6.1.11

And Now for Something Completely Different......
Orchid Cacti !


Previous blogs have dealt with plant groups, as opposed to a specific genus. In this installation, I'll cover one of the more bewitching genera of plants, Epiphyllum the Orchid Cactus, usually a night blooming genus. At some point or another, almost anywhere in the country, gardeners will eventually see one of these in a garden window, at a plant show, or at a garden conservatory. In some southern Florida, southern Texas, and south-coastal parts of California, orchid cacti can be grown outdoors easily. The plants thrive in the cool winters of coastal  California, and of course there is an Epiphyllum Society to boost the popularity of the plants. There is a dazzling array of colors and sizes ( a familiar theme in my blogs, but it is true) and a fairly recent introduction of day-flowering orchid cacti. The plants will not likely win any beauty contests for pretty foliage, but the flowers compensate for the homely foliage. 


 Orchid cacti are completely New World plants, mostly hailing from Central America as tree-dwelling plants in seasonal rainforest or scrub areas. They like bright light, but not blazing sunshine. In Miami we can mount the plants into the dry leaf bases of palmetto palms and they grow quite well. They can also grow to sizable dimensions in hanging pots or baskets of a fine grained orchid mix. The stems grow up, then often arch down. Left to their own devices, the plants can have stems to 6 or 8 or even 10 feet tall / long. In coastal areas, I've seen orchid cacti grown in ground beds of clay and humus and sand. In Santa Monica, California, I saw them grown as hedge plants separating homes. Unquestionably, this choice of hedge plant had the most attractive and complicated flowers of any hedge plant I know !

As we have seen so often in plant groups, there are sizes and growth speeds and flower colors to suit many tastes. The plants can be grown as shade house plants in moderate climes, and as houseplants in colder climates. All that is required is to keep them well watered while in active growth and let them dry off substantially when growth stops.  









It is easy to see the allure of these tree-dwelling cactus analogs to water lilies. If you have the luxury of having shallow ponds, you can grow water lilies easily, but of not, then orchid cacti may be the next best thing, especially since they can be grown indoors anywhere ! Orchid cacti propagate readily by stem cuttings  6 to 12 inches in length, and rooted in a loose, open mix used for cacti. Many growers use a mix of 60% perlite and 40 % coarse peat moss, or even very fine orchid bark. Most growers I've seen use deep 6 inch or 8 inch pots, with at least a few inches of drainage material in the bottom of the pot. Fertilize at 1/4 strength every few weeks while the plant is actively growing. Cacti seem especially fond of organic fertilizers, and once again, rose fertilizers containing bone meal and superphosphate are helpful. 

The Internet is well stocked with vendors and information about Epiphyllums, and I encourage anyone with sufficient space to grow a pendant, spineless cactus with 3 or 4 foot stems to try a few orchid cacti. When the plants bloom, you'll be hooked, and will discover a whole new world of color and texture, in a world of plants that are so often misunderstood. 




Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens   

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