The Epiphyllum Genus (Orchid Cactus)

There are ten species that belong to the Epiphyllum genus, which fall under the cactus plant family, Cactaceae. 

These plants hail from South and Central America, and you may also know them as climbing cacti, and orchid cacti.

Epiphyllum At A Glance

Epiphyllum plants are famous for their flowers, which are large, swathed in perfume, and usually come in shades of bright white, gold, or pink.

Unlike some cacti, the orchid cactus has both stems and leaves, and in their natural habitat, they grow in rock crevices and tree branches.

Epiphyllum oxypetalum is the most famous plant in the genus, thanks to its gorgeous, showy flowers, which rarely appear, and only during the night, lasting until the morning.

The majority of the plants within the genus are epiphytes, which grow on other plants without harming them.

They extract the nutrients they need from the surface of these plants as well as the air, and may need more humidity than you’re used to providing cacti with.

You will need to provide them with some sort of support to climb up, as they are used to growing up other plants rather than standing upright.

Epiphyllum Name Origin

The genus name is Greek in origin, and translates to ‘upon the leaf’, which refers to how it was originally thought that the flowers bloomed from a leaf, not the stems.

You may also know them as orchid cacti, as the flowers look very much like some orchid species, and they grow on rocks or other plants, as orchid species do.

Orchid Cactus Flower Symbolism

The flowers on an orchid cactus represent perseverance, patience, optimism, admiration, and spirituality.

Kadupul, or Epiphyllum oxypetalum, is loved all over the world for its rare flowers. In Sri Lanka, the flower is known as Kadupul Mal, or flower from heaven.

In China, the orchid cactus flower represents a great victory, but the time to enjoy it is very fleeting. This mirrors the flower itself, which can take up to a year of care before it will bloom, and it only opens for a single night.

Orchid Cactus Growing Conditions

Orchid cactus plants are usually grown as indoors as a houseplant (see also The Wondrous Variety Of The Indoor Cactus), but they can be grown outdoors in USDA zones 10 to 12. 

You could also take them outside during the summer months, and bring them back in before the weather gets too cold for them.

They tend to bloom in either spring or summer, producing large white flowers, occasionally with different colored sepals. 

Because these plants are so popular, more colors are becoming available as the plants become hybridized, including purple, pink, yellow, and orange.

Some Epiphyllum cactus plants can reach up to 30 feet tall or long, though they will take a very long time to do so!

If you’re growing an orchid cactus as a houseplant, it’s likely to reach about 2 feet tall once it matures.

Plants within this genus freely draining, good quality soil to thrive.

They will do well in bright, indirect light or partial shade, and if you are growing them inside, it’s worth placing them in as bright an indirect position as possible, as they will need higher light levels.

Keep them away from direct sunlight, even if you’re growing your orchid cactus outside, as the sun can scorch the plant.

As you might imagine, orchid cacti don’t require a lot of water, but that doesn’t mean they are entirely low maintenance. 

They require a period of winter rest for around 10 weeks or so, where you should reduce watering and stop feeding the plants. 

This will help encourage the plant to bloom.

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