15 May Opening Night: Epiphyllum Cacti, Their Flowers, and the People Who Love Them
We like flowers with a whiff of danger. Like flower that grow from cacti. Flowers that bloom at night. For these reasons (and so many more), the epiphyllum plant — known for howlingly beautiful flowers that typically blossom into the evening — is scratching this itch.
Last summer we picked up, from Walter Andersen nursery, an epiphyllum for our garden. Eight months later, after four days of rain last March, this lanky mass of fleshy stems started budding: mostly in fuchsia, with the exception of one yellow guy. Two different color blossoms on one plant?!
“Have you seen this before?” we asked people about the dueling colors of flowers. We felt like proud/slightly concerned parents. It turned out that our epiphyllum, which propagates by cuttings, was actually two plants growing together.
And then they bloomed. Oh, baby. We woke up to this:
Opening up in the evenings, the flowers of our epiphyllum peaked for about one day each. We transplanted ours into 1/3 perlite, 1/3 orchid bark and 1/3 Kellogg’s organic potting mix, inside a custom, south-facing planter built by Ryan, partially shaded in the afternoon by our lovely guava tree.
Our Instagram friend/garden genius Warren Keller advised us to not to move or transplant them while budding, lest the buds fall off, and that they are heavy feeders that love fertilizer, and organic matter and sand in their soil. But we just couldn’t wait to see them in their new habitat, and the plant did indeed suffer two lost buds. (Sobbing emoji.)
Also, epiphyllums need to be root-bound before they will bloom. Transplanting to a larger pot should normally be done after blooming, spring through summer for most species and hybrids. The plants in this location get morning sun, and we water them on a timer about twice a week.
With names like ‘Frida Kahlo,’ ‘Poison,’ ‘Circus Circus’ and ‘Cinco de Mayo’ (!) the hybrids of the epiphyllum genus are many, varied and often developed by home gardeners. Flower circumferences can range from sand dollar to dinner plate; textures can be soft, stark, fluffy, spidery. And the colors! Powder pink, red, white, ivory, yellow, tangerine, fuchsia — this list is just one corner of the kaleidoscope.
Last Sunday, we saw a great array of “epies” at the San Diego Epiphyllum Society’s annual flower show in Balboa Park. The show included hundreds of flowers on view, many of which were displayed in a “Hats Off to Epies” show and competition.
There was also a sale in which many hybrids of Epiphyllum were sold alongside Selenicereus, a genus that contains moonlight cactus and night-blooming cereus. After consulting a thick binder of flower photos, we picked up an Epiphyllum ‘Londonii” (whose blossoms are creamy white), ‘Cinco de Mayo,’ and a Selenicereus, whose lean, clambering, needle-spiked stems shoot out white, fragrant, night-blooming flowers during summer. It’s a plant fit for a moon garden.
Also, of course, for after-dark pollinators like bats and moths.
Fast Facts and Care Tips for Epiphyllums
– Epiphyllum is a genus in the cactus family Cactaceae.
– Epiphyllum hybrids are part of the tribe Hylocereeae. Other genera in this tribe include Selenicereus, Disocactus and Pseudorhipsalis.
– They’re also called “orchid cactus” (even though they are not orchids), “epies” or “epis.”
– Epis are tropical (rather than desert) cacti, growing abundantly in oak forests and rainforests across Mexico and Central and South America.
– They’re also epiphytes! (Which we love.) Epiphytes grow on trees/other structures for support — but not in a parasitic way.
– Bright, indirect, filtered light is advised. Morning or late afternoon sun is ideal.
– Soil should be rich with excellent drainage, sand and organic matter.
– Plants require some humidity, but make sure not to overwater them.
– Conversely, don’t allow the soil to dry out.
– Fertilize monthly with a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer from spring to fall. Do not fertilize in winter.
– Plants bloom best when they are root-bound. So only re-pot if absolutely necessary.
This time-lapse, which we shot from 5:40 PM to 11:30 PM, shows one of our epiphyllum flowers blooming:
At the show, we were guided by members of the SDES, a welcoming, very knowledgeable corps of epi devotees. They advised us on soil mixes (see below), pollination/hybridization techniques (e.g. a makeup brush works well for transferring pollen), and urged us to separate the two plants we have growing together before one overtakes the other. Wow, we were happy just to see our first blooms! But the experts at SDES are masters at developing show-worthy hybrids. We can only imagine what their epiphyllum-filled gardens must look like this time year.
We’re so smitten (and in a cold sweat about how much we have yet to learn) that we signed up to become members.
Below, check out some soil wisdom from the show, and how we installed our new epis!