Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dispelling Myths about Epiphyllum oxypetalum

Epiphyllum oxypetalum, Mama called it Night Blooming Cereus. It isn't a Cereus; it is a jungle cactus native from Mexico to Brazil.

Fully open bloom between 10 pm and midnight with an incredible fragrance.

When days got too warm in the greenhouse, we loaded up and moved to a cool shady spot.

Because I tend to root any piece that breaks, there are several pots of these things. Few people around here want to tend a plant that grows big and gangly and requires protection from frost. Most of those given away met an untimely end. This is the Coastal South, hot and humid. Summers here are ideal for growing jungle cacti. Winters require protection for the plants. 

A week ago, buds were hanging straight down. Dry weather meant I didn't water enough to save every bud and some dried up.

Among the myths about this plant is that they bloom only once a year for 2-3 days and that it takes up to 20 years to see a bloom. 

Instructions for propagation usually start with a piece about 4" -- only if you have a small plant and want to make many plants that take forever to bloom. I've had blooms the same summer on large pieces that broke off and I rooted. Sometimes I cut off ugly pieces and throw them on the ground under the bench. They often root and send up pretty new leaves. 

In my garden, they've bloomed as early as May some years, as late as October in the greenhouse. Repeat blooms form all summer. Tiny buds have already formed on other cladodes as these bloom. From tiny bud to bloom takes less than a month. 

This is the clue that bloom is eminent: the bud turns up in a pipe form.
The one on the right bloomed last night. The one on the left will bloom tonight.

Buds form from veins along the sides of each flat phylloclade which is not really a leaf but a flattened stem. Along the 'leaves' new phylloclades also form. Sometimes it is hard to determine whether we see a bud or a new cladode until the bump gets big enough to see if it is round or flat. 

At 9 pm last night, the bloom was half open.

Even half open, the scent is spicy and sweet. I cut one to bring inside and let the others bloom unseen in the dark. Come sunup, they hang limp and spent.

If you want to see photos of some open blooms try this link: Epiphyllum from 2012.

Walking back from the secret garden where Epiphyllums bloom, I caught the fragrance of Brugmansia blooms nearer the house.

Both these plants tend to bloom near the same time, in sequential bloom times, so I wonder if bloom is tied to phases of the moon?


  1. I remember admiring a large night-blooming Epiphyllum at a rental house my husband and I lived in many years ago and have coveted one ever since. I bought an unrooted cutting at a flower show several years ago but it never took. Do you have suggestions as to how to get a cutting started?

  2. I had one of these, very tall and awkward and ungainly, that I couldn't take when we moved. I hadn't had it long, and it had never bloomed for me, so I've never actually seen or smelled its flowers. I haven't seen them for sale in any of the houseplant sections or nurseries here.

  3. Someone gave me a plant many years ago that they called Night Blooming Cereus. I've never really questioned the named. It looks kinda like yours, but the stems are narrower and thicker, though, new growth is flat and thinner. It blooms a white flower, which produces a prickly pear type fruit. I'm curious now to find out what it is. Time to start doing some research.

  4. Bizarre but beautiful. Why would it bloom at night? What pollinates it?

  5. I really like Datura and had one for years. Unfortunately, the winter did it in. The insects loved it too. Yours is very pretty.

  6. Such an excellent post. So informative. Thank you.

    I have my first one in front of me right now and this article provided me just the right glimpse into their personality.

  7. Mine just blossomed tonight. I have had it for three years.

    I was actually browsing for its western myth since Javanese had terrible myth about this flowers.


I look forward to comments and questions and lively discussion of gardening and related ideas.

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