Curly orchid cactus care is easier than you might think. Although this plant looks unique and dramatic, its care needs aren’t! Learn a few things you need to know to help this plant thrive.
Curly orchid cactus care: Epiphyllum guatemalense monstrose
If you’ve read my past plant posts, you might remember my care posts for epiphyllum oxypetalum (night-blooming cereus) and epiphyllum anguliger/selenicereus anthonyanus (ric rac cactus). Well today I’m adding another to the epiphyllum gang: epiphyllum guatemalense monstrose. (My curly cactus also made an appearance in my quick tip post about how to drill drainage holes in concrete pots!)
But don’t worry, I won’t make you remember that. Because most people just call it the curly cactus, orchid cactus, curly locks cactus, or the curly sue cactus. Much like the ric rac cactus, the orchid cactus looks unique and dramatic, but its care requirements aren’t unique and dramatic. In fact, curly orchid cactus care is pretty standard.
What is a curly orchid cactus?
The curly locks orchid cactus itself is actually a mutation of another plant. It comes from the epiphyllum guatemalense plant, and the curly stems are the mutation. That’s why the scientific name for this plant is the epiphyllum guatemalense monstrose.
It is a jungle cactus that has evolved to grow in very poor conditions—on trees, between rocks, or in a variety of otherwise less-than-optimal growing situations. In fact, the curly orchid cactus is an epiphyte, which is a type of plant that survives on moisture and nutrients from the air, from other plants, or from water that the plant’s stems collect.
Light, water, soil, and temperature needs
Bright but indirect light will help your plant’s curly locks thrive. But since it’s from the rainforest where it has evolved to live happily under a dense canopy of trees, it can also handle medium light. Whatever you do, shield it from too much direct light. The curly stems will burn.
Do not overwater this plant. As an epiphyte, this plant grows up trees and doesn’t want to live in moist soil. Water when the soil dries out completely. Help protect your plant’s roots from rot by planting it in a well-draining soil amended with some additional perlite. Or just use a cactus/succulent soil mix.
The curly orchid cactus will do just fine in a variety of normal household temperatures and humidity levels. But because it is from the jungle, it will appreciate all the extra humidity you can give it! Help keep your curly orchid cactus its happiest by misting its stems with water or adding a humidifier nearby.
Propagating a curly orchid cactus in soil
Much like other epiphyllums, curly orchid cactus plants do just fine when they are snug in their pots, so they don’t need frequent repotting. They are also very easy to propagate. The stems aren’t especially delicate or anything, but they do have some weak joints.
That means you might knock some sections of the stems off while repotting or handling the plant. You might also just want to prune your plant to improve its appearance or shorten stems that have gone wild. You can easily propagate these cuttings.
To do so, set them in a cool, dark place for a few days and let the cut end of the stem callus over. This will help the new plant regulate its water intake when you plant it. Next, plant the cutting in a mix of well-draining soil—something like the well-draining soil I outlined above in the care section.
Water your cutting to keep the soil moist. Try to avoid letting it dry out or overwatering it. You want just enough moisture to help encourage root growth. When you notice new growth or when you feel significant resistance from the plant when you try to gently tug it out of the soil, that means it is rooted! Began caring for the plant as normal.
Propagating in water
Another option is to pop your stem cutting cut-end down into water. Rooting in water is usually always my favorite way to propagate plants because I can monitor root formation. Once the roots are an inch or so long, I plant the cutting, keep it moist for a week or so while it is getting established, and then lay off the water.