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What is an Orchid Cactus?

By Deneatra Harmon
Updated May 16, 2024
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An Orchid cactus, or Epiphyllum, is a tall, green plant with colorful flowers that bloom right on the leaves. These plants, along with other leaf cacti, often do well in humid, hot weather with cooler overnight low temperatures. The root cuttings of orchid cacti may be planted into the ground or transplanted to larger pots indoors. Fair amounts of light and water help the flowers bloom every year.

Epiphyllum cacti are described as stemmed plants that appear flat and triangular. They do not grow with spines on the stems and leaves like other cacti plants, but instead they feature hairy bristles. In Greek, Epiphyllum means "upon the leaf," and these particular plants bloom flowers on the leaves in various colors. Orchid cactus plant flowers come in different shades of white, pink, yellow, red, purple, green, and orange. Orchid cactus leaves spread as much as 12 inches in width (approximately 30 cm). Shapes of these flowers vary from pointy to round, and they may form a single petal or many petals.

Orchid cactus plants depend on warmth and humidity for growth, as they originate from the jungles of Mexico, Central and South America. These epiphytic plants show some flexibility in that they can survive areas where temperatures drop to between 45 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 7.2 to 15.5 degrees Celsius). Places where the leaf cacti grow include the ground, in between tree branches, and in rock crevices.

Orchid cacti are grown primarily through seed dispersion, but they may also be propagated or transplanted. Gardeners suggest cutting the roots of orchid cactus plants at between 6 inches (or about 15 cm) and 12 inches long (approximately 30 cm). Cuttings should be dipped into a rooting hormone based on package instructions, and then set in a cool, dry place for about two weeks so they can adapt to their soil settings when planted. Another option is to transplant established plants to a garden or in a clay pot. In either case, the roots should be planted using a highly nutrient soil mix of humus and leaf mold to establish growth.

Bright lights and adequate amounts of water are what gets orchid cactus plants off to a good start. These plants perform well whether they're placed near a sunny window or on a partially shaded deck. Leaf cacti require watering just enough for the soil to be slightly moist. Gardeners also recommend adding a houseplant fertilizer during the watering phase in the spring and summer seasons for encouragement. If planting goes successfully, expect the flowers of orchid cacti to bloom starting every April.

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Discussion Comments
By myharley — On Jun 21, 2011

Many types of orchid cactus will only bloom at night which I find quite interesting. They can also have very fragrant flowers with a light, almost exotic scent to them.

Of all the different cactus types I have purchased and planted, I think the orchid cactus is one of the most unique. I have only had one of them, but waiting for the beautiful blooms was well worth it.

By golf07 — On Jun 20, 2011

Many orchid cactus plants are known for their beautiful and fragrant flowers. I love both orchids and cactus and thought this would be a perfect combination and planted one in a hanging pot because it had somewhat of a trailing habit.

After reading about them online and seeing many beautiful orchid cactus pictures, I was excited to grow one myself. It was a very easy plant to grow and is very spectacular when in bloom. I just wished the blooms lasted longer, but that is no different than any flowering plant.

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