Lepismium cruciforme f. spiralis is an epiphytic cactus with long, fleshy stems that twist as they grow and small, white, fuzzy thorns along the stems…
The name is Lepismium cruciforme, and you can be mean to it. This trailing cactus, which grows on trees in jungles of Argentina and Brazil, is olive green under ideal growing conditions but blushes magenta when stressed. Give it more heat or cold, less water or fewer nutrients, and you'll get that beautiful hue.
Grow lepismium in a flat-backed pot against a light-colored wall to show off the plant's striking color and spider-like explosion of scalloped leaves. Or use it as a cascading element of a potted composition with other succulents. Regular potting soil is fine as long as it drains well.
Pamper lepismium during spring and fall by keeping soil about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Give it dappled shade and warm but not hot temperatures, preferably under 80 degrees. It will want regular water and occasional doses of dilute fertilizer. Then stress the plant in winter and summer to encourage it to redden. Lepismium is not frost-hardy and won't tolerate desert heat, but it thrives in coastal gardens. Mist it occasionally, year-round, unless you live where humidity is high.
Over time, stems may reach 4 feet -- sometimes longer. Tufts of white spines sparkle along fleshy leaves that produce dime-sized white flowers, followed by bead-like seed capsules. In its natural habitat, the plant is endangered. But considering its beauty, you can expect lepismium to become more common in nurseries, especially because it's easy to propagate from cuttings.
Some potential sources: California Nursery Specialties' "cactus ranch" in Reseda California Cactus Center in Pasadena the Plant Man nursery in San Diego, (619) 297-0077 (on back order) and the mail-order operation Tropical Treasures, where the plant is sold under the name Rhipsalis cruciforme.
A rugged epiphytic cactus that can be found growing among the trees in South American jungles. Very easy to grow, they require only minimal watering and a regular supply of bright light. This is a species that does very well in a hanging basket or planter where the stems can cascade over the sides.
Looks great grown in containers and hanging baskets. A terrific plant for tall plant stands where the trailing foliage will create a cascade of foliage over time. Perfect for growing on a lightly shaded deck, patio, or porch during warm weather.
Monthly with balanced liquid fertilizer (quarter strength) during active growth.
Allow soil to dry between thorough waterings.
Water thoroughly but allow soil to dry slightly between waterings. Apply a balanced liquid fertilizer once every month through the growing season.
If the plant was purchased in a pot, then it is probably already in a quality potting mix and requires little more than watering and grooming. Epiphytes rarely need to be repotted.
Epiphytes grow on other plants. They can be grown in a light, well-drained mix of bark, composted peat and perlite, or, rather than growing in a pot, epiphytes’ roots can be wrapped in sphagnum moss and the entire plant can then be mounted onto wood or other surfaces.
When repotting, start with a good quality, sterile bark mix. Select a container with a drainage hole or be prepared to drill holes for drainage if there are none.
Prepare the container by filling with potting mix up to 2” (5cm) from the rim of the planter. Make a small hole in the soil slightly larger than the root ball either by hand or using a trowel. Insert the plant into the hole and press soil firmly around the roots and just covering the root ball. Once potted, water thoroughly to settle the soil and give the plant a good start.
Epiphytes prefer the bark mix to dry in between thorough watering. Check the bark mix moisture with your finger. If the top inch (3 cm) of bark is dry, it’s time to water. Apply water at the soil level if possible to avoid wetting the plant. Water the entire soil area until water runs out the base of the pot. This indicates that the soil is thoroughly wet. Discard any excess water that has accumulated in the pot’s saucer.
Epiphytes that are not potted in a container should be misted well at least three times a week, more often if the air is dry. Mist all the foliage so that the water can absorb through the leaves. The plant can also be submerged in water for two to three minutes, once a week for a more thorough watering.
Fertilizers are available in many forms: granulated, slow-release, liquid feeds, organic or synthetic.
Liquid fertilizer is the best for plants that aren't potted in a container. These types of epiphytes absorb the plant food through the leaves. Select a product with a nutritional balance of 20-20-20 and dilute it to a quarter the recommended strength.
Slow-release fertilizer is the best for potted epiphytes. Select a product with a nutritional balance of 20-20-20 and lightly sprinkle the plant food at the base of the plant.
Too much fertilizer can damage plants so it’s important to follow the package directions to determine how much, and how often, to feed plants.
Most epiphytes require little or no pruning. Cascading forms can be trimmed back to maintain a preferred size. To prune, choose a point along the stem where the leaves branch. Cut just above this point so the buds for new growth aren't removed.
Some plants will re-bloom on their own, but others may have very specific day-length or temperature requirements to flower again. A bit of research may be necessary to determine what is needed to encourage future blooming.