Epiphyllums: Jungle Flowers in a Drought Tolerant Garden

Epiphylum Bloom: Drought Tolerant Flowers

Designing a low water landscape and using drought tolerant plants can be overwhelming if the yard is currently planted with water loving greenery and flowers. There is also the added question about climate and sunlight. What about a garden in dry shade? Is it possible to have color and plants in a shady yard when water is scarce? One colorful and exotic plant to consider are epiphyllums, whose colorful cactus flowers will fill a shaded yard or patio every spring.

Like exotic jungle birds, the brilliant blooms of epiphyllums are always surprising, glorious and dramatic. Too often low water, drought tolerant plants and landscapes are thought to be dull and colorless.  The adaptable epiphulum can change all that.  While they may also be called 'orchid cactus' these are low water cactus that prefer to live in the filtered light of a jungle setting. Shady and forested, with a warm environment, they are spreaders and climbers.

Epiphyllum flowers in a drought tolerant garden

Epiphyllum flowers growing wild in a drought tolerant garden

What I love about my epipyllums are their wonderful blooms, of course, but I also enjoy the added texture and linear chaos of their flat scalloped edged branches. When hung from a tree or high setting, these long trailing branches spill out of their pots in abundance. On the ground, in pots set high enough to support the plant above the ground, their branches wander off into the garden where their blooms hide for a unexpected splash of color. There are many branch styles, from narrow scalloped to wide and almost ruffled, they are thin and almost translucent in sunlight.

They completely disrespect the space of other plants, weaving in and out of the less flexible plants near by.  They will even join a pot of succulents for a varied area of texture and color.

Weeding and tending these sprawling exotics can sometimes produce broken branches. As with geraniums and succulents, a broken epiphyllum is an opportunity to grow a new plant. Just by sticking the end back down into loose potting soil they will quickly root and form new growth. I like to mix mine up: scarlet with peach, pink with spikey red, these plants seem to grow on neglect and overcrowding.

This is one sad plant at the end of a hot, waterless summer. With hand watering, it will stay alive until even sparse winter rains revive it to bloom again in the spring.

Where did I get my plants?

All of the blooming plants you see here were started from branches given to me. If you don't see any in your friend's yards, you might want to try an Epiphyllum group. Most have sales and meetings where plants can be bought. There is a large sale at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia every spring. There is information on the sale HERE and more about the Arboretum HERE.

How hard are they to grow?

I have found them to be very easy to grow. They prefer filtered sunlight, but I do have some that are out in the sun, where they get morning light and not hot afternoon sun. I have had the branches become sun burned, so I do know that they aren't tolerant of direct, hot mid-day sunlight. I water them about once a week in the summer, and much less (seldom) in the winter.

I plant in a generic potting soil or a mix from my cedar and redwood tree needles mixed with my leaf compost. All of my plants are in pots on the ground. Some are so large they are difficult to move. All tend to be in tall pots or set up higher on cinder blocks or other stands so that the trailing branches can 'spray' out from the plant center.

I get blooms in early spring when the weather warms up. Each bloom will last a few days, but the plant may continue for some time, weather permitting.

Read more about this great garden plant in this L.A. Times article.

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