Zygocactus, commonly called Brazilian Beauty or Crab Cactus, is a tree-perching, spineless cactus. The only species z. truncatus, is a true epiphytic plant native to Brazil.
It is sometimes botanically classified as Phyllocactus or Schlumbergeria, but differs from them in having soft 'teeth' along its leaves and is distinquished from closely related Epiphyllums by the irregular shape of its spectacularly handsome blooms.
Being epiphytic means that these plants are able to obtain all their nutritional requirements from the air rather than just the soil that supports them. They are able to absorb nutrients through their leaves and stems as well as through their roots.
Their true growing habit in the wild more closely resembles that of cymbidium and other tree-perching orchids or bromelliads than most other arid zone desert cacti. And Zygocactus needs more watering than other cacti.
These curious plants are much branched with broad, leave-like stems in jointed segments with blunt teeth. The flower buds and leaves pop out from the ends of other leaves as they branch, eventually creating great chain-like sprays of arching stems.
The wild species is semi-pendulous making it a spectacular basket plant or weeping from a pot and ideal for the window sill. Flowers are scarlet red and very irregular trumpets with feathery petals arranged along the funnel with protruding stamens.
Giant-flowering new hybrids introduced in recent decades now feature a much wider colour range with upright, broader segments on compact branching plants. Flowers up to 10cm long are very showy in almost every shade except blue. Red, pear-shaped fruits often follow.These are a favourite houseplant and well suited to the glasshouse.
Zygocactus are day length-sensitive plants meaning that buds and early flowers begin to appear as soon as day length drops below 12 hours. Plants kept in positions that receive artificial lighting at night often do not flower properly. If well grown they flower prolifically from autumn to spring.
Plants must be kept warm. These are tree-perching natives of tropical rainforests, where they receive strong filtered sunlight, plenty of air circulation and constant, warm temperatures. Preferred temperatures hover around 21C (70F) degrees.
If temperatures drop below 10 C degrees or plants are subjected to cold nights or chilling drafts, buds and stems may begin to discolour or drop off, especially if the soil or foliage remains wet. As nights become cooler, reduce watering to stop rots. Avoid watering in cool, cloudy weather or letting water stand in the soil.
Add a little liquid plant food with each watering to promote buds and general growth. Some gardeners elect to foliar spray feed instead of traditional watering which greatly reduces the chance of over-watering or chilling. Zygocactus are easy to start from stem cuttings once weather warms.
Even individual leaves will often strike if laid or shallowly inserted into a mix of propogating sand and peat, which is then kept warm, moist and bright. Repot them during the warm months, especially in spring.
Use a sandy/peat potting mix or a general potting mix to which sand, pumice or peat is added to promote strong drainage and perfect aeration within the soil for strong root health. Zygocactus are best kept somewhat pot-bound.
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