Sunday, July 10, 2011

Serious Cereus

Everybody needs a helping hand at times, right? What if you do all of your important stuff at night and there are very few people around?  That is kind of the boat that today's topic finds itself in.
Epiphyllum oxypetalum also known as Dutchman's Pipe Cactus, Orchid Cactus and Night Blooming Cereus is an epiphyte. This is a plant that grows on another plant which it depends on for mechanical support but not for nutrients. A helping hand type of thing. And of course it's other common name,night blooming cereus, kind of gives it away as to what time of the day it flowers.
This plants native range runs from Mexico to Brazil. It can be a very large grower, getting up to 20 feet tall, or long depending on how you look at it. It prefers to grow in the upper story of tropical jungles by clinging to trees by means of aerial roots. It produces dark green branches and fragrant white flowers, no wonder it is also known as Queen of the Night.
Just look at this flower:

Unfortunately, the flower, which can be 6" or more across, only lasts for 1-3 days (nights). It opens in the evening around dusk and closes at the first sign of sunrise in the morning. If you are lucky, this will repeat for a couple of more nights. Flowering times range from late Spring through most of the Summer.
As you can imagine being from that far South, it can only grow in USDA zones 10b to 12. They will tolerate temperatures less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit for a few hours, but will be damaged if exposed to freezing temperatures for any length of time. Most of the time it is grown as a house plant. Don't let the length possibility scare you though, this plant can be cut back to whatever size you want it to be and it will be happy. 
If you are blessed with ample room, yours could look like this picture I found online:
The Queen needs partial shade, remember, she is used to growing in the tree tops of the jungle.  She also needs a well draining potting soil with compost and plenty of humus along with sufficient moisture, especially in the Summer. A cactus potting mix works well. 
As your soil mix breaks down, the roots of the plant can suffer from too much water and lack of air around the root mass. It is a very good idea to repot every 2 years or so to keep the plants healthy.
After a long Winter indoors, be very careful when bringing it back outside, it can get sunburned very easy. The leaves are broad and do not resemble the usual fleshy leaves of other succulents.
This is your official geek alert!  
The leaf-like structures are actually flattened stems, generally called cladophylls.
You will want to fertilize the plants on a monthly basis with a balanced fertilizer diluted to 1/2 the strength recommended on the label. Do not use a fertilizer too high in nitrogen, the first number should not be over 10. It can cause the growth to be mushy. Do not fertilize during the Winter.
The Epiphyllum oxypetalum is an easy and fast growing epiphyte. They can be propagated from cuttings. Dip the cuttings in rooting hormone before planting in moist, but not soggy, soil mix.
This would be a good candidate for a cutting:

The smaller leaf off to the right is the one I am talking about. They can also be propagated by dividing large plants. It generally takes 2–3 years to raise a blooming size plant from a rooted cutting.
 As for pests, there are a few. Scale and mealybugs start the list, they can be controlled with insecticidal soap. Snails and slugs love epiphyllums! They can skeletonize the leaves in a short time and will do lots of damage. That is why these plants should never be allowed to grow on the ground. Snail bait should be put out on a regular basis. Please read the label regarding these products.
This plant can definitely bring a huge WOW factor to any house or yard. It is one of the easiest to grow. There is one more nice bonus to this plant, SHOULD you be lucky enough to have it happen. Once the Queen flowers and IF she happens to get pollinated, usually by moths and sometimes bats, it will produce fruit and it IS edible!
Kinda looks like this:

Happy Growing!


  1. Where Can I find one of these? gee ...... Like I really need another plant!!

  2. They actually are Christine.
    Babs, I am not sure what part of South Carolina you are in, but a very easy place to get one will be at my plant swap this coming September.
    I am pretty sure my mother is rooting some cuttings and if nothing else, I can bring you a cutting. It will be September 24th in North Charleston. Drop me an e-mail if you want more information.
    As for where else to get one? You can check some of the Big Box stores or your local nursery. I am sure there are places online too. I don't even remember where I originally got mine.

  3. Darren,
    I recently received my Great Aunts Night Blooming Cereus. We can remember it being on her back room for years. Can you tell me how to prune this? It was damaged slightly in transport and I am wondering if I can trim back the tall spindle leg like part that is shooting up into the air 4-5 fee above the plant? I don't want to do anything to damage the plant but these legs got bent in my truck and have a little brown spot at the bend. Thank you so much for all your in put!

  4. Hello Nature Enjoy-er,
    Actually pruning it will not cause any harm. Matter of fact, any piece that you cut off, you can root and create a whole new plant to give to other relatives.
    If you can send me some pictures of where the damage is, I can give you an idea of where to cut and how to propagate those cuttings.
    Send the pictures to:

    1. jberg166@yahoo.comJuly 9, 2014 at 4:02 PM

      I had three of these plants for over thirty years, had them in iowa, took them to texas. and moved ti ks.20 yrs ago. had them inside my garage this last winter and they all froze I have pictures of them am looking for another to get started again.

    2. Jberg,
      Not sure where in Texas you can find one. If you don't send me an e-mail:
      Maybe we can work out a cutting.

  5. Hello Darren
    Just came across your site looking for ways to support a huge cereus we have. As we're in Australia, it is outside all the time. The previous owners had a trellis at the back of it but it has really outgrown this and is kind of flopping about :-) One of your pictures looks as though there's string tied to anchor points and the plant? Would this be the best idea?
    Many thanks for your help (and apologies if I've dragged up a too-old post!
    Now to get carried away reading through your blog posts!

    1. Hello Margaret,
      I was looking at the pictures, I don't see the string you are talking about. These are all my pictures, except for the large flowering one, in a room. There might be strings there, can't quite tell. I have used a tie up system, though it involved running string/rope through old pieces of garden hose. Less chance of it "cutting" the plant. Would love to see pics! Send them to

  6. Hi Darren

    Many thanks for your reply! It was the one indoors I was referring to and I do see some string holding it up. Anyway, I'll get some pics and send them through to you.

  7. Hi , I have a large plant that was given to my mother -in-law - she gave it to me & I think it might be a cereus. Do you ID plants? Thanks Christina

    1. Hello Christina,
      I can and I do, ID plants. You can send the pictures to me at

    2. I just sent you the pictures - Thanks so much. I love plants & just want to know what this is so I can care for it!!

  8. Holy crap, I live in Park circle! Next time there is a plant swap I am definitely going to come talk to you about my cereus.

    1. Hey Kevin,
      Yes, please come and chat!
      The next one is April 30th, 2016
      If you are on Facebook, check out:
      To keep tabs on things around North Charleston

  9. Can I grow a fig in a pot? I've got a cutting some 10 inches long and would like to grow it in a pot approx 30 gallons big as I am not allowed to grow trees in the ground in my community garden plot. My papaya is now 16 inches tall in a pot and the dragon fruit is putting out new growth (it's not a "tree" so I can grow it in the ground.) Living in So Cal where all kinds of tropical and subtropical stuff will grow, figs are growing everywhere but I need to have it in a pot.

    1. Hello segalkatt,
      YES, you can grow a fig in a container.
      I can send you some pictures of mine if you would like.
      Drop me an e-mail at

  10. Thanks for the information! My moms plant had a red bulb looking thing on it and by coming here I realized its a fruit!!

  11. How often will these things Bloom? My mother had one and right now I have 2 blooms with three more off one leaf. We don't fertilize it or anything

  12. How often will these things Bloom? My mother had one and right now I have 2 blooms with three more off one leaf. We don't fertilize it or anything

  13. what should I do with a badly sunburned night blooming Cereus plant Should I cut off parts of the stem that have turned brown or what I want to save the plant it has been around for many years . I just moved it outside on a few very sunny days to a place on the terrace in which it did well all last summer but this year there were five days where temperatures maxed out at 90 degrees with a bright sun did not realize until too late. It has bloomed about every other year for the last 10 years or so. Look forward to your guidance

    Thell M. Woods

  14. Mine was also sunburned I put it outside yesterday and came home from work today and half of the plant has turned black and I'm not really sure what to do at this point. Do I cut off the burnt pieces do I put it back inside or should I just keep it out in the hot temperature and put it in a more shady place. We have the air conditioner going in our house all the time I didn't think the heat would have liked it that bad but it must have got too much sun