A stunning cactus, the Queen of the Night flower (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) is popular for its large, sweetly fragrant blooms. As the name Queen of the Night suggests, these distinctive spider-like blooms open in the late evening, after the sun has set, filling the early night air with its distinctive fragrance. Also known as the Orchid Cactus or Dutchman’s Pipe Cactus, the Queen of the Night flower is one of the most commonly cultivated plants in the Epiphyllum genus. This is largely because, as well as being visually distinctive, it is easy to grow and care for.
A perennial cacti, the Queen of the Night flower is native to the dry parts of Mexico and South America. Classified as hardy in USDA Zones 10 to 12, you can also cultivate the Queen of the Night flower as an attractive houseplant.
This guide to the Queen of the Night flower will take you through everything that you need to know to keep these exotic specimens happy and blooming.
The distinctive bloom of the Queen of the Night flower.
What is the Queen of the Night?
Native to Mexico and southern states of North America. The Queen of the Night can also be found growing wild in parts of South and Central America.
Popular for their large, fragrant white blooms that can measure up to 7 inches wide, as the name suggests the Queen of the Night only blooms at night.
Typically the flower of the Queen of the Night plant opens after 8 p.m. The blooms can stay open throughout the night, closing between 9 and 10 a.m. the following morning. Each flower only lasts for one night. However the plants can be encouraged, with the right care, to continuously produce new blooms throughout the spring and summer months allowing you to enjoy a prolonged floral display.
While white blooms are the most common, you can also find cream, yellow and pink colored blooms.
White blooms are the most common.
This attractive flower is an epiphyte. Sometimes known as an air plant, in the wild epiphytes don’t send roots deep down into the soil like most other plants. Instead the roots sit above ground, anchoring the epiphyte to other plants and trees. Unlike some epiphytes, the Desert Orchid is not a parasitic plant. Instead it only anchors itself to other plants for support.
As the plant grows, long shoots emerge. These are anchor shoots, designed to grab nearby trees and structures, anchoring the plant in place. Sometimes known as stolons these anchor shoots have small root-like structures which enable them to firmly grip onto nearby supports.
These spineless anchor shoots enable you to train the plants to grow up a trellis or similar support. The stems can also become pendulous meaning that they drape attractively down if planted in a large hanging basket.
In favorable conditions the plants can grow up to 10 ft tall. While plants growing in pots rarely reach these heights, when selecting the growing position, make sure that the plants have lots of space to grow into.
These plants have a sprawling growth habit.
In warmer areas where you are able to grow the plant outside, position your Queen of the Night flower underneath a larger shrub. The larger plant provides both shade and support for the Desert Orchid. Camellias and rhododendrons are good companion plants, as are cape angels and begonias.
Interestingly the leaves of the Queen of the Night flower are not actually leaves but modified stems. Like other types of cactus these help to store water, enabling the plant to survive prolonged dry spells.
Where to Grow
Not every cactus plant thrives in a hot, direct sun position. The Queen of the Night flower prefers a little shade. In the wild, these plants tend to grow in shady spots.
Try to place your Orchid Cactus somewhere where the plant can enjoy lots of indirect light. While these plants can tolerate a little direct light you should make sure that they are protected from the intense heat of the afternoon sun.
As we have already noted, the Queen of the Night flower is hardy in USDA Zones 10 and warmer. In cooler conditions you can cultivate the plants as houseplants. If you are in an area that enjoys warm summers, try planting your Desert Orchid in a pot and placing it outside for the summer months. It can then be moved inside in the fall. A Bright Creations Metal Plant Caddy enables you to easily move larger pots around your home and garden.
The Desert Orchid is an ideal container plant.
The temperature around the plants should ideally range between 65 and 90 ℉. While in the winter the temperature can be allowed to fall to around 60 ℉, Queen of the Night plants are unlikely to survive if the temperatures drop below 35 ℉. If you are growing as a houseplant, do not place your Queen of the Night flower in a drafty position.
The humidity level should be at least 50 %. If conditions become too dry, mist the foliage with a Plant Mister Spray Bottle once a week.
How to Plant Desert Orchid
Plant your Queen of the Night flower in an airy, well draining soil or cactus soil. Ideally the soil should be slightly acidic. A pH measuring between 5.5 and 6.5 is ideal.
Desert Orchid plants also grow well in peat moss, sandy soils and pine bark. These are all well draining materials that won’t allow the plant to sit in water for too long. Our guide to the best succulent soil is a good place to start if you are looking for the ideal potting material.
If you are planting in a container, make sure it has lots of drainage holes in the bottom. These encourage excess water to drain away quickly, helping to prevent issues such as root rot from developing.
Many people like to use succulent specific pots or those made from ceramic or terracotta material. Again, these tend to dry out more quickly than plastic pots. Our guide to choosing the best succulent pot contains all the information that you need to find the ideal home for your plant.
Plant in a terracotta pot.
Don’t worry about planting in a large pot. The Queen of the Night flower likes things to be on the cozy side. In fact the plants often seem to grow best when root bound.
Queen of the Night Care
As long as it is placed in a favorable position, this is a pleasingly low maintenance floral specimen.
Like many cacti, the Queen of the Night flower does not require regular watering. Young specimens often require more frequent watering than established or mature plants.
Be careful not to overwater the plants. Too much water can cause potentially fatal rot. From the spring until early fall, water the plants once every two weeks if the soil is dry to the touch. If the soil feels damp, delay watering for a few more days. If you are unsure how wet your soil is, a soil moisture sensor provides a far more reliable way to measure the moisture content of the soil than simply poking your finger into the pot.
During the winter months you can reduce the frequency with which you water. Depending on the surrounding conditions, the plants may require watering as little as once every 4 to 6 weeks.
Apply a balanced or low in nitrogen fertilizer once a month when the plant is actively growing. This is usually from early spring until the fall. Avoid using fertilizers that are too high in nitrogen. These encourage the plant to grow overly large at the expense of flowering.
If you don’t want to use fertilizer you can also work fresh compost into the soil every year. Often the Queen of the Night flower prefers this approach because it replicates the plants’ wild growing conditions where they convert organic matter such as dead insects and fallen leaves into nutrients.
Another good fertilizer alternative or complement are banana skins. The skins or peels or the banana contain no nitrogen so can be used to compliment a fertilizer. Dry the peels in a dehydrator or bake in the oven at a low temperature before cutting up and placing on the soil around the plants to break down.
Propagation by Leaf Cuttings
Taking leaf cuttings is the easiest way to propagate new plants.
Cut a couple of healthy, mature leaves from the plant. They should be between 4 and 6 inches long.
Place the cut leaves in a cool, dry place where they won’t be disturbed. After a few days calluses should form across the cut part of the leaf. This callus prevents the plant from rotting. It also means that the leaves are ready to begin the next stage.
Fill a clean pot with fresh, succulent or well draining potting soil. Make sure your chosen pot has plenty of drainage holes. Moisten the soil before planting the cuttings, with the cut or callused edge in the soil. Some people like to dip the cut end in rooting hormone before planting. While this can speed up the process a little, it is not strictly necessary.
Place the planted cuttings in a light position, away from direct sunlight. After planting, do not water the cuttings for a couple of days. This gives them time to settle.
After 7 to 10 days, start to water the soil on a weekly basis. It is important that, during this period in particular, the soil is not allowed to dry out.
Eventually new roots start to form. As the roots develop, the plant also starts to grow. Once you start to notice small changes, place the cutting in a brighter area, so that it can enjoy more indirect sunlight. Continue to care for the new plant as you would a larger specimen.
Pruning Desert Orchid Plants
Regularly pruning Desert Orchid plants encourages fresh, healthy growth to emerge. To prune your Queen of the Night flower, remove any yellow or dying leaves as well as general plant debris.
Sterilize a pair of garden scissors before cutting away the unwanted leaves. It is important to clean your tools before and after using them. This helps to prevent the accidental spread of fungal or bacterial disease across your plant collection.
When pruning try to cut the dying foliage away from the plant as cleanly as possible. This helps to prevent wounds developing, resulting in weak growth and shock.
Common Pests and Problems
As long as you find a favorable position and get the watering routine right, the Queen of the Night flower is a pleasingly easy plant to grow.
Infestations can be treated with an application of neem oil. This can simply be applied to a cotton wool ball and wiped onto the affected leaves.
Fungal leaf spot is a common problem, particularly during the spring months. An unsightly issie, fungal leaf spot causes the foliage to develop a fuzzy mold-like patch. Difficult to treat, if caught early enough a fungicide spray can be effective.
If the condition is too developed for a fungicide to be effective you are better advised to try cutting away a healthy portion of the plant and propagating a new Queen of the Night. The leaf cutting propagation method described above is both simple to follow and reliable.
Aside from fungal leaf spot, the biggest difficulty many growers face is encouraging the Queen of the Night to flower.
How to Encourage Flowering
The main interest for many Queen of the Night growers are the fragrant blooms with their long, narrow petals. In the wild these delicate, exotic water lily-like circular blooms tend to emerge during the summer rains. Many growers, particularly those cultivating the plants as a houseplant can find it difficult to encourage blooms to form.
Ensuring that the plant receives the right amount of indirect sunlight is key to encouraging floral buds to form. This can be difficult and may require a little trial and error on your part. In general, I find that placing the Desert Orchid on a south facing windowsill provides the plant with ample amounts of indirect light.
Your chosen position should enable the plant to enjoy lots of morning sun and afternoon shade. Exposure to morning sun encourages lots of buds to form.
If you don’t think that your home has enough natural light, do not worry. A grow light is a great way to supplement natural light levels, encouraging blooms to set.
Don’t be tempted to plant your Queen of the Night flower in too large a pot. They prefer things on the cozy side. Keeping the plant in a container that is slightly too small, so that it doesn’t have too much space to grow into, also encourages flowering.
A regular dose of fertilizer throughout the spring and summer months is another reliable way to encourage blooms to set. Do not apply fertilizers that are too high in nitrogen. Nitrogen stimulates growth and leaf production which often occurs at the expense of flowering.
These are distinctive flowering plants.
Exotic and attractive, the Queen of the Night flower is an eye-catching, fragrant addition to any floral collection. A versatile plant, whether you are cultivating them as a houseplant or in your garden, these are low maintenance, exotic specimens that provide lots of fragrant and visual interest.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.