Most cactus plants originally grow in sandy desert, but the moist and humid forests in South America have their very own species. Most of them, in natural environment live as epiphytic plants that grow in tree or rock crevices.

There are many species of jungle cacti and the most common name for them is “Holiday Cacti” like for example Thanks Giving, Christmas, and Easter Cacti. For me personally, these holiday names are very confusing and I am more familiar with the proper names for them. At home we have three kinds of jungle cacti:  Epiphyllum (=Epis, Orchid Cactus); Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri (Sunrise cactus) and Zygocactus truncates (Schlumbergera truncata Hybrids/Crab’s Claw cactus)

At the moment as the last month of spring is warming up here in the Southern part of the world (Australia), only the Epis and the Rhipsalidopsis are blooming. Zygocactus will flower later in the summer time in late autumn to early winter.

  • Epiphyllum: It is said that originally natural Epis have mostly white or creamy colour flowers. Only the hybrid varieties have more colourful colours like red, pink, salmon or mauve. The ones that we have is a bigger variety with large bright red blooms and the other one is smaller variety with pink and white colour. Unfortunately we have no records of the cultivar names.

Red Epis

Although these three species have flat stems (leaves), Epiphyllum consists of broad and  long flat stems with lobed edges (without sections). The flowers grow from the aereole on the outer edge of the stems.

Pink Epis

  • Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri has smaller flat stems (leaves) which come in sections. The edges of the stems are rounder and the flowers grow from the tip of the stems. The bright coloured blooms are star shaped and they are closed at night and will open up when exposed to the sunlight during the day.This is why it is also named Sunrise cactus.

Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri

  • Zygocactus has claw like stems (leaves) which grow in sections. The flowers that grow from the tip of the stems are irregular/ asymmetrical in shape and come in many different colours such as red, pink, salmon, white, mauve or purple.


The easiest way to differentiate these three plants is by looking at the shape of the leaves. They are hardy and easy to grow in warmer areas. The smaller varieties are suitable to grow in hanging pots for a beautiful display of flowers.

Happy Gardening!

November 13, 2009

Photo update of the pink Epiphyllum hybrid (Deutsche Kaiserin).  Now in full bloom………….

Fully open pink Epiphyllum Hyhrid

Update: Friday August 6,2010:

I was cleaning one of the ceramic jars and in there I found an old tag of the pink orchid cactus above that was long forgotten. The botanic name is Nopalxochia phyllanthoides and apparently it is also called: Epiphyllum ‘Deutsche Kaiserin’ . This is the tag with picture and plant info: