Night Blooming Cereus – How to Care for Epiphyllum oxypetalum

Epiphyllum are known as some of the easiest houseplants you could ever dream of growing. But maybe you are new in your plant parenthood journey or just new to the genus and have some questions. Hopefully, this article will give you some guidance. We will discuss; watering, light, best location in the house, temperature, fertilizer, humidity, flowers, insects, diseases, pruning, propagation and toxicity.

The blooms on orchid cacti are a real attraction for plant collectors. They are large and showy and many of them are deliciously scented as a bonus. It can be difficult to bring epiphyllum into bloom which (I think) offers plant parents the attraction of a challenge and adds an allure to owning this type of houseplant. Let’s face it, if you have epiphyllum blooms to show off on your Instagram, well, that’s a serious “flex” on your plant parenting skills.

This plant has many synonyms including Orchid Cactus, Queen of the Night, Princess of the Night, Christ in the Manger, Epiphytic Cactus and others. For now I will refer to this plant as Night Blooming Cereus or even just NBC.

The name Night Blooming Cereus is used for several genera of plants that are all very similar in physical structure, bloom type and fruit type. The most common ones are Epiphyllum oxypetalum, Hylocereus undatus (Dragon fruit), Peniocereus greggii and Selenicereus grandiflorus. Soooooo…that’s a bit confusing. I personally try to not purchase any plant marked as NBC unless it also has a botanical name included. But that’s just me and my weird hang-ups, you can purchase any NBC that you like.

Since there are different genera represented under the umbrella title of Night Blooming Cereus, it isn’t surprising to know that the plants do differ from each other slightly. For example, the blooms on an NBC can be creamy white, yellowish white, pinkish white or a pure snowy white. Unfortunately, you won’t know right away what color of blooms your plant will produce for a few years unless you have seen the parent plant or if you have purchased from a reputable seller.

Night Blooming Cereus has a rather unorthodox growth pattern that can give it an untidy appearance.

Let’s talk about how to care for this plant.

Watering – Water deeply but only once the soil has dried out in the pot. Using a finger to check the moisture level is a must. I make sure that the potting mix is dried out down several inches before I even consider watering. Also, a drainage hole in the planter is a must. Make sure to provide it a fast-draining potting mix and let all excess water drain out of the pot after watering.

Once you have a plant that is 3-5 years old or older, you can encourage blooms by totally restricting water from November through March. This should also coincide with the lowered winter temperatures (see Temperature requirements). Once you can see flower buds forming on your NBC, resume regular watering.

Light requirements – Bright light is a must for this plant. Too much direct sun can burn those big, beautiful leaves though, so only a few hours of direct sunlight is best.

Best Location in the House – Place your Night Blooming Cereus directly in an East or West facing window and it will love you forever.

Temperature requirements – Like most houseplants, the Night Blooming Cereus will live happily in the same temperatures that we humans like to live in. It can tolerate cold temperatures, but I don’t advise leaving it out in any temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Temperatures also play a very important role in encouraging blooms for this type of Epiphyllum. Night Blooming Cereus will generally refuse to bloom without a “winter chill period”. To recreate this “chill period” in our homes, we must give this plant night time temperatures that fall in somewhere between 35 and 60 degrees (Fahrenheit) for the winter months (preferably from November to March).

Fertilizer – Dilute fertilizer by half. Apply fertilizer during Spring and Summer and straight into Fall as a general guideline. In the Winter, watering should slow or stop completely (depending on the age of your NBC) so no fertilizer throughout the Winter.

Humidity – Normal household humidity levels are completely appropriate. Night Blooming Cereus is also very tolerant of lower humidity levels, so it’s a great choice for plant parents who don’t keep a humidifier in the house.

Flowers – The Night Blooming Cereus has some of the largest and most dramatic flowers in the houseplant world. Think cactus flowers except even bigger. They are several inches across (some describe them as dinner plate sized), open only at night and have a wonderfully intoxicating scent. That being said, they aren’t terribly easy to bring into bloom especially if you aren’t an experienced plant parent.

Night blooming cereus will not bloom as new plants, they most likely will bloom for the first time somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5 years old. Once you have a plant that is aged 3-5 years, you can modify your watering and temperatures in the winter to encourage your plant to give you those fantastic blooms. (See the Watering and Temperature requirements sections of this article.)

You may have noticed that there is no picture of NBC blooms here. I haven’t put up any pictures of blooms because my plants haven’t given me any blooms yet. My oldest NBC plant is four years old this year and so could potentially give me blooms. It almost certainly won’t because I didn’t really give it low enough temps over the past winter and so I don’t expect to see any blooms this year. When I get blooms, I’ll certainly do a blog and I’ll update this post with a photo too. And I’ll most likely do an Instagram “flex” post too. Teehee.

Insects – Mealy bugs appear to be the most common insect complaint for this plant. Aphids, scale and mites are also a potential threat. I have not had pests on any of my Epiphyllum plants (I’m knocking on wood right now!) which leads me to believe that they are not terribly insect prone.

Diseases – In general, Epiphyllum don’t seem to suffer from many diseases. Soil that holds too much water will be the cause of the diseases you may encounter about 90% of the time. Most commonly those diseases are root rot or fungal leaf spot (see photo below) which can be dangerous to your plant’s overall health.

I’ve been dealing with a bit of Fungal Leaf Spot on one of my NBC plants.

Pruning – The NBC can have crazy and sometimes awkward looking growth patterns. If your plant is growing in an unattractive habit, simply cut away any weird growth. It won’t bother your plant at all. Do take into consideration that the oldest leaves on your plant will be the first ones to bloom. You may not want to cut those more mature stems if blooms are one of your goals.

Propagation – Night blooming Cereus is really easy to propagate, which is lovely. I simply take cuttings. You could also use water to propagate cuttings, or even LECA if that’s your jam. I use soil. I recommend that you do whatever works for you. I’ve never lost a single NBC cutting using soil, so that’s the method I’ll continue using. But again, use whatever method works best for you.

Toxicity – According to the ASPCA, the NBC is non-toxic to cats and dogs. I’ll include a link to the ASPCA site if you’d like to look for yourself. I would also like to caution you that if you have a young child or pet that is interested in touching or chewing on your plants, the NBC can still be a choking hazard just due to the tough texture of its leaves/stems. So if you have a curious pet or child in the home, it’s best to keep your NBC out of their reach.

Link to my Etsy shop, Matilda and Clementine which often (but not always) has rooted Night Blooming Cereus cuttings available.

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Mercy, peace and love be multiplied to you.

Reference for this article:

“Logees” https://www.logees.com 2020. https://www.logees.com/night-blooming-cereus-epiphyllum-oxypetalum.htmlhttps://www.logees.com/night-blooming-cereus-epiphyllum-oxypetalum.html

10 thoughts on “Night Blooming Cereus – How to Care for Epiphyllum oxypetalum

  1. Interesting and useful. However, slip of the pen, throughout the article you make repeated reference to temperatures, eg minimum low. “35-60 (Celsius)” where obviously this should be Fahrenheit — well, unless you like your plants quasi cooked, that is..? 🙂 All the best, *R*

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    1. Hello Mr. Richard and thank you very much for your observation. Oops! I’m blushing with embarrassment. But I’m headed straight to this article to make the appropriate corrections. Thanks for reading (and for your help). Take care!

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  2. I did not know I had this lovely plant and am excited to learn of this. How did I learn my good fortune? We had a huge and quite ugly to be honest plant at our little church, placed on a table at the end of a long hall with a small window above it (however the blinds remained closed for most of the week). The church “plant lady” was not sure what she had been taking care of, and asked me (the new pastor’s wife) if I would like to take it home. I also love all things that grow and bloom but thought I was just going to babysit a gangly green plant long enough to return it. Well, the greenery never shaped up as other plants and grew to great heights near a northern window in our home where it began to just take over, even putting out shoots that wove themselves into our blinds. It never had much soil in its pot and by this time the ratio of plan to soil was and remains minimal. But it was growing. It’s new leaves were green, it’s shoots looked healthy and it didn’t seem to require much water. Until the blind issue I almost ignored it to be honest. But I knew it oculi not stay where it was. I moved it into our south east sunroom and put it where I could keep an eye on it. Just a couple of evenings ago, my husband mentioned to me about seeing a bloom. Then when I saw it, and it was SO beautiful, but droopy (I know now it was not fully opened) I took some pictures and posted on my FB page. Immediately I got excited responses from Cereus people who recognized it, telling me about how rare it is to actually see the bloom and yada yada. I’m on my laptop now and the photo is on my FB wall. But will see if I can copy and paste for even more confirmation. Now I’m busy trying to read about my sweet plant and what I can do to not destroy it while not letting it completely take over the house. I tried to copy and past my image in this reply but could not. 😦
    But anyway thank you for your information!

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    1. Hi Brenda Sue!
      What an exciting story 🙂 Congratulations on saving a wonderfully unique plant. And blooms?! I’m envious. And I’m so glad that you decided to care for what was an “ugly duckling” plant. You were rewarded for your kindness with those elusive and beautiful blooms.
      My advice for you is to continue doing exactly what you’ve been doing. You’re new plant is obviously enjoying life in your care. Well done. 🙂

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  3. I have one that blooms – 4-8 times a year. (from a cutting that was in my family for 3 generations) When I lived in Denver kept it in a window corner south and west facing -all glass, it got burned leaves, but it never stopped growing and blooming. It was in full sun all year, and bloomed 15-20 blossoms a summer. We moved to Northern NV and again I keep it in a South West facing window. I only brought one leaf with me – wrapped in a damp paper towel in a zip lock bag. When I finally found it, it had sprouted roots so I put it into a pot and off it went – 2 years later, I again had blooms. .I have never heard what to do about the spots, but mine has them. doesn’t seem to hurt it much.

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  4. I inherited a neglected 20 year old NBC. For last two years now it has grown a bunch of 4 to 5 foot long shoots that flatten at end into a leaf but do not flower. Information on this plant is difficult to obtain so thank you for this article.If you or anyone has a photo of a bud before flowering it would help a great deal. Thank you!

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  5. I have a NBC but it has only bloomed once. Now I think I know why, I have not let it get to the cooler temp. Your article is very informative and I am going to print it out for future reference. Thank you so much for your info.

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