This Week's Podcast: A Replay: The Reluctant Queen
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I get e-mails and comments from listeners and podcast subscribers from time to time. I’d love to get more. The most often asked questions, by far, are about the night-blooming cereus: Epiphyllum oxypetalum.
For example, Mark writes, “…my Queen of the Night cactus plant that's nine years old never bloomed I fertilize it once a month March to November with a 15-30-15, keep in a cool place in the winter months and how come you never blooms?
[In] summer time I have it out in the full Sun. It is about 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide in a 6 inch pot…I heard the plant likes to be root bound…does it bloom around the full moon?”
Well, I tried a lot of things to get mine to bloom over the years. The thing that worked for me was repotting this jungle cactus in a larger pot and feeding it. That’s pretty much against the prevailing wisdom. Mine blooms, but I don’t think it coincides with the full moon.
This year, in late June, four flower buds formed and they are getting larger every day.
I do not have mine in full sun – just bright light and a couple of hours touched by the sun. I fertilize mine, but not as much as Mark does. I dilute a water-soluble organic plant food and fertilize about one out of three times I water. I let the soil dry a bit between watering’s, but in winter, I keep the soil pretty dry and the plant in a sunny place that can go down to 55 degrees F.
The plants are not pretty. It is very top heavy. I have a sort of cage made of plant stakes pushed into the medium inside the edge of the pot and a bit of jute string corralling the taller shoots.
The year that I potted up the plant from its potbound prison from a five-inch pot to an eight-inch pot, I got four flowers. The next year I got half dozen and a few extra buds at the end of summer just before the frost. Unfortunately, I usually see those late flowers the day after they bloom.
The giant white flowers begin to open late (left). You can almost see them unfurling (if you stay up late – even later if night is cool). Epiphyllum oxypetalum originated in Central America. All cacti are from this hemisphere; none grow in Africa, Asia or Europe. But not all love the desert. Oxypetalum plants are jungle cacti that grow in leaf litter in crevices in trees. The plants are epiphytic…hence Epiphyllum: an epiphyte is a plant that grows on another plant, but does not harm it. These plants do not grow in soil in nature, or not a lot of soil, I think that’s where the thought of potbound comes from, as well as the fact that many houseplants do bloom more readily if they are potbound. In their homeland, the air is moist – something they would like.
In cold climates, most folks just try and grow Epiphyllum oxypetalum, but there are many jungle or orchid cacti and scores of magnificent hybrids. In California, Florida and other frost-free locations, they can be grown outdoors (right: Noel Gieleghem and Brandon Tyson’s California collection). I have a beautiful one with a great story.
I got a cutting of this plant from a friend in Colorado. He grew up on a cattle ranch. The cook who drove the chuck wagon had gotten a cutting from his mother in the Caribbean, and she had had it from her mother. I have no idea exactly what hybrid it is. It is small, and the pure pink flowers are about half the size of most orchid cacti (right). It, like the others, grows horizontally and is best in a hanging basket.
The night-blooming cereus is the only one I know that produces vertical growth. The fragrance of the flowers is a bit like wintergreen. In its homeland, nectar-seeking bats push their faces into the open flower, get covered with pollen and fly off to the next flower to lap up the sweet liquid deep in the blossom and fertilize that plant in the bargain.