Piphytic cacti, splendors with spectacular flowers

Often very floriferous and spectacular, epiphytic cacti deserve to be better known to the general public. Easy to grow, these splendors of nature are adorned with flowers that can reach up to 25 cm in diameter with dazzling colors! Indulge !

Epiphyllum cactus with spectacular red flowers
Epiphyllum cactus with spectacular red flowers

What is an epiphytic cactus?

In the collective imagination, a cactus must necessarily be spherical or in column, covered with more or less sharp prickles, and grow only in full sun in the soil of hot deserts.

Epiphytic cacti prove the opposite! With long stems showing only very rarely prickles, they grow Aboveground, in the shade of tall trees tropical forests in Central America and Mexico.

These cacti do not need to be implanted in the ground to grow because they are epiphytes, that is to say that they develop on tree branches to which they cling thanks to their aerial roots. Some of them are also lithophytes, ie they live clinging to rocks.

These cacti therefore do not need to be planted in the ground to grow vigorously since the stems can easily reach 2 to 3 m in length for a consequent spread!

There exists a twenty species of epiphytic cacti and many cultivars and hybrids between species and varieties.

What are the most famous epiphytic cactus species?

  • the Schlumbergera Where ‘christmas cactushe is undoubtedly the best known of the epiphytic cacti since it is frequently found in garden centers covered with white, red, pink or orange flowers during the holiday season.

  • the Rhipsalidopsis Where ‘easter cactus‘is often confused by the neophyte with the Schlumbergera because of its segmented stems and flowers which look a bit like it when viewed from a distance. This species is also easy to obtain in garden centers.

  • the genre Epiphyllum, his hybrids (Epicactus, Phyllocactus) and its many cultivars delight collectors with their sumptuous, immense flowers. The stems, rather flat or triangular, segmented, can become very long over time. The botanical epiphylla (dont E. hookeri, E. Cartagena, E. crenatum) produce white, fragrant flowers on summer nights.

    The hybrid epiphylla produce daytime flowers in spring and summer. From pure white to red, passing through yellow, pink and orange, these cultivars are also available in blooms with two or three colors on the same fleur like on the incredible ‘Paula Knebel‘in flashy shades of red, purple and fuchsia pink.

  • Genre Hylocereus is made up of climbing cacti, highly valued for their huge white, deliciously scented nocturnal flowers. Hylocereus undatus presents long triangular stems, the spectacle of its large-diameter flowers gives way to delicious Dragon fruit !

  • Genre Selenicereus, is also made up of climbing candles. The queen of the night (Selenicereus grandiflorus) offers the striking spectacle of its huge flowers (30 cm in diameter) with protruding stamens like a cascade emerging from pure white petals surrounded by a crown of brown petals. The strong scent between tuberose and narcissus only increases the happiness of this spectacle.

  • Genre Rhipsalis is more discreet on all points! The narrow, often rounded stems produce insignificant flowers but pretty round berries that appear to rest on the stems like drops of water. This often named cactus’cactus gui‘in reference to its white berries or’Coral cactus‘for its round and segmented stems is quite common in garden centers because it constitutes a small graphic subject (compared to other epiphytic cacti) ideal in suspension.

How to grow epiphytic cacti?

To set off on a good basis, let’s remember the tropical origin of these cacti ; they grow in shady forests where a hot and humid atmosphere reigns supreme. It will therefore be necessary to recreate these conditions at home!

No direct sun no longer for these cacti, but a bright light which will ensure their flowering as well as a period of rest in winter at a relative cool (not less than 12 ° C).

It is a good idea to take your plants out as soon as the temperatures stabilize in late spring. Place them then hanging from tall trees, or placed on a low wall from which their stems can fall, always in the shade of course!

In the regions of the South of France, it is possible to grow some epiphytic cacti outdoors and sheltered (wall angle, patio …) all year round. The Rhipsalis and some Hylocereus lend themselves to the experience but be careful, if the temperatures drop too much, death is guaranteed!

In order not to lose epiphytic cacti, it is best to keep them at a temperature between 12 ° C at night in winter and 30 ° C during the day in summer, no more.

Repotting is not necessary every year. It will be carried out in a substrate from Acid pH composed of crushed pine bark, coconut fiber, perlite (or river sand) and peat.

A mixture of heather earth, compost and perlite will also be suitable.

Remember that the container must be pierced at the bottom and lined with a bed of pozzolana (or any other draining material) to avoid suffocation of the roots.

Watering must be regular during the summer, a copious watering once a week will however be sufficient in summer, however do not skimp on the misting of non-calcareous water if it is very hot!

In winter, depending on the temperature, watering can be reduced to one per month.

Add a fertilizer rich in potash every 15 days after watering to promote flowering in spring.


Source: Au Jardin, conseils en jardinage by www.aujardin.info.

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