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Mother-in-law tongue - Epiphyllum

Mother-in-law tongue - Epiphyllum

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Epiphils grow spontaneously in the tropical forests of Central America. These are plants with an exotic appearance, with flat stems, usually narrow, with serrated edges. These plants are almost all epiphytic species that live on other plants and need their support to survive. The cultivated species of Epiphyllum are 5 and it is Epiphyllum anguliger, Epiphyllum chrtsocardium, Epiphyllum oxypetalum, Epiphyllum crenatum, Epiphyllum ruesti. The stems of the Epiphyllum are articulated and thin with large flowers that open during the day and have mostly very bright colors, as indeed many tropical plants have.
The epiphyllum they are succulent plants originating from the tropical and subtropical forests of Latin America. Unlike other cacti, they live in a very humid environment, clinging to other trees, as do epiphytic orchids. They have become very popular as houseplants due to the ease of cultivation, their particular decaying habit and the magnificent and colorful flowering.

The flowers

At the end of the trunks large, very beautiful flowers bloom, usually lasting a day and a night.

Family, gender Cactaceae, Epiphyllum
Height at maturity 80 cm
Culture simple
Growth rate average
Maintenance low
Rusticitа Not rustic, minimum temperature 10 ° C
Water needs Averages
Environmental humidity Medium-high, especially in summer
exposure Half shadeutilization Vase in the house or outsideground Light and well drainedpH acid

Mother-in-law origin, description and classification

The genus Epiphyllum, belonging to the Cactaceae family, is composed of about twenty species native to the rainforests of Brazil and Paraguay. In their natural environment they grow on the trees (where the seed germinates already, carried by the wind) feeding on decomposing material and hydrating themselves thanks to rain and humidity in the air.
The stems, which in some cases even reach a length of one meter, branch out abundantly and are composed of flat rectangular or triangular sections with wavy or serrated edges, without thorns.
Initially they are a nice light green and then turn to gray.
The plant has no leaves, but the chlorophyll photosynthesis is carried out by the individual sections present on the stem. The species are characterized by very fragrant white flowers that open only during the night, from spring to summer. Pollination takes place at the hands of bats or nocturnal moths, equipped with a very long spirotromba capable of reaching the nectar present at the bottom of the corolla. Later there is the development of a fruit, edible, up to 4 cm long. The pulp is white and gelatinous, sprinkled with small round and black seeds.
The name epiphyllum derives from the Greek and means "flower on the leaf".


About every 10 days during the flowering period, a few drops of liquid fertilizer are diluted in the water used for watering.
To obtain abundant and colorful blooms it is good to distribute a fertilizer for flowering plants once a month, with a low content of nitrogen and high in potassium. To stimulate a plant that is struggling to bloom, it can begin to fertilize as early as February, increasing exposure to light.


Towards the end of July-beginning of August, after the flowering, cuttings are taken from the stem 10-15cm long, which are left to dry for a couple of days. They are then planted in a good compost based on fertile soil that must be kept moist and placed in the shade, at about 21 ° C of temperature. Cuttings need fresh air, so they should not be covered. After rooting, which occurs in 2 - 3 weeks, they are cultivated in the way indicated for adult plants.

Watering and environmental humidity

abundant in the vegetative period so that the mixture is completely moist; from October to March the soil is barely damp, without ever allowing the roots to dry completely. When the buds begin to form, the amount of water supplied is increased and the plant is fertilized to fertilize to develop flowering buds.
Excessive watering, especially in winter with cold, makes the stems wither and rot the roots. When the plant is at rest the mixture must be moist but not wet and water must be watered enough to prevent the roots from drying out.
This type of cactacea requires that the roots are always in a slightly humid environment, especially during the vegetative period (during spring and autumn). A good method is to wait until the most superficial layer of soil is dry and then irrigate abundantly using a saucer. After about an hour this will be removed by removing the water that has flowed through the drain holes.
Generally it is necessary to intervene weekly during the summer and every 15-20 days in the other seasons. In winter it can even be almost suspended to induce the plant to go into vegetative rest.
When temperatures are high it is useful to vaporize frequently with demineralized water. Epiphyllum also likes natural rain showers.


The epiphile prefers a good diffused light and does not like exposure in full sun. Even in winter the plant needs good light, but it must be protected from direct sunlight.
Prolonged exposure to the sun causes burns to the leaves; it is necessary to ensure the plant a bright but sheltered position.
This plant needs a rather soft light. The ideal is to place it near a window screened by a light colored curtain. Absolutely avoid, especially from May to September, to expose it directly to sunlight which could cause serious burns to the stems.
At the beginning of spring, however, it may be useful to expose it more to stimulate growth and the emission of flower buds.

Choice of vase and substrate

A good peat-based pot mixture is recommended. Before choosing the container it is good to keep in mind that within a few years the plant will surely become very large, with long and heavy stems. It is therefore essential to choose a large and possibly very stable vessel. The ideal is that it is wider than it is tall, also because the roots do not need to go very deep.
Let's get a very draining soil with a fairly acid pH. To obtain an ideal compote we can for example mix 2/3 of soil for acidophilic plants with 1/3 of draining material, such as river sand, perlite, polystyrene or even small pieces of bark. The result must not be too homogeneous.
After composing the pot, leaving the roots rather superficial, it is good to wait at least two days before irrigating because the parts that may have been damaged can heal as best as possible and not rot instead.


The minimum minimum winter temperature must not fall below 10 ° C. Epiphyllum rarely suffers when exposed to high temperatures, especially when ambient humidity remains high.
It is good, to avoid damage, to prevent it from falling below 10 ° C, because it is really not very rustic.
Since he loves air circulation, it is advisable to keep the plant inside from November to May and move it outside as soon as possible, in good weather, respecting its light requirements.

Pests and diseases

White and cottony patches are a symptom of attack by the cochineal. The most common parasites for epiphyllum are cottony cochineals and shield insects. Land fleas are also quite frequent.
In both cases systemic insecticides administered by irrigation are very effective.
If the infestation of cochineal is small, it is possible to intervene simply by removing the subjects and disinfecting the area with cotton and alcohol.
The stems may also become prey to cryptogams: they generally cause dark spots along the stems. If they are small, you can intervene with specific, curative and eradicating products.
If the condition is too extensive, it is advisable to remove the compromised part.


Epiphyllus crenatum produces flowers that open only during the day. It is an erect and branched plant, up to about 90 cm high.
The stems, of cylindrical section in the basal tract, are flat for almost the entire length and have the appearance of gray-green and fleshy leaves, with serrated margins. The cream-white trumpet-shaped flowers are 20-25 cm long and 15 cm wide. The majority of Epiphyllus hybrids common in nurseries derive from the crossing of this species with others.
Hybrid varieties are usually simpler to grow and bloom more easily than typical species. The "Cooperi" and "Kimnachi" varieties both have pretty white, fragrant flowers, which open at noon and last only 24 hours. Other varieties have more durable flowers (4 - 5 days) such as "Dreamland".
The genus Epiphyllum, with nocturnal flowering, was used by varietal researchers to create hybrids with other similar plants to obtain larger, longer lasting corollas, with more flamboyant colors and with daytime opening.
The genera used for hybridizations were Heliocereus and Disocactus phyllanthoides.
Varieties with nocturnal flowers were obtained instead thanks to the use of the genus Selenicereus.
Currently, the "mother-in-law" tongues are available with petals ranging from white to yellow, red, pink to salmon.

Cultivation techniques

Although Epiphyllus are cactacce, they are not typical plants of deserts. In fact, they originate from the forests of tropical America and therefore do not need much sun. They grow well, however, in well-lit positions. They are grown in pots of 15-25 cm, filled with a compost rich in leaf mold and bone meal or peat-based. Never let the plant roots dry out, even during the winter.
When buds begin to form, a high potassium fertilizer is administered every 15 days. During the summer it is necessary to protect the plants from too strong sun. They are repotted annually after flowering. If the stems wither, the apical parts of the plant are cut off, left to dry for a few days and are planted in containers filled with compost.


The plant was already known in the seventeenth century in the Far East and held in high regard for its quality of flowering during the full moon summer nights. In Vietnam a legend has developed that tells how the flower is the reincarnation of a princess removed from her father, who did not share his love for a young man of plebeian origins. It was also used for ritual and medicinal purposes, given that it was recognized as having tonic and aphrodisiac virtues.
The botanical glory in the West began, however, only in the mid-1800s, when the British specifically dedicated exhibitions to him. In particular the Epiphyllum crenatum was immediately praised and it was immediately attempted to obtain hybrids with more vivid colors and diurnal bloom.


The epiphyllum in the right conditions grows rather quickly and therefore a repotting may be necessary every year. The ideal is to proceed after the end of flowering and avoid irrigating for at least a week.
First nameStemsFlowers and fruitscolorsOther characteristics
Hybrid Epiphyllum, mother-in-law tongue Flat or three-sided, 1 to 10 cm wide, up to 80 cm long The flowers are born on the edge of the stem. Diameter from 10 to 15 cm.
White, yellow, pink, red, salmon Simple cultivation
Epiphyllum oxypetalum Up to 1.50 m long, cylindrical. They branch into flat stems Up to 20 cm in diameter, perfumed, in a single night of the year White From Latin America
Epiphyllum crenatum Cylindrical and erect, then flat. Up to 60 cm in length Up to 20 cm long at the beginning of summer Yellow, green, orange or red, with external petals often contrasting From Central America

repotting May-early July
Composting From February to October
Exposure to the pre-completion light February
Cleaning July August
Talea May-August
Flowering Spring, but it can also happen in other periods

Crop care

It is a rather independent plant, but to keep it always beautiful and vital it is good to intervene by eliminating exhausted (gray) or damaged stems. It is recommended to do this in the middle of summer.

Mother-in-law language - Epiphyllum: Propagation

The most common method by us is undoubtedly the cutting because it is simple and fast.
Sowing is not particularly difficult, but it is necessary for the flower to be manually pollinated with the pollen of a totally different individual so that the grains are then fertile. Furthermore, it is a rather long process: the first flowers will be seen only 6-8 years after germination. It is therefore a practice reserved only for nurserymen or enthusiasts.
Proceed in spring or early summer.
A terminal section of stem is drawn, of about 20 cm in length. It must be left to dry for 2 days before placing it in the jar. The ideal compote for rooting is produced by mixing half the soil and half perlite. We moisten well and place at a temperature between 20 and 24 ° C, with good light, but not direct.
The rooting takes place rather quickly, but to promote vegetative growth it is good to prevent the emission of buds during the first vintage.
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