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Epiphytic cacti

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Orchid cactus.
Credit: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Gilles Murray)

Origin and classification

Epiphytic cacti are members of the Cacti family, native to South and Central American rainforests, at altitudes ranging from 900 to 1,500 metres.

Unlike most Cactaceae, which live in arid, desert conditions, epiphytic cacti growing in rainforests may receive up to 400 cm of rainfall annually.

They are called epiphytic because they grow on other plants, although they are not parasites. With their roots, they anchor themselves in the crotches of tree branches, where organic matter tends to collect and decompose. This light, loose medium allows water and oxygen to reach the plants’ roots, which absorb the water and dissolved nutrients.

Various species of epiphytic cacti with interesting foliage and spectacular blooms are currently available on the market. Schlumbergera (Christmas Cacti and Thanksgiving Cacti) cultivars are easy to find and come in a wide range of colours. Hatiora (Easter Cacti) cultivars are increasingly popular, as are cultivars of Epiphyllum (Orchid Cacti). Their names generally refer to the season when they bloom. There are many different species of epiphytic cacti and they all thrive under essentially the same growing conditions. Look for the following genera: Rhipsalis, Cryptocereus, Heliocereus, Hylocereus and Weberocereus.

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