Disocactus ackermannii (Epiphyllum Orchid Cactus)

Disocactus ackermannii

Last updated on September 7th, 2022 at 03:29 pm

Disocactus ackermannii, also known as red orchid cactus or Epiphyllum orchid cactus, can be grown indoors in the winter and outdoors in the summer, making it an ideal houseplant, and they are easy to propagate if you have a cutting from one of your plants.

This makes Disocactus ackermannii (epiphyllum orchid cactus) an excellent candidate as a gift because you can take cuttings, put them in water and wait for them to grow roots and eventually sprout leaves.

Disocactus ackermannii is one of the most commonly seen cacti in horticulture today. This epiphytic cactus species typically grow to around 2 feet tall and can be found hanging from trees in Central America and Mexico.

If you’re looking to grow your own Epiphyllum ackermannii, there are some important things you should know about them before starting your search.

Let’s take a look at what it takes to grow this beautiful orchid cactus!

Origin and distribution

Epiphyllum orchid cactus is native to Central America, Mexico, and northern South America. Many Epiphyllum species are endangered in their natural habitats, so care should be taken when purchasing them from nurseries. They can also be purchased online through various websites specializing in orchids and succulents.

Some well-known Epiphyllums include Phyllocactus truncatus, Phyllocactus vulgaris and Disocactus alatus. The phyllocacti have cylindrical stems that are typically more than five inches tall. The leaves at the top of the stem will often taper down to a point near the bottom of the stem where they will split into two segments.

The leaves at the bottom of the stem form what is known as an acanthus leaf cluster, which looks like a small bouquet of flowers at the base of each stem. These plants require little water once established but do need protection from frost.

Red orchid cactus plants are commonly found growing on trees in the wild, with their roots wrapped around the tree’s trunk and branches. When cultivated indoors, they should be placed out of direct sunlight in order to prevent leaf scorching due to heat exposure.

Disocactus ackermannii propagation

Disocactus ackermannii

Disocactus ackermannii plants are propagated by seed, although vegetative propagation can also be done. Seeds should be sown on cacti mix or perlite in a greenhouse at 72F(22C). Seedlings emerge in 45 days and plants will flower under 12 hours of daylight. Plants can also be propagated by grafting.

Grafting is most successful when the parent plant is healthy and has been recently watered. The branch to be grafted is cut from the parent plant with a razor blade and placed onto an area with roots, such as the rootstock of another plant that has been removed from its pot.

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The scion (cut branch) should have three to five-leaf axils while the rootstock should have four to six-leaf axils below it. There should be two small cuts made near the end of each shoot with a sharp knife before they are joined together.

A latex-based adhesive such as TissueTape or Parafilm M is applied and wrapped around the join until dry. When the joint has healed over (about 10-14 days), new growth should appear above the wound site.

Disocactus ackermannii care information

Disocactus ackermannii

Disocactus ackermannii is easy to care for, but it is also sensitive. Like all epiphyllums, it needs bright light and at least 50 percent humidity. It does not need any additional fertilizer; if you see yellow or orange tips on your leaves, it’s probably getting too much light, not enough water or both. Give it a monthly dose of 20-20-20 fertilizer mixed with half-strength plant food every month from April through October.

Light requirement

Disocactus ackermannii prefers bright indirect light. Place plants in an east- or west-facing window. For supplemental lighting, use fluorescent lights placed no more than 18 inches above the plants and keep them on 14 to 16 hours a day.

Soil/potting mix

Disocactus ackermannii grows best in soil mixes high in organic matter. You can find bags of prepackaged epiphyllum mix at garden centers or you can make your own by combining one part sterilized topsoil, one part peat moss, and one part sand. Although these plants need moisture to survive, their soil should drain well so it doesn’t remain soggy for long periods of time.

Watering the red orchid cactus

Epiphyllum orchid cacti are epiphytes, which means they live in trees and receive most of their moisture from humidity. Although they’re hardy plants, they will not tolerate overwatering. Water them once a week with lukewarm water to keep them hydrated, especially during winter when rainfall is scarce.

Allow them to dry out between watering. If you can’t wait for the soil to dry before watering again, then use a paper towel instead of water. When the flowers start dropping off after two weeks, the plant has finished blooming and it’s time to stop watering it until next year.

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We suggest using an orchid fertilizer, but any balanced fertilizer that is 5-10-5 or 10-10-10 should work well. Fertilize every two weeks from spring through fall and once per month in winter.

Since Disocactus ackermannii are blooming plants, they need more nitrogen than typical flowering plants. In fact, if your bloom spikes look light green, you probably aren’t giving them enough nitrogen. Fertilizing with iron can help bring out the pink coloration in the flowers.


Disocactus ackermannii do best in room temperatures of 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit during the daytime and 60 to 65 degrees at night. You’re safe with most home air conditioners.

If your house is hot, consider placing your plant on a table or other raised surface that allows for airflow. To reduce the temperature, place a tray filled with ice cubes underneath the pot. For more information about how to care for epiphyllums.


In order to keep Disocactus ackermannii healthy, it’s vital to maintain high humidity levels. Because of their delicate and absorbent nature, orchids thrive when their air is saturated with moisture.

To increase humidity levels indoors, place your plants on pebble trays so they can easily draw water up through their roots; add a humidifier in rooms that don’t receive much natural light, and remember to mist your flowers regularly.

The ideal humidity range is between 50-70%. A humidity level below 50% may cause the plant to drop its leaves and become stunted.

Pruning epiphyllum orchid cactus

One of your main concerns as an epiphyllum grower is keeping your plants compact and symmetrical. Through pruning, you can eliminate or control growth on all parts of your plant, thus making it more appealing to buyers. When do you prune?

As soon as the new growth has appeared in spring, or after flowering. Prune the lateral branches back by one-third at their point of origin, never above where they branch out. Trim the tips of vertical shoots that have grown taller than desired.

You may need to use sharp pruning shears; garden clippers are not always strong enough for this type of job. A clean-cut heals faster and promotes better growth than tearing off long pieces with your hands.

In addition, remove suckers from around the base of the stem and any flowers that have died off since last year’s blooming season

When to repot

Repot Disocactus ackermannii every 2 years. If their growing medium starts to break down, they’re likely to develop yellow leaves and suffer other complications. Repot them using fresh potting soil mixed with 1⁄4 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer for each plant.

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The repotting process will take about 30 minutes from start to finish. Fill the new container with potting soil up to the level where the root ball was previously sitting. Be sure that the hole in the bottom of the container is large enough for drainage.

Fill in around all sides of the root ball and firm it down gently so that it doesn’t move around as you are watering it. Then water well until water runs out through the bottom hole in your container.

Dormancy/Winter rest

When temperatures drop, Disocactus ackermannii goes dormant. This is when they’re most vulnerable to freezing temperatures and water loss. In colder climates where freezing weather persists, growers often dig up their plants to keep them alive for their next blooming season.

If you live in an area with mild winters, it’s usually safe to let your plant remain outdoors as long as it has been hardened off properly. Winter dormancy begins when daytime temperatures are between 45°F and 55°F, typically starting at the end of October or the beginning of November.

Some people say that if the temperature dips below 45°F, you should bring your plants indoors or risk losing them during cold snaps. You can also wrap individual stems with newspaper or wet burlap sacks to protect them from cold winds without bringing the entire plant inside.

Disocactus ackermannii flower & fragrance

Disocactus ackermannii

Once you’ve had Disocactus ackermannii, you will never forget its perfume. It is known as an epiphytic cactus that gets very large and produces flowers in summer and fall. When they first open, there is a little scent.

As they age, they slowly give off their unmistakable fragrance of roses and chocolate – quite interesting when you know what it smells like! Sometimes there are double flowers or ones with streaks on them. They are very attractive to hummingbirds.

Growth rate

For Disocactus ackermannii, you should plan on watering it approximately once every 5 to 7 days. This will likely be about 8 ounces of water for each inch of orchid cactus width. Additionally, if you are in an area with high humidity, you can reduce your watering schedule accordingly.

In the cooler months, some gardeners choose to not water their plants at all and let them go dormant until the warmer season begins again. It is important that during this time period the potting soil does not become completely dry; otherwise, this could cause root rot which is fatal to the plant.

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The sap of Epiphyllum is mildly toxic if ingested, causing mouth and throat irritation. The species has been found to contain resins and volatile oils including heliotropin, methyl heptane, sesquiterpenes, and sesquiterpene lactones.

All parts of Disocactus ackermannii are considered poisonous to humans. In severe cases, it can cause blindness and if ingested without treatment could be fatal.

USDA hardiness zones

Epiphyllum orchid cactus thrives best in USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11. The species is also often grown indoors as an ornamental plant. In the wild, Disocactus ackermannii has been known to reach up to 6 feet tall, but when grown as an indoor plant, they usually grow no taller than 2 feet.

The leaves of this epiphyllum are succulent and long and narrow. These epiphyllums bloom in the summertime with flowers that can be up to 3 inches wide.

Pests and diseases

There are numerous pests and diseases that can affect cacti. Disocactus ackermannii are susceptible to nematodes, which are most common in plants that have been grown in poor potting soil or on chemically treated potting soils.

Mealybugs, scale insects, aphids, and whiteflies may also infest your plant. If you notice brown spots or powdery deposits on your plant’s surface, it may be affected by mealybugs or scale insects.

Aphids, if left untreated, will produce honeydew and attract ants. Whiteflies secrete a sweet substance called honeydew that attracts ants as well as other insects such as bees and wasps.


Disocactus ackermannii is a beautiful specimen, and with proper care, will provide many years of enjoyment. Despite what its name may imply, Epiphyllum Orchid Cactus has nothing to do with orchids; it is simply named for its flowers.

The natural range of Disocactus ackermannii includes southern Mexico and Guatemala. The genus name Disocactus refers to elongated spines that curl like small hooks from one side of each areole.