Epiphyllum 'Kimono'; Epiphyllums vs. Cymbidiums
Epiphyllums--there are several species, and hundreds, if not thousands of cultivars available--are commonly called Orchid Cactus. This is apt, since out of bloom they are not much to look at, and they are out of bloom almost all the time. For most of the year, both my orchids and orchid cactus are hidden away, left to grow or not, until bloom time arrives and they become temporarily spectacular.
The rule for watering Epiphyllums is simple: if the weather is so cool you need a sweater (or jacket, coat, parka, etc.) then no watering. If the weather is such that even the thought of a light jacket makes you break into a red hot sweat, then water away. These are true cacti--they have spines that are structurally cactus-like, but they are tropical cacti, not desert plants. That means dappled shade, temperatures always above freezing, and sufficient water when the weather is warm.
A big Epi can produce flowers for weeks. Each flower lasts three days. My Epis are not big yet, so my bloom period is perhaps a week at most--five or six explosions of color, each the size of an apple. A few wonderful magenta and purple-tinged orange fireworks, and then the plant is ignored for another year.
If you leave the flowers on, fruits form. Supposedly they are edible--with caution--some people have a reaction to them. I took few bites of a fruit myself--a slightly tart, somewhat tropical flavor, a little like a kiwi fruit. No reaction, but nothing especially appetizing, either. The foliage consists of a lot of strap-like leaves with serrated edges and a few modest spines, which nonetheless must be respected, as they can get into your skin and hurt. Green, with the edges going slightly reddish in winter. You need a tall wide pot, because the foliage drapes. Undistinguished and somewhat awkward--the leaves may go in odd directions--there is no symmetry. It's all about the flowers.
Typically, you buy a leaf cutting, stick it into some cactus mix, and it grows. This must be somewhat difficult in less appropriate climates, but here, it's that simple.
Being a succulent, even a cold-tender one, they are far less of a chore than Cymbidiums. I have a few Cymbidiums left. I've trashed many, and I think I'll chuck the rest--perhaps try one or two in the ground, as an experiment. They look like heck out of bloom, and they are out of bloom for about 46 weeks out of every 52. The flowers benefit greatly from careful staking as they develop, to maximise the beauty of the display, and I never get around to that. A virus can infect the leaves, streaking and spotting them black, and making them look even worse than they already do. Our high particulate water burns the tips of their leaves.
In their pots, the Cymbidiums are thrashed by the Santa Ana winds here every autumn--I struggle to keep them alive and must constantly retrieve them from where ever the wind has tossed them, most of their orchid bark missing and most of their fleshy roots shriveled. I admit defeat. When the Santa Anas roar, the most powerful gusts may slightly flick an Epiphyllum leaf, but mostly they dourly sit, unmoved, unaffected, while the Cymbidiums and their orchid bark clatter down the road. Bye Bye, Cymbidiums. I tried. I bow to the black virus, the hard water, the hot winds. The Epis, on the other hand, stay.