I’m sharing tips for epiphyllum oxypetalum care. Epiphyllum oxypetalum—also known as the“queen of the night” cactus, is a gorgeous, resilient plant that blooms only at night. Learn all about this unique plant!
Epiphyllum oxypetalum care
When I first wrote about this plant several years ago (I am updating this post as of late 2022), I talked about how I got my first cutting of it from my grandma. I had never seen the plant before, but both of my grandparents had one. And both were gorgeous.
One day years ago I was at one of their houses and complimented it, not having any idea what it was. She said it was a night-blooming cactus, and she actually had a cutting I could have! She’d accidentally knocked the piece off, so instead of throwing it away, she started to root it in water. Anyone wondering where I get this from?
I gladly took it, even having literally no idea what it was or how to care for it. It was a family get-together, so we didn’t have much time to talk. She just told me it was a plant that only bloomed at night, and the flowers died before dawn. Pretty wild.
Then I was visiting my other grandmother and noticed she had a large version of the plant potted on her front patio. I asked her about it—she told me that the plant I saw was actually a pup of a much larger plant that she used to have.
And she pulled out a painting of the mother plant—including the gorgeous night bloom! She painted this years ago from a photo she took of her plant. I love it.
So what is this plant?
So let’s talk about this plant now that we know grandmas everywhere love it. What is it? Well, its most accurate name is epiphyllum oxypetalum. The genus is epiphyllum, which contains loads of different types of gorgeous trailing and climbing cactus varieties. The species is oxypetalum.
But this name is hard to remember and even harder to say, so you’ll most commonly see it called a queen of the night plant, a princess of the night plant, a night-blooming cactus, or a Dutchman’s pipe cactus. However, know that many other types of night-blooming plants (many of which are also types of epiphyllum) are referred to by these and similar names. So it can get confusing.
Table of contents
This is a long post, so if you want to skip to a specific section, check out the linked table of contents below. Enjoy!
- Epiphyllum oxypetalum vs. night-blooming cereus
- How much light does an epiphyllum oxypetalum need?
- How much water does an epiphyllum oxypetalum cactus need?
- Why are my Queen of the Night leaves turning yellow?
- What is the best soil?
- Temperature & humidity needs
- How large does an epiphyllum oxypetalum grow?
- Epiphyllum oxypetalum flowers
- How long does it take for epiphyllum oxypetalum to bloom?
- How can I encourage my epiphyllum oxypetalum to bloom?
- Epiphyllum oxypetalum propagation from cuttings
- Is epiphyllum toxic to pets or people?
Epiphyllum oxypetalum vs. night-blooming cereus
Though it is often referred to as a night-blooming cereus, it is not a cereus plant. And it is not closely related to any of the species in the tribe Cereeae, such as Selenicereus, that are more commonly known as night-blooming cereus. All Cereus species bloom at night and are terrestrial plants, while epiphyllums are usually epiphytic (and can bloom at night, too).
Once you look at a few Selenicereus plants, it will be clear where the confusing comes from. They certainly do have a lot of similarities! I own a few Selenicereus species:
- Selenicereus anthonyanus, a type of plant commonly known as “ric rac cactus.” This type of Selenicereus is also very similar to another type of epiphyllum. And that type of epiphyllum is also referred to as a ric rac cactus. Confused yet? 🙂 Don’t worry, it is extremely difficult to tell if you have an epiphyllum ric rac or a Selenicereus ric rac without seeing it flower (white on epiphyllum, pink on Selenicereus). Mine was sold to me as a Selenicereus, so until I see it flower, I’ll go with that.
- Selenicereus chrysocardium, otherwise known as a “fern leaf cactus.” Truly one of my favorites. I love the big, dramatic leaves on this one. Mine has not flowered yet, but I really got it for the leaves.
So while you’ll commonly see this plant referred to as a night-blooming cereus or a queen of the night, it could be an epiphyllum oxypetalum. I love to try to get to the bottom of what exactly I have, but if you can’t, don’t worry—the care needs for all of these orchid-style cacti are very similar.
Tell me more…
As I was researching for this post, I found some pretty cool stuff I wanted to share about how this plant is seen in different areas of the world. In India, it’s called something that roughly translates to “night lotus” in one language—in another, it is named after the Hindu God of creation. They believe that people who pray to God when the plant blooms at night will have their prayers fulfilled.
In China, the Chinese chengyu use this flower to describe someone who has an impressive but brief moment of glory. The “brief moment of glory” is because the plant often blooms only once a year. In Japan, the cactus also is highly regarded as “beauty under the moon.” And in Sri Lanka, “flower from heaven.”
Despite the worldwide love for this plant, it is actually native to southeastern Mexico and South America. However, it is grown in tropical areas across southeast Asia and has become naturalized in China.
For more epiphyllum, check out my care post on epiphyllum guatemalense monstrose, aka the curly orchid cactus!
How much light does an epiphyllum oxypetalum need?
So let’s talk about epiphyllum oxypetalum care. Overall, it is pretty easy. In terms of light requirements, epiphyllum oxypetalum prefers bright, indirect light. Place your plant in a location where it will receive plenty of indirect light throughout the day, but avoid placing it in a location where it will be exposed to direct sunlight for extended periods of time.
Direct sunlight can burn the leaves and cause the plant to become stressed. At my old house, I had my large queen hanging in a winder that got morning light. It did great. Then we moved to the new house which, pre-sunroom construction, didn’t really have any location that got good light.
Sow what did I do? I threw that bad boy outside and hung it under my neighbor’s cherry tree!epiphyllum This dense tree provided plenty of shade for the plant. It grew like crazy all summer until it was time to bring it inside.
When I brought it inside, I hung it in a window that gets a lot of light from late morning all the way up until the sun sets. This may be too much light for it next summer, so I may have to move it. As always, I monitor the plants with seasonal changes to see if it is showing signs of stress.
It might also be worth noting that even before I knew exactly what kind of light this plant needed, I had it in somewhere with a medium amount of light. It still rooted and grew very well. While it might not grow as fast, it seems that this one can tolerate medium light levels as well.
How much water does an epiphyllum oxypetalum cactus need?
In terms of watering, epiphyllum oxypetalum plants prefer to be kept evenly moist but not waterlogged. Water the plant when the top several inches of soil are dry. To water your plant, thoroughly soak the soil until water runs out of the bottom of the pot.
I generally water mine like I water my other cactuses. The leaves retain water and consist mostly of water-filled tissue, so they can survive short periods of neglect. However, they aren’t as hardy as other cactuses. Don’t let the soil dry out totally between waterings if you can help it.
During periods where I’ve neglected my plant a bit, the signs of stress I notice are limp leaves, some minor wrinkling, and—in severe cases of neglect—yellowing leaves. A good drink usually plumps the plant right back up.
If your plant is indoors, that probably means watering roughly once a week in the spring and summer, less in the winter. And if it is outdoors, the soil will likely dry out much quicker, so keep an eye on it and give it more water as needed.
If you can believe it, I largely just ignored my plant all spring and summer while it was hanging outside. I opted to let mother nature do her thing and water it. This probably wasn’t the best choice as I did have to heavily trim off some suffering leaves at the end of the season, but it was a stressful time with moving and construction.
Why are my Queen of the Night leaves turning yellow?
I mentioned yellowing leaves from underwatering. Yellowing leaves can be a result of both over and underwatering. The best way to determine which is responsible is to check the soil.
If it is bone dry and shrinking away from the edges of the pot, it’s probably underwatering. If it has been consistently wet and you haven’t been letting the top several inches dry out before watering again, it is probably overwatering. Overwatering prevents the flow of oxygen to the plant’s roots and leads to root rot.
Yellowing leaves can also be a sign of a pest infestation or issues with lighting. Look for signs of bugs on your plant such as sticky residue, webbing, and—of course—bugs! Too little light can lead to the leaves to fade and yellow a bit.
What is the best soil?
This plant needs well-draining soil to help prevent the plant’s roots from sitting in soggy soil and help with the flow of oxygen to the roots. Most plants don’t wet feet and root rot. A good mix of soil, sand, and perlite works very well.
I planted mine in my DIY succulent soil recipe that is one-third soil, one-third sand, and one-third perlite. It has been pretty happy in it because the sand and perlite helps encourage drainage and prevent too much moisture retention.
This plant would also be fine in a store-bought houseplant or indoor plant soil mix. These mixes come with additives like coco coir or peat moss for lightweight moisture retention and perlite for drainage. Read more about soil additives in my post Indoor Potting Soil 101 & the Best Soil for Houseplants!
Temperature & humidity needs
This plant does well in all typical household temperatures. If you move your plant outside for the summer, make sure to bring it indoors when the temperatures begin to drop below 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit. Epiphyllum oxypetalum plants can survive outdoors all year long only in USDA zones 10 and 11.
Humidity is a good part of optimal epiphyllum oxypetalum care, but it also tolerates normal household humidity levels well. It will probably survive just fine in your home without extra considerations, but it’s a good idea to give it a bit of extra love during especially dry periods.
You can increase humidity for your epiphyllum oxypetalum plant (and all of your houseplants, for that matter) by placing it in a room with a humidifier. When I water the plant, I also like to rinse down all of the foliage. Because my baby is so big, this generally means it taking over the shower for an afternoon while I water it and let it dry a bit.
How large does an epiphyllum oxypetalum grow?
Epiphyllum oxypetalum can grow to be quite large, and they can live for a long time. My neighbor mentioned that she has a large one that has been passed down for a few generations in her family. And while mine is still a pretty young plant, it’s a big boy! I’ll definitely need to size its pot up this spring.
It is a fast growing plant, spreading multiple feet wide and tall. While it isn’t a trailing plant, it grows in a somewhat arching, weeping way that gives it a trailing feel. The stems also branch out from one another, giving a full, trailing look.
Mine has also shot out multiple long, thin stems that have then sprouted more growth. You can see them in the picture below. These have made the plant quite unruly, but I’m keeping them on—a least for now—because they look cool.
I have read and heard mixed things about whether or not you should prune these off. I have left mine on since they emerged about a year ago. And the plant has remained perfectly healthy, throwing out blooms like crazy every few months. So they are staying for now!
Epiphyllum oxypetalum flowers
So I’ve mentioned this plant’s flowers a few times now. It’s time to dig into flowering. Truthfully, I would have this plant even if it didn’t flower. I love it. But the flowers are just a cherry on top. And mine flowers like CRAZY.
The flowers are large, beautiful, and white (sometimes other colors). And they only bloom at night and, outdoors, are pollinated by bats. In my experience, they have a very light, pleasant scent. Epiphyllum oxypetalum flowers are typically about 6 inches in diameter and have a funnel-shaped form with 5-20 petals.
Epiphyllum oxypetalum plants typically bloom in the summer and fall, but mine honestly blooms all year. On Christmas Eve, I had like 7 blooms open at once. The flowers begin opening around dusk, peak overnight, and begin closing when the sun comes up. They will then wilt and fall off.
Want to see a flowering plant in motion? I have a few Reels I put up on my Instagram you can check out. This is one showing all the blooms I had on Christmas Eve, and this one shows it blooming in the middle of the summer outside. (Just ignore that I called it a night-blooming cereus when it isn’t one…brain fart.)
How long does it take for epiphyllum oxypetalum to bloom?
I had heard that plants had to be super mature to bloom. I got a plant when it was already somewhat large, and it bloomed that year. The exact length of time it takes for an epiphyllum oxypetalum plant to bloom will depend on a variety of factors, including the age and size of the plant, the growing conditions, and the care it receives.
In general, epiphyllum oxypetalum plants typically begin to bloom when they are at least 3-4 years old and are grown in optimal conditions. But who knows—maybe you’ll get lucky, and it will throw out some blooms earlier!
How can I encourage my epiphyllum oxypetalum to bloom?
To encourage blooming, I recommend providing your epiphyllum oxypetalum with plenty of bright, indirect light and well-draining soil. It is also important to water the plant regularly and consistently, but avoid overwatering. A stressed out plant, whether from over or under-watering, will probably not bloom.
I give my queen some concentrated Liqui-Dirt plant food roughly once a month in the spring, summer, and early fall. And when I repot it, I use a high-quality soil with a slow-release fertilizer and plenty of nutrients in it.
I have also read that the plant generally produces more leaves in warmer temperatures, more flowers in cooler temperatures. I can’t say that has necessarilly been the case for me since my plant bloomed all summer outside in very warm temperatures.
Epiphyllum oxypetalum propagation from cuttings
The best way to propagate epiphyllum oxypetalum is using stem cuttings. You can root epiphyllum oxypetalum cuttings directly in soil, but I typically prefer to propagate plants in a way that I can monitor root development. I’ll go over two methods I’ve used for this plant—water and LECA.
Propagating epiphyllum oxypetalum in water
As I mentioned earlier in this post, my first plant came from a cutting of my grandmother’s plant. It fell off of her plant, so she simply stuck it in a jar of water to begin rooting. When she gave it to me, it had some small roots sprouting, so I popped it back in a jar of water at home for a few more weeks.
Once the cutting had roots that were a few inches long, I put it in a small cup and fresh, well-draining soil and watered it roughly once a week until I saw new growth. That’s when you know it’s a success.
I also mentioned earlier that I trimmed off a few leaves when I brought my big plant inside for the fall. Some of those were ugly and needed tossed. But others had healthy parts that I wanted to save. So I popped those in some water and set them on my credenza.
They are still rooting in this water. I refresh it whenever I noticed that the level has gotten too low. Once spring hits, I’ll pot these up in their own pot. Or, when I repot my big plant, I might just add these back into the same pot to encourage fullness 🙂
Propagating epiphyllum oxypetalum in LECA
I have also propagated epiphyllum oxypetalum cuttings in LECA. If you’re new to using LECA, check out my post How to propagate cuttings in LECA. Propagating in LECA is awesome because it’s pretty much as easy as water, but it helps encourage stronger root growth.
Simply add some LECA in a jar, then put the cutting in and fill in around it with LECA to stabilize it. Then add water—but only enough water so that it fills that initial layer of LECA you added in. The goal is to fill it up until just before it hits the bottom of the cutting.
I don’t have photos of when I did this, but I do have pictures of when I propagated a fern leaf cactus in LECA. Here are those pics. You can see the nice root growth! This was a lifesaver when I was trying to salvage what I could of my fern leaf cactus after it threw a fit all winter.
Is epiphyllum toxic to pets or people?
I couldn’t find anything to suggest that epiphyllum oxypetalum plants are toxic to pets or humans. However, I always suggest keeping plants away from people and pets if they are nosy and prone to mess with them. Stay safe!
I like your advice about this plants,I had one and I love it