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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - March 25, 2005

From: Baltimore, MD
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Smarty Plants on epiphyllums
Answered by: Joe Marcus and Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I don't have a digital cameria, but I hope you can identify my plants easily by description. I believe they are called something similar to the word "epithelium". They look like a "mother-in-law's tongue", bloom once a year with a single flower and are wonderfully sweet-smelling. One flower is like a gigantic yellow buttercup; the other is like a giant white daisy. One plant has smooth leaves, both cactus-like in looks, and the other has slightly hairy leaves. They grow a giant red bud on the ends of their long, long leaves, and the blossom comes from that. i was given them in San Diego, where they stayed outdoors in pots, and did really well. I moved to Maryland and I am alarmed that they have not done well. I moved them inside when the weather started to get cold. i don't want to lose them but they are not doing well. i believe they are native to the southern U. S. i don't want to lose them. Please help.

ANSWER:

Your plants are very likely epiphyllums, epiphyllum hybrids or something like them.  They are in the Cactaceae family. They are not native to the US, but to the South and Central American tropics. You can find information, photographs, and interesting links on Glenn's Epiphyllum page and on the web page for the San Diego Epiphyllum Society. These web sites also have information on caring for epiphyllums. If you don't discover the exact identity of your individual plants from these sites you might do a Google search for "epiphyllum" and go from there.

Two possibilities come immediately to mind for the problems you are having--water and fertilizer.  If you brought the plants in before winter and have kept them in a warm place they should be ok.  However, they require almost no water during the winter months and will rot if they are over watered, especially at that time.  If you fed them during the winter or shortly before bringing them in, that would only exacerbate the problem.  It's possible that the plants are reacting to the water quality in Maryland.  You should look for a build-up of fertilizer salts in the soil surface, the base of the plant, or even on other plant surfaces.  If these salts are present, you should thorough wash the plant with a garden hose and flush the soil with fresh water (a process called leaching) for at least five minutes. Epiphyllums are easy to propagate from cuttings, and that may be your best bet for salvaging your prized plants.  The second website above has a very good discussion on propagation.
 

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