Plant and Garden

Epiphyllum A.k.a. Curly Sue

Succulents have incredible adaptations to survive the inhospitable terrains they generally inhabit. Epiphyllum curly lock is an example of a cactus that uses its stems to capture more moisture and light.  Unusual, the plant has curly, curved stems which are the result of a mutation of a plant called Epiphyllum guatemalense. In fact, the name for this mutated cactus is Epiphyllum monstrosa.

Epiphyllum A.k.a. Curly Sue Epiphyllum, Epiphyllum phyllanthus var. guatemalense ‘Monstrosa’The foliage of this Epiphyllum wants to twist and curl into great locks of flat, rich green foliage. Rather small for an Epiphyllum, the 3″ white flowers open at night and are often followed by small red, delicious, edible fruit.

Consequently, with this particular cultivar of Epiphyllum guatamalense the flowers may or may not open fully or at all but as it is self-pollinating it may produce fruit even so. In addition, this is an easy hanging basket plant and is sure to be a conversation piece!

Where are Epiphyllums found?

Epiphyllums are one of the few true jungle Cacti where they are often found growing with the orchids and bromeliads far removed from the forest floor. Since the flowers are only open for a short time at night they are typically pollinated by bats and large moths. If pollinated, and in some cases without, the flowers can mature into deliciously edible fruit.

Epiphytic plants live in trees and rock crevasses. The mother of the Epiphyllum cactus, curly locks, was from Guatemala. It was a plant that sprouted one or more abnormal curved stems. These were harvested and cloned to produce the crazy little cactus we propagate today. These plants are wonderful hanging basket specimens and make quite the conversation piece with their twisted, arching limbs. In nature, curly locks might be growing in a tree crotch or other almost soilless area. Epiphyllums are often called air plants because they do not rely upon terra firma as their growing medium.

Curly locks have bright green, twisting stems. It produces 3-inch wide white flowers with 6-inch long tubes that open at night. This is because in nature it is pollinated by moths and bats, and these night animals can see the big white blooms easily. Oval, bright pink seedy fruits form once blooms are pollinated. These fruits are juicy and edible. The plant is also self-pollinating and fruits can form even without the intervention of insects and mammals. Epiphyllum plants are often called orchid cacti.

Propagating Epiphyllum  ‘Monstrosa’

Allow cut pieces to callus for several days then plant into an appropriate medium. Make your own potting mix with 3 parts commercial potting soil and 1 part small to medium pumice. If pumice is not available, use bark chips or perlite. The soil must hold moisture but drain quickly. Keep the cutting in low light until it roots. Do not let the medium dry out but don’t let it get soggy either. The orchid cactus cutting needs to be installed 1 or 2 inches below the soil at a serration. Rooting should occur in a couple of weeks and after that the plant really takes off, producing new curled stems.

Curly Locks Orchid Cactus Care

The biggest danger is overwatering. The cactus needs to have moist roots at all times but they should not be sitting in a dish of water. Make sure the top 1/3 of the soil is dry before watering. In late winter, expose the cactus to cooler temperatures to promote spring flowering. As a result, keep them in the basement or a garage for a couple of weeks to spur bud formation. Also, the biggest danger when raising Epiphyllums is lighting. Much as these plants grow in thick forests in the understory and are used to dappled light at best.

Just like any plant, they need light but should be protected from bright midday light. Morning sun is preferable to indirect light the rest of the way. If you find a spot where the cactus is happy, make sure to leave it there, as they do not like change. Use a 10-10-10 fertilizer diluted weekly during the growing season. In February, feed the plant with a 2-10-10 to promote blooming. Most of all, repot the cacti every 7 years or so but remember, the plant only blooms when it is pot bound.  So you may want to hold off for as long as possible


 

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