4 Types of Epiphytic Cacti: Care and Propagation Guide

Epiphytic cacti look nothing like the cacti varieties we are familiar with. They can live in any kind of weather. Epiphytic cacti aren’t parasitic in nature, but they grow on other living plants. Here is a complete guide to epiphytic cacti:

epiphytic cacti

What Are Epiphytic Cacti?

Epiphytic cacti are a type of cactus that do not need soil. They aren’t prickly and their needs differ from those of other cacti plants.

They are native to the rainforests in the central and southern parts of the United States. The rainfall doesn’t bother them. Instead, they thrive in tropical weather.

Epiphytic cacti grow on other plants. Their roots nestle in the crooks of other fully grown trees and feed on the organic matter that collects there. This is also where they absorb water and other essential nutrients.

Epiphytes are not limited to cacti. They can be found all over the plant kingdom. What’s special about epiphytic cacti is they create a vibrant hanging display when they grow on trees.

Many epiphytic cacti are brightly colored and grow flowers too. The best part is that they do no damage to the tree they are growing on. The tree lives and grows just as it would on its own.

Since they have such low requirements and make for a visual treat, they are very popular as houseplants. There is no hassle about adding fertilizer or balancing the soil pH for these plants—they literally grow like weeds once you plant them.

Types of Epiphytic Cacti

There are many kinds of epiphytic cacti. They all have the same kinds of needs and are extremely low maintenance. Here are the 4 genera of epiphytic cacti:

Rhipsalis

rhipsalis epiphytic cacti

Cacti in the Rhipsalis genus are also known as mistletoe cacti. They are mostly found in South America and the Caribbean islands.

There are 35 species in this genus. Most of them grow flowers while others occur in vivid shades like red. Some of them are succulent, but it varies from species to species.

Selenicereus

The Selenicereus genus of epiphytic cacti is native to Mexico and Central America. They are also known as moonlight cactus because their flowers bloom at night. The genus is named after the moon goddess Selene.

Some species of this genus produce edible plants. Dragon fruit is produced by a cactus of this genus. The fruits produced by other species in the genus look like differently colored dragon fruits.

Disocactus

Disocactus epiphytic cacti

The genus of Disocactus has many species of epiphytic cacti that can grow on both rocks and trees. Plants in this genus are easily recognizable from their unique stems. They start off round but flatten into a leaf-like shape towards the ends.

Species of this genus are native to the Caribbean and the northern part of South America. They bear brightly-colored flowers, making them a popular choice among homeowners.

Weberocereus

Weberocereus epiphytic cacti

Weberocereus is perhaps the least known genus of epiphytic cacti. Many species of flowering cacti are a part of this genus. The flowers are typically green or white. Most cacti in this genus can be found in Costa Rica or Nicaragua.

How to Care for Epiphytic Cacti

Epiphytic cacti are so low maintenance that we’re wondering why we are even writing this section! Here’s the most you need to do to take care of epiphytic cacti:

Soil

As you know, epiphytic cacti do not need soil when they grow in the wild. They just sprout naturally wherever they find suitable conditions.

However, you probably don’t live in a tropical rainforest, so you need to create a growing medium for them. You can make a basic mix by mixing 60% perlite with 40% potting soil.

They need very little medium because the roots need exposure to the air. This is how they absorb moisture.

Light

They do not need full sunlight. Patchy or filtered sunlight is enough for them to grow. It is best to expose them to morning or evening sunlight as it is not as harsh as the afternoon sun.

Watering

Epiphytic cacti need to stay damp. Their roots will absorb moisture as and when they need it. Watering once a week or once in 10 days is usually enough.

In the winter, when the cacti are dormant, water them just enough to keep them from drying out. If you want, you can use a 20-20-20 fertilizer during the growing period for an extra boost of nutrients.

How to Propagate Epiphytic Cacti

Epiphytic cacti can be propagated in the following ways:

Propagation by Seeds

It is easy to propagate epiphytic cacti from seeds. Sprinkle some seeds on some fast-draining soil. Mist the soil with water. You do not need to ‘plant’ the seeds in the soil. Epiphytic cacti need to stay a little exposed to the air to grow.

Keep misting the seeds with water as and when the soil dries. These cacti grow very slowly. You don’t need to bother about repotting them for another 2 years.

Propagation by Cuttings

This is a faster method to propagate epiphytic cacti. Cacti propagated in this manner have faster growth and bloom quickly.

Make sure you use clean gardening tools to prevent the spread of disease. Remember to let the wounds heal and from calluses before you repot them.

Propagation by Pups

Some species of epiphytic cacti, like bromeliads, can be propagated by pups. As the plant grows, it is surrounded by smaller pups clustered together. These pups can be removed and planted elsewhere.

They will mature and grow bigger once they separate from the group. Pups can be harvested once they reach ⅓rd the height of the parent plant. As always, use sterile equipment and let the cuts heal before you plant the cactus.