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"Orchid Cactus"
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'Doris Pittman'

Would you believe you could find cactus in the rainforests? Epiphyllums are true cacti that are native to just such a tropical environment. These jungle cacti are "epiphytes", or plants that take root and grow in humus pockets of trees. Other examples of epiphytic plants include orchids and bromeliads. Epiphyllums range from Mexico and the Caribbean through Central and South America.
 
Epiphyllum hybrids are commonly referred to as "Orchid Cacti" because of their luminous blossoms, reminiscent of tropical orchids. In 1978 I read an article about "Orchid Cactus" in the April edition of "Houseplants and Porch Gardens" magazine. The stunning pictures in that article inspired me to begin to collect and cultivate "Epis".

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"REWARD" a Fort and O'Barr hybrid from the 1950s

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Czarina

Like all cacti, epiphyllums have stems but no leaves. Unlike desert cacti, however, epiphyllums grow grow on trees, not on the ground. They also lack the sharp spines of their desert cousins.
 
The epiphyllum species usually have large white blossoms that open at night.  Other related genera of jungle cacti have colorful blossoms that open in the daytime. Since the early 1800s, plant hobbyists have crossed the epiphyllum with other more colorful epiphytic cactus species. As a result, there are now literally thousands of different hybrid epiphyllum varieties, with various rainbow-hued blossoms. Some of the individual named plants date back over a century, having been continuously propagated by cuttings down through the years... I have a white variety named "Wrayi" that dates back to 1845.
 

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Bold Gold

Because these hybrid plants have the mixed heritage of different types of cacti, there can also be some variation in growth habits. The stems can  vary depending on the individual plant; ranging from strap-like and pendant to upright, angled and stocky. Individual plants may have slightly different light and soil requirements, but in general they are extremely hardy and quite easy to grow.
 
The night-blooming epiphyllum species usually have a lovely, ethereal fragrance; and many of the hybrid epis do too!

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'Shimmer'

The smaller-blooming varieties produce mass quantities of flowers that can last up to a week. These small-flowered varieties also tend to bloom over many months. Larger-flowered varieties often have but a few blossoms that may only last a day or two.  The spectacular beauty of the blossoms more than compensates for their short lifespan.
The height of the flowering season is April through June, but sometimes you will be rewarded with off-season blooms earlier in the spring or into the late summer.
 

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'Siboney'

 Propagation is ridiculously simple. Take a cutting, let it sit for a week or so to dry the cut end. Insert the base of the cutting about an inch or two into some damp soil mix.
 
Next comes the most difficult part, WAITING! Leave alone in a warm, shady spot for several weeks. You can lightly mist the branches with water to provide some humidity if desired. When you notice some new growth, you will know that roots have formed, and you can begin to introduce more light and water. It takes usually two seasons after starting your cutting before the plant will begin to produce flowers.

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"Harald Knebel" produces smaller, offseason blooms

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Maharanee

 A smallish pot is ideal, about 3-4" for a single cutting. A clay pot will dry out more quickly than a plastic pot, and these are better to use if you tend to overwater. A light yet rich soil mix is essential. I use a mixture of 1/3 potting soil mix (African Violet or Azalea/Camellia mix is good), 1/3 perlite and 1/3 fine orchid bark (terrestrial orchid mix designed for cymbidiums and paphiopedilums). Some growers recommend a mix of half sphagnum peat moss and half perlite. Epis like a rich, slightly acid soil mix. Don't use commercial cactus mix, it's much too alkaline.

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"Jesse's Dream"

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"Wonderful One"

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"Meadowlark"

Epis do best in light shade. Some light morning or afternoon sun is OK, but direct hot mid-day summer sun can burn. Pot them up in a hanging basket, somplace where they receive dappled sunshine and light breeze.
 
Mild temperatures between 40-75 degrees F are preferable, but with some protection they can survive at temperatures into the 30s at night, and into the 90s during the day. With adequate shade and humidity, mine survive summertime temperatures in excess of 100 degrees. I mist the plants and wet down the surrounding area to increase the humidity during these hot periods.
 
Frost can kill the tender new growth. If you live where it freezes, you must provide protection or take them indoors for the winter. Here in the California inland valley we sometimes experience a light night frost in the wintertime. Covering the plants with shadecloth, newspaper or packing material helps. Keeping the plants covered and up close to the house may prevent losses. A greenhouse would be handy!

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"Argus"

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"Waikiki Rainbow"

Regular fertilizing during the spring, summer and into the fall will encourage growth and blooms. When the weather is warm, growth is most active. I have used Osmocote successfully; that's an easy, once-a-year routine. Due to the dogs, and concerns that they might get into a pot and eat the fertilizer, I've switched to using Kellogg's Organic All-Purpose fertililzer. This is applied monthly February through October.
 

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"Climax"

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ARGUS blooming in July.

Snails and slugs are the main pests to watch for, they LOVE to eat the epiphyllum branches! They can do a lot of damage in a short time. Plants in hanging baskets are usually safe from snail invasion. I did lose a few plants to snails when I hung some Epi baskets in my trees. Scale and mealybug can also damage the plants. If these should appear, a systemic insecticide can be used, or you can spray the branches with nontoxic insecticidal soap, or wipe down the branches with alcohol.  Don't ignore these insects, as they can kill your plant. Scale also can spread quickly throughout your collection (personal experience talking here).

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"Stina D" and "Princess Linda"

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"Clown"

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"Charlemagne"

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