A few months ago, I planted up an old stump with epiphytic plants. They have mostly established pretty well and some are flowering at the moment, including the Zygopetalum orchid with its intricately marked petals, and the beautiful Dendrobium nobile orchids, with their cascading trusses of gorgeous, long-lasting flowers. Another of the epiphytes in bloom Is the mysterious orchid cacus (Epiphyllum species and hybrids), which has just started to open its strange, flamboyant flowers. This was a plant I had no understanding of a few years ago but I have grown to appreciate it in recent times, and I have placed a large one right on the top of my epiphytic stump!
Epiphyllum (ht 50 cm - 2m) look rather like giant forms of zygocactus (Schlumbergera hybrids). Both are cacti found in South and Central American rainforests, where they anchor themselves in the forks of tree branches, their small, fibrous roots taking hold in decaying vegetative matter, which provides some nutrients for the plants. Like zygocatus, Epiphyllum have fleshy stems divided into flattened, oblong-shaped, leaf-like segments with distinctive toothed edges, and tend to develop a pendent form as the plant matures. As with most cacti, they have no true leaves but have modified leaves in the form of spines on the sides of the stems, in pads called areoles, from where flower buds emerge. The reduced size of the leaves helps restrict water loss; and the fleshy stems are able to store water to help the plant survive. The form of the plants doesn't really have much appeal to the uninitiated, and they might even seem a bit repulsive, but once seen in flower, they are never forgotten!
The huge funnel-shaped blooms generally appear in spring, opening at night and often having a sweet perfume. Most species have creamy-white or yellow flowers, with Epiphyllum oxypetalum (sometimes known as queen of the night) being one of the best known - its fragrant, white inflorescences bloom for just a single night. However, hybrids of Epiphyllum with other related epiphytic genera (the naming of which is very problematic among botanists!) have spectacular blooms in hues of brilliant fluorescent pinks, orange, yellow, purples and reds, many with an iridescent sheen, which stay open during the day and last a couple of days. Unlike the species, they don't have much scent. There are also some really pretty small-flowered versions that are useful for more compact places, and I have added a piece grown from the plant illustrated above to my stump.
Epiphyllum are best grown in part or even full shade, in containers or else in hanging baskets affixed to strong tree branches to display the long, trailing stems. Use an orchid mix in pots or baskets for the planting medium. They can also be attached directly to a stump or tree, as I have done. One way to do this is to use an old stocking with some orchid bark placed in the middle of it, and then tie the stocking in a knot on either side of this to create a sort of pocket. Cut a slit in the stocking on one side of this pocket and insert the base of the plant into the orchid bark. Use the end of the stocking to tie the plant onto the host. Eventually, the plants roots will grow onto the tree and the stocking will rot away. Before this happens, a handful of Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) can be used to hide the stocking to some extent.
These epiphytic cacti don't like to dry out completely, so they need to be given a spray of water every so often; over-watering will be detrimental to the small root system, however, especially in winter, when they prefer to be on the dry side. They are frost tender. Propagate via stem cuttings in early summer, using a well-drained potting mix, allowing the cutting to dry out for a few days first.
Another type of mysterious epiphytic cactus from rainforest environments is Ripsalis, which has long strands of hanging stems and small but interesting flowers. Some species have very narrow stems but others have stems rather like those of Epiphyllum. They are excellent subjects for hanging baskets to provide textural interest, and I hope to understand them one day!
Early morning in the May garden
22 May 22
Much can be seen during a stroll in the garden now.
15 May 22
I enjoy seeing carpets of fallen leaves and flowers in autumn.
Happy Mother's Day
08 May 22
My mother's garden has been hugely influential for me.
Jewels of May
01 May 22
Some lovely flowers bloom this month
24 Apr 22
Scented leaves can evoke memories and uplift the soul.