By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Cacti come in a bewildering array of forms. These marvelous succulents have incredible adaptations to survive the inhospitable terrains they generally inhabit. Epiphyllum curly locks is an example of a cactus that uses its stems to capture more moisture and light. The plant has curly, curved stems which are the result of a mutation of a plant called Epiphyllum guatemalense. The name for this mutated cactus is Epiphyllum monstrosa. If you know someone with the plant, it is easy to learn how to grow curly locks from stem fragments.
Epiphytic plants live in trees and rock crevasses. The mother of the Epiphyllum cactus, curly locks, was from Guatemala. It was a plant that sprouted one or more abnormal curved stems. These were harvested and cloned to produce the crazy little cactus we propagate today. These plants are wonderful hanging basket specimens and make quite the conversation piece with their twisted, arching limbs.
In nature, curly locks might be growing in a tree crotch or other almost soilless area. Epiphyllums are often called air plants because they do not rely upon terra firma as their growing medium.
Curly locks have bright green, twisting stems. It produces 3-inch (7.6 cm.) wide white flowers with 6-inch (15 cm.) long tubes that open at night. This is because in nature it is pollinated by moths and bats, and these night animals can see the big white blooms easily.
Oval, bright pink seedy fruits form once blooms are pollinated. These fruits are juicy and edible. The plant is also self-pollinating and fruits can form even without the intervention of insects and mammals. Epiphyllum plants are often called orchid cacti.
Most Epiphyllum cacti are easy to grow from pieces of the stem. Allow cut pieces to callus for several days then plant into an appropriate medium. Make your own potting mix with 3 parts commercial potting soil and 1 part small to medium pumice. If pumice is not available, use bark chips or perlite.
The soil must hold moisture but drain quickly. Keep the cutting in low light until it roots. Do not let the medium dry out but don’t let it get soggy either. The orchid cactus cutting needs to be installed 1 or 2 inches (2.5 or 5 cm.) below the soil at a serration. Rooting should occur in a couple of weeks and after that the plant really takes off, producing new curled stems.
The biggest danger is overwatering. The cactus needs to have moist roots at all times but they should not be sitting in a dish of water. Make sure the top 1/3 of the soil is dry before watering. In late winter, expose the cactus to cooler temperatures to promote spring flowering. Keep them in the basement or a garage for a couple of weeks to spur bud formation.
The other biggest danger when raising Epiphyllums is lighting. Consider that these plants grow in thick forests in the understory and are used to dappled light at best. Just like any plant, they need light but should be protected from bright midday light. Morning sun is preferable with indirect light the rest of the way.
If you find a spot where the cactus is happy, make sure to leave it there, as they do not like change. Use a 10-10-10 fertilizer diluted weekly during the growing season. In February, feed the plant with a 2-10-10 to promote blooming.
Repot every 7 years or so, but be warned, the plant only blooms when it is pot bound. It might be best to wait and see if you get flowers before giving the plant a new home.
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Read more about Epiphyllum
|Plant Habit:||Cactus/Succulent |
|Life cycle:||Perennial |
|Sun Requirements:||Partial or Dappled Shade |
|Minimum cold hardiness:||Zone 10b +1.7 °C (35 °F) to +4.4 °C (40 °F) |
|Leaves:||Other: Leafless |
|Propagation: Other methods:||Cuttings: Stem |
Other: Cure stem segment until callused (10+ days). After potting, withhold water for two weeks.
|Containers:||Suitable in 1 gallon |
Needs excellent drainage in pots
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Mark Piette Epi Galleria specializes in the sale of epiphyllum and hybrid epiphyllum cuttings, often called orchid cacti, through the internet. All of the cuttings are grown by Mark Piette and guaranteed for quality. Generally each cutting is 6 to 10 inches long but some varieties have short growth and some are very wide. I try to maintain the 6 to 10 inch rule, but occasionally you will receive a smaller cutting, but I will not knowingly ship a cutting that is not viable. The cuttings are all treated with growth hormone. If you are not satisfied with a shipment, inform the galleria by Email or telephone within 5 days of receipt, and arrangements will be made to rectify any problems. Epiphyllums are easily cultured and fairly hardy, as long as you keep them in a friendly environment as described on the page "ABOUT EPIPHYLLUMS" and the page "CARE AND FEEDING" The catalog contains enlargeable photographs when they are available, so you can see what you are buying. Words cannot possibly do justice to these truly gorgeous natural treasures and, like a precious opal or a butterfly's wing, a photograph can't either. They are true cacii, but they have evolved differently than the desert cactus and do not have the unfriendly traits of desert cactii ie. sharp spines. The growth habit varies from almost vine-like to tall and to a hanging habit. Thus some types do well in hanging baskets and some like a trellis. They are all excellent for a patio or in a cactus and succulent garden.
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I don't know enough about cacti to be sure although I know that there are plenty of microscopic bugs out there that bother succulents. Perhaps someone with more knowledge of cacti will comment.
Succulent flowers fail for all kinds of reasons: enough water, light and nutrients are key. It takes a lot for a plant to produce and maintain a flower
Could you post a picture of your cactus? It may help to diagnose the problem.
Orchid cactus is a bold houseplant that's not for the faint of heart! Though it's easy to grow, its exotic look will give your friends the impression you're a champion houseplant grower. It has long, flat leaves that twist and curl as they grow, giving orchid cactus its unusual appearance. The leaves trail, making it an excellent choice for hanging baskets and tall planters.
If you grow orchid cactus, accent the foliage texture by growing it in a smooth, sleek ceramic container. Or, complement the leaves by growing orchid cactus in a rough-edged pot.
Orchid Cactus Questions?
Our experts are happy to help answer any questions you might have about orchid cactus houseplants. Just drop us an email.
Grow orchid cactus in bright light. This exotic houseplant is perfect for hanging baskets right inside your window (or you can take it outdoors to a shaded place for a little summer vacation). If the plant gets enough light, it may produce beautiful, creamy-white orchid-like flowers (hence its common name).
Water orchid cactus when the potting mix dries. Native to tropical rainforests where it grows on trees, this indoor plant doesn't want it soil to be moist all the time and will rot if it's overwatered. That often means watering once every 10 days or so, depending on conditions such as plant size, temperature, and how much light your orchid cactus gets.
Like orchids and other tropical plants, orchid cactus prefers high humidity, but usually grows just fine in average household conditions.
This bold houseplant is not intended for human or animal consumption.