Thursday, May 02, 2013

Propagating Epiphyllums

The flower diversity at the Southern California Spring Garden Show prompted Douglas Welch of A Gardener's Notebook and I to talk about plant propagation.

I've successfully grown two variety of epiphyllum for years. The Sunset Western Garden Book gives the common name of "orchid cactus" for epiphyllum. Epiphyllums are a type of cactus with long flat stems that are scalloped along the edges and give the appearance of leaves. The few spines are at the base of these scallops. 

These plants naturally come from the forests of Central and South America where rain is frequent. It is odd to think of forest cactus, but that is what these plants are. They have small shallow roots and typically settle into the nooks and crannies in trees and between rocks. Here in pockets of leaf litter, they thrive on rain water and nutrients washing off the surrounding plants.

The wild plants have large, mostly white-or-cream-colored flowers that bloom at night with a heavy scent. They are pollinated by bats and they produce a fruit that is also eaten by mammals, who then disperse the seeds. Hybridized plants come in a broad spectrum of colors (ESA display at Garden Show) and they tend to flower during the day.

I'm going to share my plants with Douglas. Following the advice of the Epiphyllum Society of America, I cut off a blade and let it heal in a dark dry place for up to 10 days. One of the sections I selected already had a root forming when I cut it.

Douglas can now plant these in a loose soil of bark, sand and potting mix. Let it sit without water for 2 weeks then gradually begin to water occasionally. Once rooted they should be kept moist but not wet. I've found clay pots hold moisture during our hot summer without keeping the plants too wet.  It takes about 2 years for a cutting to bloom.

just about to bloom
To get the right amount of air flow, my pots are up on the edge of a wall in partial shade. The second perk to this location is that the sprinklers just lightly reach them.

While epiphyllums are not native to Southern California, the large valley carpenter bee will visit the blooms. Western fence lizards appreciate the elevated location and linger in the pots. And when the blooms open I am reminded how their shape is perfect for hugging a nectar eating bat. 

No comments: