Home » Orchid cactus – Epiphyllum

Orchid cactus – Epiphyllum

The cactus species and hybrids of the genus Epiphyllum are commonly referred to as orchid cacti due to the orchid-like appearance of their flowers. They are not closely related to orchids. Orchids belong to the family Orchidaceae in the order Asparagales, while orchid cacti belong to the family Cactaceae in the order Caryophyllales.

The term orchid cactus is also used for a type of cactus hybrids within the tribe Hylocereeae, particularly hybrids formed from species of Disocactus, Pseudorhipsalis and Selenicereus. Epiphyllum species are less often involved, but the hybrids are despite this often referred to as epiphyllum hybrids, epiphyllums, epicacti or simply epis1.

The orchid cactus species of the genus Epiphyllum

Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Cactaceae
Subfamily: Cactoideae
Tribe: Hylocereeae
Genus: Epiphyllum

Epiphyllum is a genus of epiphytic plants in the cactus family. These species are commonly known as orchid cactus plants, and their common names sometimes often allude to this, e.g. Crenate Orchid Cactus (Epiphyllum crenatum).

All described orchid cactus species in the genus Epiphyllum are native to South- or Central America and produce large (8-16 cm in diameter) funnelform flowers with numerous petals. The color of the blooms varies from white to white and yellowish. (Hybrids can have other colors, such as red and purple.) Most species of orchid cactus open their flowers during the night, but there are exceptions such as Epiphyllum crenatum and Epiphyllum laui that will stay open all day. The flowers are even more stunning than those produced by most orchids.

The orchid cactus fruit is edible and similar to the more commonly eaten pitaya fruit produced by cactus plants in the related genus Hylocereus. Compared to a pithaya, the fruit of an orchid cactus is small, normally not exceeding 4 cm in length.

The stems of orchid cactus plants are normally 1-5 cm broad and 3-5 mm thick, usually with lobed edges.

Examples of orchid cactus species in the genus Epiphyllum2

Name Distribution Additional information
Epiphyllum anguliger Mexico Flowers up to 20 cm long, with outer petals opening 11-13 cm wide and inner petals opening around 6 cm wide. Stems roughly 7 cm wide and resembles those of Selenicereus anthonyanus
and Weberocereus imitans.
Epiphyllum cartagense Costa Rica Flowers 15-21 cm long. Mostly cylindrical stems that widens to 2-8 cm at the tip.
Epiphyllum caudatum Mexico Flowers 12-15 cm long. Lower stems are cylindrical, while stems are flat and 3-4 cm wide at the tip.
Epiphyllum crenatum Central America; exact location depends on variant There are many different geographical varieties of this species.
Epiphyllum grandilobum Central America Flowers 32-38 cm long, 26-30 cm wide. One of the largest cactus flowers. Stems 15-25 cm wide, wavy-toothed.
Epiphyllum laui Mexico Flowers circa 18 cm long and 8 cm wide. Outer petals yellow, inner petals white. Opens during the day. Stems are 5-7 cm wide, soft, shiny and wavy-toothed. Sparse hair-like spines.
Epiphyllum lepidocarpum Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama Flowers 15-22 cm long and 15-19 cm wide. The base features <13 mm long linear scales and <4 mm long hairs. Stems are linear and 3-5 cm wide with <11 mm long hairs. Needs a cool environment.
Epiphyllum oxypetalum Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras Flowers 27-34 cm long and about 20 cm wide. Stems mostly cylindrical. The apex widens to <10 cm.
Epiphyllum phyllanthus Depends on the variety There are many different geographical varieties of this species.
Epiphyllum pumilum Guatemala, Belize Flowers 8-12 cm long.
Epiphyllum ruestii Honduras Might be an ally or synonym of Epiphyllum thomasianum.
Epiphyllum thomasianum Depends on the variety. There are many different geographical varieties of this species.
1Anderson, Edward F. (2001), The Cactus Family, Pentland, Oregon: Timber Press, ISBN 978-0-88192-498-5, p. 28
2 Myron Kimnach, Epiphyllum species at GotEpis.com, http://gotepis.com/drupal/node/4, retrieved 2012-07-18