a curl to them? The curl shown in the pictures developed while it was outside this summer
The attached pictures were taken yesterday 1/28/09 in the garage&..I live in Portland, Oregon
I have had the plant for 3 years&the first 2 years it was indoors 100% of the time. It seem to grow well but on the thin and spindly side. Last year I repotted to a larger pot with fresh soil and placed outside in June hanging under the eave, where it remained until early November. At that time I moved it into the garage to avoid light frosts at night. The plant really took off with lots of new growth, much larger and thicker leaves and good bright color. I don t know if it was the repotting or being outside that made such a difference&probably both.
I fertilized with a 10-10-10 once a month while it was outside. I have only watered it lightly once a month since moving it into the garage. It does not get below 40 degrees in the garage and it is getting about 10 hours of florescent light each day&..no windows in the garage.
The plant has not yet bloomed&.I am hoping it will this year since wintering in the cooler, darker environment.
The lighter yellow on the leaves is from the camera flash&.the leaves are a consistent green.
When should the buds start showing so that I can be watching for them? I have read that you should not move the plant once the plant starts setting buds?
What causes the main leaf to form many offset leaves? Is this good or bad for blooming? Should they be cut off and to what effect?
Any comments as to overall health of the plant and suggestions to help promote blooming?
I appreciate you time and efforts and am looking forward to your responses. Thank you,
That's some gorgeous plant you have there.
With regard to the curling of the leaves .. ruling out that the white patches are a camera problem and not on the leaves themselves which might indicate powdery mildew .. or pests .. all I can think of is that the curling leaves, as you will notice, are all on the same side of the plant and all the curlers face the same direction. When it was outside under the eave did that side of the plant get less light than the other? Was it facing against the house while the opposite side faced away from the house where there was more light? They might have been changing shape in the process of reaching out for more light. That is a process called etiolation. The same thing can happen to a plant under fluorescent lights if all parts of the plant are not getting an equal amount of light or a sufficient amount of light.
You mention it now has a cooler, darker environment. Without seeing it and how much light it is actually receiving I can't say if lack of light is the problem. However, epis do need the brightest light possible year round.
It seems late to bring the plant indoors in November. If the temp outside is below 50F, preferably 55F or even 60F, since Epis are tropical plants, they do not take kindly to less than warm temperatures. I wager in the garage "at not below 40F" your epi is not a happy camper. Resulting troubles do not always show up immediately with succulents.
I can't tell you when your plant will bloom. Different epis bloom at different times but most bloom in spring.
Your plant look happy and healthy but I think it is far too dense. I would do some judicial pruning to open it up some. You could remove those 'leaves' on 'leaves'. All I can think about those is that the plant has had too much nitrogen which is also why your plant has become so luscious and dense with all those overlapping 'leaves'. If it does flower there won't be enough space for them to develop.
Yes, once you see flower buds .. don't move the plant or buds may drop off.
Three important things about getting your plant to bloom (also in my article) is to provide several weeks of short days before spring begins. Do not over-pot the plant. It prefers to be pot bound. And provide a soil mix that has an acid reaction.
Do read my above mentioned article and if you have any other questions, let me know.
WOW....thanks for the quick response. I will go back and read your article on your website more thoroughly and check to see when and how to prune (thin).
The curl did develop last summer......one side was towards the house and I did not rotate the plant much....I will this year. Thanks again for your advice.
Subject: Epi fruits
Jessica H. - USA
Hello, I am hoping you can help us. We acquired about15 epi plants 2 years ago and have definately enjoyed them. We have even made several more plants from cuttings. in the past month, about 6 of the plants have developed fruit ...I think. I am not an expert , and am not sure what I should do with these "fruits". If you have any info please send it. I was going to take some more cuttings and plant them but the fruit is attached to some of the cuttings and we had a lot of blooms this year, so there are a lot of fruits. I am sending some pics to help you answer. Thanks, Jessica
The green portion from which the dried flower is hanging is indeed a fruit. Do not remove it until it is ripe which is when the seeds will have formed. This on average takes about a year. Some fruits eipen much earlier and some later. It will turn color as time goes on. When the fruit is ripe the color usually changes to red - sometimes also to yellow. A few varieties remain green. The best way to determine if a fruit is ripe is by feeling it. When it becomes slightly soft it is ripe.
When the time comes, don't twist the fruit off. Cut it off with a sharp knife. The same applies to spent flowers.
Remember .... fruit will only mature if the seed has been fertilized. If it has not been fertilized the partially developed fruit will fall off.
Epis from seed take a long time and germination is not the greatest. That's why cuttings are faster.
Subject: Epiphyllum german empress
Jenie.. - Australia
I found your address on the internet and would very appreciate it if you could please have a look at my German Empress and possibly advise me of a cure.
This is my German Empress approx 3 years old - she usually hangs in the trees.
When she comes to bloom I bring her to the house and admire her blooms.
It is currently winter here and she is not in bloom.
Living in the shelter of the trees the plant does not get frequent inspection. Some of the foliage has turned all spotty and red tinged at the leaf outline - does not look like rust - looks more like bites??? Could scale in the past cause damage like that?? The damage is only on the upper surface underneath the leaves look intact.
Thanking you , Jenie
What a beautiful plant you have.
Epis are susceptible to fungal leaf spot especially during the winter months under excessive humidity and cool conditions.
The spots look like a fungus to me. I don't believe this is scale damage.
Dust the plant with a fungicide or if not too many stems are affected, just remove them. I would also find another location for the plant. While it gives a nice show to have the plants hanging from a tree, it is safer to keep the epis away from trees where any number of "tree problems" can translate to the plants not the least of which is fungus and even bugs.
The turning purple stem edges are all part of the same problem.
Thank you for sharing a wonderful photo.
Subject: Epiphyllum bud drop
Anonymous - UK
Do you happen to have any thoughts as to why an apparently vigorous epi, should suddenly have almost all its large remaining buds stop developing, sag, droop, lose colour and fail to open? I'm sure it's not too wet or too dry. Two handsome flowers have opened and eventually faded. Does the plant perhaps feel that suffices, that no further exertion is required? I've had epis with up to a dozen successful flowers, sometimes over a span of more than three weeks.
Epi flower buds react to sudden changes in temperature or moving the plant to a new location. Is it possible either one is likely?
Alas, either or both might be possible. I moved the plant to take its picture and I think it might also have been slightly cooled.
Bother. I didn't think of that. I've known for a long time that schlumbergeras hate being moved once buds have formed. I didn't realize that might also apply to epis. In fact it clearly doesn't always because I've been pretty casual about moving epis in bud. I'd better be more careful.
It may be when you were lucky the buds were not as far along as they were on the plant in question.
Subject: Orchid cactus
Sherry - USA
What a great site you have! thanks so much for all of that info. I bought a pink orchid cactus last year in full bloom. I had never seen the plant before and I loved it. After the blooms finally dropped the plant continued to grow well. I still have it in the pot from the greenhouse, it gets watered once a week (soaked and drained) and hangs in a window in my northeastern home where it gets (I think) filtered light. It's in a big bay window suspended and the lower half of the window gets full light but the top is more shaded. From spring to late fall the windows there are opened as much as possible so I think it's getting a good amount of fresh air as well. The plant part seems to be doing fabulously but it didn't bloom this year. I took some photos to show you to see if you could see anything that looks bad. I am assuming that the soil mix the greenhouse gave it was good since it was in full bloom when I got it. Again, haven't changed a thing. Thanks so much for any advice or help you can give. Hope the pics aren't too much, shrank them as much as I could.
The plant looks very healthy. I would also assume the soil mix is right if the plant came from a greenhouse and was in full bloom.
The entire plant needs very bright light but not direct sun. Only you can tell how much light it's getting. Light should be even all around the plant.
Watering should be done when the plant needs it - not on a regular schedule. When the soil has almost but not totally dried out that is the time it should be thoroughly watered.
Epis need a period of several weeks before blooming (usually late winter), when they should only have the same amount of light as light appears outside .. these short days trigger flowering in spring for spring blooming species. This poses a problem for plants indoors which receive light from artificial lights in the house. You have to cover the plant at dusk and remove the cover next morning to give the short day effect.
Pics are great. Thanks for sharing.
Colleen - USA
Thank you so much for your informative website! I love my Cereus and I am a little concerned with its slowly dying leaves. The leaves have been gradually turning over the last few months. I recently repotted it as I thought the pot may be too small, and the roots were quite root bound which I heard was good. There were no signs of fungus or mold. Am i simply over or under watering it? I kept it inside next to a west facing window, which didnt get much light, through the fall and winter and recently put it outside on the porch where it seemed to get worse.
Could you please give me some advice? Thank You so much,
Sorry to say your plant is in deep trouble. If it were my plant I would remove the healthier looking leaves at the top and root them to start new plants.
Your epi looks like it has not had enough light for a long time. To suddenly put it outside on the porch just added to the problem. Never move a sick plant suddenly to a new location. Is there sun on the porch? This would only burn the leaves making them worse.
Epis do not grow tall and stringy like that. This is the first sign that growing conditions are not right. Lack of light weakens the plant and brings on other problems over time such as the one you are having with the leaves.
Once you start new plants, if you follow my instructions for growing conditions (in the article on this web site) you will have much more success in future.
Tina W. - USA
hello I have a newly acquired two year old 'german empress' and it just bloomed. I potted the plant and withheld water for a week misting lightly daily, My potting mix was cactus soil (miracle grow 3 month feed), perlite and small bark My question to you is I noticed there are some dark spots on a few of the leaves and being new to epies I'm not sure what it is or how to treat it. I had two people tell me it is due to blooming one saying over blooming stress" hope for the best" and the other saying it will be fine this is normal after blooming. I hope you can help me I'm a scare to lose it. The shiny spots you see are from recent misting
Did you read my article on this web site about how to grow epiphyllums? It will tell you everything you need to know to grow your plant successfully including what potting soil to use, etc.
You wrote to me a few days ago on this subject and I asked you what the analysis was of the soil mix you used. Miracle Gro sell a great variety of mixes intended for different plants with different needs. I can't tell you if the soil is correct without knowing what the analysis is. The article mentioned above will tell you what the soil requirements are for epis.
My article also says ...
Fungus and bacteria
Epi hybrids seem subject to a number of fungal and bacterial diseases sometimes showing up as black rot. Not much is known about why this happens or how to cure the problem.
I worry about the use of Miracle Gro soil for these plants because Miracle Gro says (on their web site) .... "We do not sterilize Miracle-Gro(r) Potting Mix. Research studies have shown that the naturally occurring microorganisms present in the mix actually help plants absorb nutrients and result in fuller, healthier plants. The microorganisms present are not harmful to humans or pets, but as with any soil, we recommend handling the mix with gardening gloves to keep your hands clean." Since epis are prone to fungus and bacteria, I personally would prefer to use a mix that has been sterilized even though I understand the benefits as explained by Miracle Gro of not sterilizing it for many other plants.
With regard to your current "spot" problem, since you say you mist daily. That is far too often. The plants enjoy a humid atmosphere and "occasional" misting.
If you have hard water, especially if you are misting daily, that could cause problems too.
The spots have nothing to do with blooming - which information you obtained from other sources.
The second thing I observe is that your plant - if you are growing it where it is in the photo - is not getting enough light. Epis need very bright light to be healthy. Lack of enough light weakens a plant and open it up to all sorts of problems.
The plant should never be allowed to totally dry out - but it should not be drowned either. Please read my article which also explains about watering epis.
Yes I read your article it was very helpful. I used cactus miracle soil 1/3, 1/3 perlite and about 1/3 small bark mixed together really well. The water meter I use is a rapid test mini meter from luster leaf. I have it off slightly to the side of my patio door it gets fairly bright light there but not directly. Do you think it may need more light? The photo I took and sent you was taken at night with the drapes closed. I do have hard water so I will stop the misting. It doesn't look like scale to you than? Thank you for all your help.
Your soil mix is on the lean side. Epis need a richer soil than most other cacti. I can't be specific because I still don't know the analysis of the soil mix you are using. It doesn't sound too bad though.
When your water meter shows the soil is almost dry it's time to thoroughly water the plant .. and then wait until the water meter shows it's almost dry again. Numbers on the meter are not that important because you are never going to control the moisture to the point where you keep the soil moisture at a specific number.
I can't tell how much light your plant is getting but sounds from what you say, and your photo, that the plant would be happier with more light. Any plant in a corner against walls will not be getting enough light on the back of the plant in any case. Fairly bright is not enough. It needs the brightest light possible without direct sunshine.
No. The spots are definitely not scale.
So you do have hard water. Not a good idea to mist with it. Try collecting some rain water or buy bottled water and do mist occasionally but not every day and never when weather is cool, overcast or raining.
Subject: My garage sale Epi
Laura R. - Canada
I just read your incredible words of wisdom on these amazing plants. I bought one from a neighbour back in '98 at her garage sale, and it sat for many years just doing nothing. I had repotted it because the pot it was in was terribly ugly! Not realizing that this would make it unhappy, I patiently waited......and waited...........and waited some more. Summer 2005 I was FINALLY rewarded! And 2006 and 2007 as well!
During the late fall, winter and early spring, my Epi hangs in our foyer, about 6 feet away from a large south facing window above our front door. It has lots of air circulation here, and, lots of natural light. We don't keep our house too hot, even in winter (much to my husband's chagrin) because my plants don't like it! Once Spring FULLY arrives, I put my Epi outside, under cover, on our deck when the temperatures do not go below 50.
Its first spot is under the eaves, with only morning and early evening sunshine. Then, once the Wisteria is all filled in , it hangs under it, still under cover, but all the while enjoying the filtered sunshine throughout the day, through the wisteria leaves, so it just LOVES it. It keeps my geraniums company as well!
Thought I would share this with you, as well as some pictures as well.
Thanks for the amazing info on these incredible cacti. I am going to take some cuttings this year, and see if I can cultivate them and share their beauty with friends and neighbours!
Barry - USA
Do Epis need a higher PH? The reason why I ask is because I shopped for a soil acidifier for my Epi plants. Found and bought this Soil Acidifier that states on the front cover 90% Element Sulfer, lowers PH, improves plant hardiness, and Improves color and general appearance. This application is used for Blueberries, Azaleas, Blue Hydrangeas and trees.
Should I use this product or should I just repot my epis with a peatmoss mixture?
Please let me know and thanks much!!
Epis need a soil that is more acidic than most other succulent plants. That is why I suggested you add a little peat to the potting soil to make sure it was more acidic than regular soil.
If you are going to use an acidifier for the soil then you need to know the pH of your soil first because if you add something strong meant for trees and shrubs outdoors, you could be making the soil too acid and how will you know how acid you are making it? A little too much around an outdoor shrub or tree doesn't do much harm .. but in a small pot .. it could do a lot of harm.
Since you said you were a beginner, if I were you I would not mess around with anything other than the bare necessities as I explained the plants need. Once you have an outstanding major collection of healthy plants !!! and want to experiment, you can buy a pH meter to measure your soil's acidity and take it from there. Then if you do something wrong and lose a plant it will be a learning experience not a disaster.
It is far easier and much safer to make a soil mix of potting soil and grit and adding a little peat to it. Then you use a tomato-type fertilizer at 1/4 strength once a month in spring and summer. However, if the soil mix is fresh you don't need to fertilize for the first six months. There will be enough nutrients in the fresh soil to keep the plants happy for that period of time. And do not feed during short day winter months.
Subject: New 'Epi' grower!
Barry S. - USA
Hello, Unfortunitely I am pretty much a weakling at all this Epiphyllum statistics and all but I'm pretty sure I know what I'm doing by now. Added about five photos for you to check out. The very first photo is an Epiphyllum I bought near (Tampa) Florida area while my Mother spent her first month of vacation down there on Treasure Island in a condo right next to the Gulf of Mexico from the Fox Valley area of Wisconsin.
Right now I (Barry) am located in the town of Neenah, WI. My plants are currently located and have to be near the south window that I have in my dublex. From what I have read this location is not the best place for my plants to be. I also have a Epiphyllum oxypetalum "Night Blooming Cereus" and an Epiphyllum 'Gonways Giant' growing inside the same pot on her east side porch of her house that both seem to be doing fine. Ever since I have owned my own 'Epi' plants, I have never been able to get any flower buds off of there leaves from what I understand seems to be were the blooms appear.... Is there anything I need to be doing since I have been growing the Night Blooming Cereus for at least 3 years?
Please inform me if you will.... Thank you~!!
You are right. Epis do not like direct sun. They hate it. They also don't like high heat. If all you have is a south facing window then you have to find a way to shade the plants from the direct sun. 50% shade cloth over the window would do the trick and not be too expensive. On the other hand they won't get enough light if grown in a corner of the room where there is little or no light from a bright window.
If your plants are not flowering then they are not happy with their growing conditions.
Decide where you will grow the plants permanently and leave them in one location. They don't like to be moved around a lot. Every time you move them it takes time for them to become used to their new environment. This can affect flowering.
Most epiphyllums bloom in the daytime - they are technically Epiphyllum hybrids. The true Epiphyllum species flower at night. Not many people have those these days.
After seeing your photos, your pots are waaaaay too big. Epis prefer to be pot bound. This is one thing that can affect flowering. From what I see of your plants they would all be much happier in 4 to 5 inch pots.
What is that I see in the pot that you use for soil? The soil mix should be half good potting soil, 1/4 some type of grit for drainage and 1/4 peat for acidity. Very important that the soil has an acid reaction which is provided by the peat.
Epis need a period of several weeks of short days before blooming. Epis in the greenhouse enjoy this easily as there are no indoor lights to interfere with the short days. Indoors, however, you need to cover the plants at dusk so they are in total darkness and take off the cover next morning when it is once again light outside.
Finally, don't be too fast to take cuttings of plants. Let the plants grow to maturity and flowering size and if you need a cutting or two wait until there are plenty of extras. Each time you cut a plant you give it a shock. If plants are busy getting over shocks, they are too busy doing that to flower.
Have you read my article on Epiphyllums (Orchid Cactus) on this site?
Well Hello there Marina W.~!! Now that you explained all these inportant 'Epi' growing tips, I'm pretty sure I'm handleing them all wrong~!! Just for the fact that I don't have any type of PeatMoss added to the soil mixture of Potting soil, Orchid mix, and Perlite and that since I live in such a smaller dublex in the frozen Tundra of Wisconsin along the lines that I have been moving them quite often for there watering and fertilizing needs. I'm pretty sure nothing is going to happen for this springtime and summer. Like I said before, I'm a newby at all this along with the pot sizes that they are currently growing in. I have been told elsewhere pretty much the same thing about pot sizes. I'm only 28 years old so I've got a lot of learning to do and I also need to build up patients for myself to find a better way of nurturing these wonderful plants. I'm just really upset that I still don't have it all down in a nutshell 'say to speak'.... Time will tell I guess.
Two more question for you Marina, If I subscribe to The Amateurs' Digest, what will this subscription do for me as in information? Your comment about my pot sizes, what can I do now that these 'Epis' have been going through a pattern of growth for the past couple months? Will I be able to retransplant them to a smaller sized pot?
Please let me know and thank you so much for your time to respond to my message~!!!
I don't know too much about orchids but I have read comments by various of their societies concerning Orchid potting mix. Apparently in time it can become highly acidic .. which could be too acidic for your epis, especially when you consider the amount of mix you have in such big pots.
You can transplant them any time into smaller pots. The only time I would not do that is when the plants are flowering.
It would be very nice to have you subscribe to our Digest but if you are looking for a publication devoted mainly to epis, while we have photos and information on the plants now and again, our Digest is devoted to a great variety of cacti, succulents and caudiciforms. If you plan to get involved in growing other plants, I would encourage you to join. If only epis, I'm not sure it would be of much use to you.
After 20 years in print our Digest will be going on line in full color September 1, 2008. Subscription cost will be very affordable. You might want to consider joining at that time. Details will be on our web site beginning of August.
Kay T. - USA
I received a cutting from a friend some time back and I planted it. I'm sorry to say that I didn't know how to take care of it, and it currently does not look good. I think I can salvage some of it, but may end up losing it. I have copied off your page on orchid cactus and I'm going to have a go at pruning and cuttings, but I think I would like to learn more about them and buy some more. Will you share a web page of someone who ships to private parties? Have you grown them under artificial lights? I live in the mountains in a valley that has a short growing season, and we are at around 2500 feet elevation. I would like to put my plant out in the summer, but I'm afraid it might do worse outside. So, I'm looking into a light setup.
Anyway, thank you in advance. (The blooms on your plants are exquisite.)
What's wrong with the cutting? This is the best time of year to root cuttings.
I don't know of any private parties that might have cuttings to share. You would have to try a free ad on our swap and shop page.
Yes you can grow them successfully under artificial lights.
You can put them out in summer but in a shady place and where they won't drown if it rains.
It looks pretty abused. It is light green, looks like it hasn't been watered (it has) and it has very thin growths on it. I have been cruising the net, and for one thing, I just planted it in potting soil, in a clay pot and then put it in a window (south facing) So I think it has a sunburn as well as poor growing medium. It just looks straggly. Nothing like the ones that I saw at the amateurs digest.I have a ways to go before I rank as amateur. LOL!! Thank you for the reply.
Most important don't put the plant in the sun. It must have bright light but not direct sunshine.
The potting soil has to be on the acid side. It needs to have a little peat added. Also some grit to make it very well draining. If you can repot into the right soil and put it in a place where it gets bright light with no sun, and don't water it until it looks better, it might survive. Don't feed it either.
Subject: Epiphyllum oxypetalum (Cereus oxypetalus)
Michele S. - USA
It seems my night blooming cereus has gotten leaf spot and fungal rot I see in your article that you suggest it be destroyed Is there nothing to be done? I have had this plant for 20 years I guess this winter I was overly attentive with watering.
What a shame. I know how you feel.
You don't have to destroy it if it has any healthy leaves and if you can keep it totally isolated from other plants.
Are there no healthy leaves or parts of leaves you can use as cuttings to start new plants? If not the plant is a gonner I'm afraid. Where exactly is the rot?
Thank you so much for writing back.
It does have lots of healthy parts left. I have quit watering for awhile and will let it get really dry before watering again. I guess I was thinking the same thing you suggest, that if it continues to attack the plant I will cut off all the good pieces and reroot.
I had planned to repot it as soon as I can take it outside. I live in an apt. bldg in Brooklyn, NY. My apt doesn't get a whole lot of light (I had brought the plant from a former home in Ohio). It does well outside hanging on my window gate. If it can hang in there until mid-may when I can hang it outside, I am hoping it might recover. But I was going to take it out of the pot once it is outside and see what has happened to the roots. Maybe I can cut off bad parts. Do they actually turn to mush?
Do you think repotting and getting rid of some of the rotted root will help?
One new arm - of the plant not the root - actually had a long blister on it that was kind of gooey yellow. I have cut off all blackened shoots at their nodes on the bigger stem they had grown from. I never imagined I could have overwatered it after all these years. And I had just given it some fish fertilizer which they also say not to do.
Any info or insight you could give would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you again very much
From what you say the problem may well be not enough light. While the plant should not be grown in full sun it nevertheless needs very bright light .. otherwise lack of light will eventually weaken the plant and then it is open to all kinds of problems such as the ones you are having. You might consider a grow light. There are all types now including single ones for plants. If there are lots of healthy parts left I suggest for the leaves affected you cut them right off at the stem.
Yes,rot can turn leaves and roots to mush.
Yes I would repot the plant. I would also give it a good spray with a fungicide.
I would not fertilize it until you see definite signs of improvement. I would not water it either until you can unpot it and see what condition the roots are in.
Raj Rajagopalan, India
I bought abot 10 cuttings during my visit to US in June.I live in Chennai India. I am attaching pictures of my plants.I would appreciate your expert comments on the state of my Epi's. I planted them on June 25 and these are about 2 months old. Are they growing?How long will it take to flower. Thanks
PS: 5 out of 10 have spikes. The other 5 are dormant.When will they root? Should I try a rooting spray like B-1 or K-L-N?
Most of your cuttings look very healthy. Only one I'd be concerned about is "Bob Grimshaw". The brown patches on both sides of the stem are dead tissue. You can either leave that alone and see if the middle part of the leaf continues healthy and may produce offshoots .. or you can cut off the top with that dead tissue - as I have shown in your photo.
How do you know that five have not rooted? Did you check to see if roots have formed? A slight tug at the plant will tell you if they are firmly rooted in the pots. You can always use rooting spray but it is not necessary. Once you have them planted, especially since they have been planted since June, they are better not disturbed so long as they look healthy.
The spikes (offshoot stems) are a clear indication those cuttings are growing. That does not mean the others without spikes are not growing.
Depending on how much the plants grow, and their growing conditions, you might have a flower or two in a year, more likely after two years.
I believe you have scorching hot temperatures in Chennai, India during many months of the year. Keep in mind these plants should not be grown in direct sun and they do not appreciate scorching hot temperatures. A misting with cool (but not cold) water weekly should help.
I've been reading up on your website about Epi Hybrids and I was wondering if you may be able to answer a question for me. I'm a new owner of an Epi - bought it at a yard sale here in San Francisco about a year ago. It's grown like crazy since I took it home, where it has lived next to the heater. I have really only paid it minimal attention! In comparison to others I've read about the plant seems relatively young, as the branches are only 1 1/2 - 2 feet long. It has not bloomed as long as I've owned it. But since I moved into another apartment a few months ago, the plant has developed a few of what looked like buds to begin with. I am attaching a picture of what the buds looked like about 3 weeks ago. Since the picture, these 'buds' have grown and now look like new, reddish-colored branches. Is this normal? Could it be from the stress of changing environments? The plant also has much more exposure to sunlight in the new home...But I've developed an attachment to this plant and I want to treat it well!! Thanks for your help.
I suspect your plant is objecting to much more sunlight. Epis do not like to be in any direct sun. It would certainly also go through a period of adjustment and/or shock moving from one location to another but that has nothing to do with turning red.
If it has not flowered then something has been wrong in the plant's growing conditions. I think this is covered in the article you mention. Epis should flower every year without fail if they are happy with their environment.
Subject: Need help diagnosing and saving epis
I found your excellent epi page while researching this problem, and was veryimpressed with your understanding of these (seemingly) little-discussed plants. I devoutly hope this message reaches you, as I'm getting a little desperate. My babies are far enough gone at this point that I'm almost asssured of losing at least one, and nearly despair of saving the rest.
My epis have always grown well up until now. 'Seance' bloomed it's fool head off this spring.
Since then we've moved to a place with brighter light, and my 2nd year cuttings have all been repotted and fed ... and are now apparently dying -- some rapidly. I've previously written to Epis by Pat for advice, but the answer I got back was "dieback, which is normal" and while in fairness I didn't send them pictures, I really can't accept that because this looks anything but normal. I'm beginning to suspect root rot.
Attached pics show the type and extent of damage. Most of my cuttings are showing it, and all the ones that are damaged are in the group I repotted in July. However, one of the repotted plants is *not* showing this damage. All were perfectly vigorous until this started about 3-4 weeks ago -- again, that corresponds closely with repotting. However it *also* corresponds closely with an absolutely brutal heat wave that we had here.
At the moment I'm inclined to blame my mix and repot everything again, but I'm unsure whether I should trim the damaged stems? Should I apply fungicide? Are they even beyond saving?
Would very much appreciate any advice you can offer. Thank you in advance.
(Follow-up received immediately after)
After sending this note to you I unpotted one of the worst plants. (Yes, I should have done this before making you read all of this.) It is definitelya soil-borne fungus, as the bottom half of the pot was completely enveloped in a course fungal (bacterial?) growth, with moldy threads running through as well. That's what I get for using old potting soil to make my mix, I suppose. I'm sure all the days of 90F and 90% humidity we had right after planting didn't help.
My original question still remains, though. Is there any way to save the infected plants, or can I even take cuttings of them? Or is this an untreatable systemic infection that mandates destroying the plants? (In which case, I will weep for my own incompetence and haste -- I *knew* that bloody mix wasn't coarse enough
Your Epi 'Seance' is beautiful. Thanks for sharing it with us. I presume I can put it on our web site?
One clue that stands out in your story is that you moved the plants .. and into brighter light. Before that they were doing okay.
Plants accustomed to one location can sometimes react badly to another location, especially if they are put in a much brighter situation suddenly. The second clue is your comment about the heat. Epis do not enjoy what you describe as brutal heat. They hate it.
The ends of the stems (leaves) should not turn brown like that. This has nothing to do with the soil. Too hot, too dry AND I suspect you may have (I say may have) a pest eating along the edges of the stems. I'd have a close look for insect pests .. and check the soil for those too.
Using an old soil mix to re-pot plants is asking for disaster. You may as well re-pot them into sawdust because all the life giving nutrients will have gone out of the old soil. You may also have had pests in that old soil - maybe that's what's been eating the edges of the stems?
If the cobwebby stuff in the soil is white you may have root mealy bug. I can't tell if it's that or a fungus without seeing it.
Here's what I would do if these were my plants.
1. Unpot and wash off all the soil and webby stuff from the roots and make sure you wash the stems as well so everything is nice and clean.
2. Make a new, well draining mix with brand new ingredients. Personally I would just add some peat to a good houseplant soil and then throw in whatever you use to make the soil well draining. This works well for my plants.
3. Repot everything into clean pots.
4. Trim off the brown tips.
5. If the plants are in very very bright light, move them to a little more shade .. especially if you can't move them to a cool area.
6. Don't feed them for a couple of months. If you use fresh soil there are enough nutrients in the soil to keep them going.
7. Some of the leaves may look tacky for a while but as new ones emerge and grow you can prune off the old ones (to start new plants) and once the newer ones take over the plants will be lovely once again.
8. In hot weather mist the stems every two or three days. Mist weekly otherwise except in winter just occasionally.
9. Never let epis totally dry out but don't water them if there is still moisture in the pots.
I hope this helps.
The fungus is more of a yellow/orange. The best comparison I can come up with is that it looks like someone spilled a thick layer of Osmocote on the soil, except a bit more orange in color.
I've emptied out the other pots and they're all infected, even the ones that don't have any dieback evident yet. So maybe it's a communicable fungus instead? In any case I'm just about positive at this point that I overpotted, because none of the rootballs were any more than 3/4 down in the pots, some as low as half, so I must have potted up too soon. (Though I would have sworn blue in the face the roots were longer than that when I potted them up, so maybe they've been eaten or decayed? That would certainly explain the dieback ... )AnswerDeAnna Burghart
I've seen this many a time in my own pots and always at the bottom or near the bottom of the pot. Ant eggs!! Not root mealy bugs. Not a fungus. Once they take up residence - they go from pot to pot laying their eggs.
I would do as I suggested in my last e-mail. Just wash off the soil from the roots and wash the stems and begin again in fresh, clean soil.
Wash down the area where the pots sit if you put them back where they were - with a bit of chlorox in water - on the off chance there are a couple of eggs lying around there too. Wash the pots too.
And as mentioned before .. never use old soil. For all you know the ants were in that old soil.
I just wanted to thank you, Marina, for your expert advice and assistance last month. I washed and repotted all the epis as you suggested and they're doing very well. I did lose the original stalk on 'Heavenly', but it looks like the side stems might live, and if they do they should keep it going long enough to put up new growth. (I hope.) Failing that, I also removed and potted up a plantlet that had started on the original stalk. (I accidentally started rooting it upside down! hah!) That looks a *bit* on the sorry side, but I'm baby-ing it, and maybe it will come along for me.
The rest look MUCH better now in the clean soil. I trimmed off the damaged areas and they're all managing just fine. I gave them a mild shot of fertilizer after they'd settled in, and I think they're responding well. It probably doesn't hurt that the weather has settled down so they're not getting that brutal afternoon sun anymore. Some are even putting up new stems in response to the pruning. (I'll be pinching off all kinds of little spurs from the stems for the next few weeks.) Lesson learned: Next year, shade cloth in July. No more "it's only a couple of hours a day" complacency.
Thank you again. I think they're past the worst of the danger, and I'm *immensely* grateful for your assistance. 1.9.05
Subject: Epi problems
Pat Hall - Canada
I acquired several epiphyllums over a year ago. Only one has bloomed, and it was the smallest one. I must be doing something wrong, because they are all sending out skinny little 'growth' rather than new broad 'leaves'. They all look healthy, but have these silly little, almost round long new growth. Should I cut the new growth all off?? They are in a South facing window of a glassed in porch which get down to about 50degrees F in the winter, and this summer has been up in the 90's. I was afraid to put them outside since this is the hottest summer we have had in my lifetime (62 yrs.) Can you help??
Four of them are almost 2 ft. tall., and as I said look quite healthy.
Those skinny growths are probably new shoots which will eventually mature into flattened stems. I would not cut them off unless you have a reason to do that.
A South facing window provides far too much sun for epis, especially if the temperature goes up to 90. They don't like that much heat.
It would be better to put them outside in the shade because even if the temperature is 90 outside, they benefit from the added circulation of air. Better still, do you have a place in the house with filtered sun where it is cooler? They enjoy being misted in hot weather too.
Answers to Questions posed by Krystyna in Canda who sent us these excellent photos of her plant.
1) What is an areole?
Areoles are small cushions of spines, almost always with fine hairs, which are characteristic of all cacti. It is out of these that spines grow on cactus plants. On other succulent plants that may look like cacti, these little cushions under the spines are not present.
2. What are whiskers along the stem?
The 'whiskers' along the stems are adventitious roots.
3. Does every flower produce a fruit?
Fruit is produced as a result of self or cross pollination. If the flower it not pollinated it will not produce a fruit.
August 4, 2005
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