All cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti! They combine to form a remarkable group that flourishes in deserts, one of the most hostile environments in the world. However, not all bask in hot dry conditions, a few prefer rainforest conditions, living in the upper branches of trees where high evaporation rates and seasonal rainfall make the ability to store water essential for survival. The most familiar rainforest cacti, from the genus Schlumbergera are more commonly known as ‘Christmas Cacti‘.
The six known species, found in the rainforest in the mountains near Rio de Janiero, are pollinated by humming birds. In the house or greenhouse they need bright but not scorching light, at temperatures at least 40 deg F and planted in multi-purpose compost with 20% John Innes no2. They should be watered with tepid rainwater each time the compost surface dries out in summer and kept drier and cooler in winter. They need 12 hours of darkness from September onwards to initiate flower buds don‘t move the plant once they have formed as the change of light level causes bud drop. Put them out doors in dappled shade once the danger of frost has passed, tipping the pot on its side so it doesn‘t become waterlogged during heavy rain.
Another, less well known but equally spectacular rainforest group are known as ‘Orchid Cacti‘. They need a bright spot away from scorching sunshine, in a container or hanging basket of orchid compost; the oldest stems are pruned out after flowering. Water regularly in summer soaking the compost once the surface has dried out and feed with high potash fertiliser from May to the end of August. Most of the year the hybrids are unkempt straggly plants, hidden under the greenhouse bench but are totally transformed in bloom, illuminating their fifteen seconds of overnight fame in a range of psychedelic colours from vivid orange ‘Moonlight Sonata‘ and pink ‘Fantasy‘ and cerise ‘Friendship‘ though one or two are more subdued. I‘ve fallen for the serenity, elegance and perfume of Epiphyllum oxypetalum a native of Mexico and Honduras that is often known as ‘Lady of the Night‘.
The flowers appear towards the tips of the leaves over several weeks in late June or July, but this year we‘ve just enjoyed two late flowers as an autumn bonus. They are several inches across, up to dinner plate size with pure white petals like ostrich feathers, their transitory beauty only lasts overnight, filling the room with an exquisite perfume, opening around 8.00pm, they are closed by morning. Every time it flowers we are stunned by its perfume and beauty – it‘s always a cause for celebration. The first time it flowered, my wife Gill and I pulled a cork then sat and toasted its beauty late into the night; friends of mine always have an impromptu party. Check the internet and you‘ll find several sources; I can promise you it is money well spent and that will give you endless hours of pleasure.