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If you are looking for a strange and exotic houseplant, Epiphyllum oxypetalum, or Queen of the Night, definitely fits that ticket. Sometimes you will also see this plant named Night Blooming Cereus, or more generically as orchid cactus, but if you follow me on my blog and on my Instagram (@ohiotropics), you know how I feel about common names! Why should you grow Epiphyllum oxypetalum? Epiphyllum oxypetalum:
- Are a cinch to grow
- Grow quickly
- Are very exotic and unusual looking
- Produce some of the most stunning flowers you will ever see
- Bloom only at night so this adds quite a bit of intrigue! I have a story about this later…so keep reading
Ephiphyllum Oxypetalum in Nature
It’s always wise to take a cue from where and how plants grow in nature, so that we can better understand how to grow them in our homes.
This plant is actually a species of jungle cactus, and is related to what you may know as “orchid cactus” (which is not an orchid at all, but it is a cactus.) Hey, at least half of the common name is accurate.
Epiphyllums are native to parts of Mexico, and Central and South America. For the most part, they are largely epiphytic, like most orchids and bromeliads. This means that they grow on tree trunks or branches. They will send out growth and ramble among the canopy.
Since these are actually cacti, just like their desert relatives, this means that they have no leaves. The “leaves” are actually modified stems!
As I mentioned, these plants are epiphytes and grow in shadier locations in the jungle. So be sure not to give them TOO much direct sun, but at the same time if you place them in too dark of a location, they will not bloom for you.
Years ago, I had propagated an Epiphyllum oxypetalum from my great aunt. She would always trade cuttings with other ladies from work, so she gave me some cuttings. It grew into a monster as a floor specimen, and it actually reached the ceiling!
It was so long ago, but I was fortunate enough to have kept a picture of when it started blooming. I will reveal the secrets of how I got it to bloom later. Isn’t it gorgeous?
For the Epiphyllum oxypetalum that I had growing up, it grew in front of a large southern facing window. In the winter, the blinds were wide open and it was able to take those conditions.
During the rest of the year, the direct sun was filtered with blinds so that it received very bright, but indirect light, for most of the year. This really proved to be a great location for this plant. Remember, it can not take too much direct sunshine.
Many, many years later, I obtained another one for myself and it lives happily in front of an Eastern window.
These plants are often sold in hanging baskets, but I prefer mine as either floor plants, or on plant stands. They will end up looking awkward eventually in a hanging basket, and grow much too large. I do like to grow them in a heavy pot, either terra cotta or a ceramic pot, because they can get top heavy.
Long Shoots on Epiphyllum
Have you ever wondered what the long shoots are on your Epiphyllum oxypetalum, or maybe on your other species of Epiphyllum? Take a look at the wild and crazy stolons on my plant below:
After going considerable research, the long growths that you see are very normal. In the wild, Epiphyllum oxypetalum will send out long stolons and then attach onto a tree with the roots.
If you look closely at the photo, you can see little roots along the stolons. This is the natural growth habit and how the plant will move around the tree canopies, possibly in search of better light!
Epiphyllum Oxypetalum Potting Soil
Being epiphytic plants, these plants really need a very loose, well drained potting mix. The Epiphyllum Society of America recommends using a camelia or azalea potting mix, to which you would add perlite and bark.
If you don’t want to purchase a camelia or azalea potting mix, you can do what I do. I’ve achieved perfectly good results with my custom blend of materials that I always have on hand.
I’ll use whatever all-purpose potting mix I have on hand, and then I like to mix in some perlite and moth orchid bark mix. Remember, epiphytes need an airy potting mix and demand superior drainage.
I’ll use a combination of the Espoma Potting Mix, to which I add additional Perlite, and also handfuls of moth orchid bark mix. These are all materials that I ALWAYS have on hand. I rarely use a potting mix anymore without amending it somehow to suit various plants.
I don’t have any strict measurements. Just take your all-purpose potting mix, add a couple handfuls of perlite and a couple big handfuls of the orchid bark, and it will be a far superior potting mix for any of your epiphytic jungle cacti!
How Do You Get Orchid Cactus to Bloom?
Proper light is always #1 when it comes to getting any plant to flower the way it should.
Another way to encourage blooming in many plants, including Epiphyllum oxypetalum, is to make sure that you don’t put them in too large of a pot. They do like to be somewhat root bound, so don’t go crazy repotting. If you do need to repot, only go up one or two pot sizes larger than where you started.
Use a general houseplant fertilizer, or one that is a low-nitrogen fertilizer such as the Schultz cactus fertilizer that I love using on all my succulents and cacti. I like to use this fertilizer on all my succulents and cacti (whether the cacti are desert cacti or tropical cacti like Epiphyllum), from about February or so until about October. I will typically not fertilize from October through January.
But here is a secret weapon. I had experimented with this and it produced fantastic results to get my Epiphyllum oxypetalum to bloom abundantly.
Want to know what sparked my Epiphyllum oxypetalum into bloom?
Dried Banana Peels for Fertilizer
You read it correctly! Dried banana peels for fertilizer! Years ago, when I grew the giant Epiphyllum oxypetalum at my parents’ house before I moved out, I had read about a trick to help encourage plants to bloom.
The plant was almost up to the ceiling, huge and several years old. But no blooms! It was getting plenty of light, so that certainly was not the reason why it wasn’t flowering.
So I dried some banana peels, mixed them into the soil, and within a short time, the plant started growing the gorgeous, exotic blooms! Whether this was coincidence or not, dried banana peels are a wonderful way to supplement your houseplants with readily available nutrients.
How to Dry Banana Peels
There are multiple ways that you can dry banana peels. Cut them up into small sections to speed up the drying process and then use one of the following methods to dry them:
- You can use a food dehydrator.
- You can dry them in the oven at 160F with the door slightly propped open or ajar. Please don’t forget about the oven though. Safety first!
- You can place them on top of a wire mesh or screen outside in full sun, with another screen on top so animals don’t get to it. You will have to repeat this for a few days, and bring them inside or in a sheltered location at night so condensation doesn’t wet the banana peels.
Use any of the above methods, but the end goal is to have very, very dry and crispy banana peels.
Once you have thoroughly dried out the banana peels, you can either use them as is, or you can use a food processor or a high powered blender and beat up the dried banana peels into a powder or smaller chunks. This will speed up the availability of the nutrients once you add it to the soil.
Then simply take some of the dried banana peels and top dress your pot with them. Incorporate them into the top layer of the soil, and water them in if your plant is dry.
Why do banana peels make amazingly wonderful fertilizer for flowering plants?
Use dried banana peels in conjunction with your regular fertilizer because banana peels contain no nitrogen, which is needed for leafy growth.
The NPK analysis on dried banana peels is 0-3-42. The banana peels will break down more quickly than other organic fertilizer that you purchase. The Potassium, Phosphorus and Calcium the peels provide will be very beneficial for your plants, whether they are flowering plants or not.
Why not give your plants a boost with dried banana peels? The bananas are healthy for you to eat, and then you can make your own fertilizer with the peels. Just make sure that you use it in conjunction with other fertilizers since banana peels contain no Nitrogen, which is also important for plant growth.
Add your homemade banana peel fertilizer around the end of winter, in the February to March timeframe. See what happens! You may just get lucky enough to get flowers. Keep in mind that a plant typically will need to be at least 3 years old before flowering can occur.
Watering Epiphyllum Oxypetalum
Be careful not to let your pot dry out completely. For most of my plants, in larger pots, I like to use the rule of thumb of letting the top inch to two inches dry out, and then I water thoroughly.
Don’t let your Epiphyllum sit in water for extended periods. As epiphytes in nature, they demand excellent drainage and should never sit in water for any extended period.
Epiphyllum Oxypetalum Flowers
Epiphyllum oxypetalum typically bloom in Spring or Summer. And one word of caution! The flowers will open up at night and if you get up too late the next day, they will be completely done! They only last one night!
You can imagine the excitement after my gigantic plant bloomed for the first time. I noticed the buds starting to grow off the modified stems and watched them grow day by day.
Be sure to check them every night though, because if you miss the critical one night that the flower is open, you will be very disappointed!
The flowers that you see in the photo above were a full 9 inches in diameter! Amazing!
They also have a lovely fragrance, and although their flowers last but only one night, they are totally worth it. If you are lucky, your plant may put out multiple flowers.
Placing Your Epiphyllum Outdoors
Another very beneficial thing for your Epiphyllum is to place them outdoors when the weather is warm enough.
Wait until the night time temperatures are consistently a minimum of 55F or so before you place them outside.
Houseplants can greatly benefit from summering outdoors, especially epiphytes such as Epiphyllum, orchids, and bromeliads.
Be sure to place your plant in complete shade first so it doesn’t burn. Your plant will have spent a long time indoors in less than ideal conditions, so your plant will need time to harden off.
Keep it in complete shade for several days. Then you can maybe move it to an area with dappled sun, or maybe just a touch of morning sun. Avoid harsh mid-afternoon sun or your plant may quickly burn.
Propagating Queen of the Night
Propagating Epiphyllum oxypetalum is very easy.
- Select a leaf to cut and cut off a 4-6 inch portion or so from the tip of a leaf. Take multiple cuttings if you’d like.
- Dip the end of the cutting that you cut into a rooting hormone. I always have this rooting hormone on hand for soil propagation projects. It will increase your chances, and speed, of rooting. It is inexpensive and well worth it.
- This step is critical! Be sure that you then place your cutting(s) in a cool and relatively darker area for a good two weeks, or close to it. Why? Because you need to let any succulent or cactus (remember, this is a tropical cactus) dry out and callous over where the cut is so that you can minimizing rotting.
- Then simply insert them in an epiphyllum potting mix that I described earlier in this post. Use a smaller pot, maybe 4 or 5 inches. Or 6 inches at the most if you have multiple cuttings. Insert the cutting about an inch deep or so and make sure that it is secure and not flopping around.
- Wait at least 7-10 days before watering. Then give it a light water. Keep it on the dry side with occasional watering when the medium is dry to almost completely dry.
After new growth is visible, then you can start a regular watering regiment.
For other blog posts that relate to the topics of this post, please visit these useful articles that will elaborate on topics that were not fully covered in this post:
Check out my blog post on how to repot a houseplant.
Check out this blog post on summering your houseplants outside. It goes in depth on how to properly make the transition so your plants don’t undergo shock.
So there you go! So whatever you call it…Epiphyllum oxypetalum, Queen of the Night or any other common name, this is one of the most unusual, delightful plants that you can easily grow indoors. And few plants can match the flower power of Epiphyllum oxypetalum! Just don’t get up out of bed too late or you may miss the flowers…