Family: Cactaceae
Habitat: Tropical forests of Central America.
Cultivation: Put it in bright spots, but not exposed to direct sunlight, especially in summer. Water frequently during the vegetative period and provide cool temperatures during the summer.
Curiosity: It is an epiphytic plant, that is, it grows by clinging to other plants though it feeds autonomously, taking water and nutrients from the atmosphere and from the little mud that is found on the trunks or rocks that it uses as a foothold. Because of this attitude, it is also called “Mother-in-law’s tongue.” Also, its name comes from Greek and literally means “upon the leaves”.


The genus Epiphyllum consists of cacti native to tropical forests and with some distinctive features: long, thornless branches, climbing habit, spectacular blooms.

Epiphyllum are epiphytic plants. This means that, in their natura habitat, they grow clinging to other plants (usually large trees) or, more rarely, to rocks, like the orchids: they are in fact also called “orchid cacti”.
They take the water they need directly from the humidity of the air.
Nutrients are instead obtained from mud, dust, decomposed leaves found on the trunks or in the hollows of the rocks to which they cling. Some species, though remaining epiphytic plants, grow on normal soil, always maintaining aerial roots, which have the function to absorb the oxygen from the air. That’s to avoid root asphyxia, as the root system of Epiphyllum is not highly developed and fail to absorb the oxygen from the wet soils of the rainforest.

Their stems are broad and flat, 1-5 centimeters large, divided into “articles” (short sections) that easily root when they fall off the plant. They have a thick, waxy surface and grow into many branches and twsigs. In many species, the edges of the stems are wavy or serrated, and, on the irregularities of these edges, white woolly areoles grow. Areoles are the typical buds of Cactaceae family, from which the spines usually sprout. Epiphyllums, however, are usually spineless and leaveless. The photosynthesis is so carried out by the stems.

The gorgeous flowers are solitary and sprout from the areoles and the blooming period goes from Spring to the end of the summer. They are very large, reaching a diameter of 15-20 centimers, and brightly colored (usually white or red), and open during the night. These flashy flowers make Epiphyllum widely sought after for decorative purposes by succulent lovers. On the market, Epiphyllum is often found in hybrids made with plants belonging to close genera such as Heliocereus, Nopalxochia, Echinopsis, and similar.

Their fruit, similar to the pitaya of the close genus Hylocereus, is edible and small (3-4 centimeters long).


Here are the main cacti of the genus Epiphyllum.

  • E. anguliger
  • E. chrysocardium
  • E. crenatum
  • E. hookeri
  • E. laui
  • E. oxypetalum
  • E. pumilum
  • E. ruesti


Here are our cultivation tips:

  • The ideal exposure is very bright, but protected from direct sunlight (especially during the hottest hours of the day or in summer).
  • Keep the plant always, as far as possible, between 10°C and 20°C. It can also adapt to warmer climates, while it suffers in cold climates.
  • Water abundantly every 2-3 days in summer and less with the arrival of autumn and winter. Unlike other cacti, you should never wait for the soil to dry completely before watering. It can also be useful to nebulize it, especially in the summer, to increase air moisture.
  • Choose a rich soil made of peat and foliage, but with a draining substrate to avoid the risk of root rot.
  • Fertilize at the beginning of the month during the growing season, using a specific product for cacti in small doses (half of what is indicated on the package is fine).
  • The root system of the Epiphyllum is rather reduced: choose shallow pots and repot every two years or so.

Propagation is usually carried out through branch cutting. Small branches should be taken off during spring, preferably cutting where the nodes are, left to dry up for a few days to heal the wound, and then replanted in a sandy soil. They usually dry up in about 10 days.

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