Frank Suepplie: The Splendour of Orchid Cacti
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Old 03-20-2021, 07:30 PM
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Frank Suepplie: The Splendour of Orchid Cacti
 

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Frank Suepplie: The Splendour of Orchid Cacti Male
Default Frank Suepplie: The Splendour of Orchid Cacti

CSSA Live Video Presentation:
Frank Süpplie
The Splendour of Orchid Cacti
Saturday March 6 2021

The Cactus and Succulent Society of America has been having biweekly Saturday morning (US) video talks. Cactus and Succulent Society of America - Home Page.

The videos are available on the CSSA Facebook page for a week, CactusAndSucculentSocietyOfAmerica. The orchid cacti video is no longer visible. The current video available is a talk just presented this morning by Jon Rebman, Curator of Collections at the San Diego Natural History Museum, on the plants of Baja California. Jon is an amazing speaker! I recommend everybody here watch that talk before it disappears.

I made a transcript of the orchid cactus recording. It was a presentation by the speaker, followed by a Q&A session with the panelists, all Epi growers. I have extracted here a few things about growing Epis. I have added some of my own comments because the talk was directed to cactus growers already familiar with these plants. I put my additions within [brackets.]

I did not reproduce any of the photos. I don't have permission for that. However, you can find many photos at Frank's Web sites.

I also made some extracts of what Frank said about dealing with greenhouse pests, and put that message into a post in the Pests and Diseases Forum.

Frank runs the Epiphytic Cacti Research and Information Centre in the Netherlands.
Stichting Epric
He also sells Epis online (EU only) at
www.epiphyllum.online – the Epric foundation – the Netherlands
where you can see many, many photos of things you will want.

Host: Frank's parents were growing and collecting Epis [in Germany] long before he was born. At age 6, he was in contact with Epi growers like Walter Haage, Kurt Petersen and many more. He has written over 300 articles and books about Epi hybrids. He's a prolific grower of many new hybrids, and his collection consists of thousands of hybrids. Frank normally resides in the Netherlands, but he is stuck in northern Italy because of COVID. In 1997 Frank founded Epiphytic Plant Research and Information Centre. Please help me in welcoming Frank Süpplie as he presents The Splendour of Orchid Cacti.

Frank: Epiphytic cactus are cacti who are growing on other plants, without using them as food supply. So if you had a tree from Mexico, which the epiphytic cactus are growing on, and we would shake it, all the plants would fall off. Because they are not attached to that plant.

What are called in English Epiphyllum hybrids, Epis or Orchid Cacti are multi-generic hybrids involving epiphytic cacti with medium to large flowers. Few have ancestors in genus Epiphyllum, which are epiphytic cacti having mostly night-blooming white flowers. The Epiphyllum Society of America decided in the 1940s that, rather than using the taxonomically correct nothogenera for hybrids among these genera, for hobbyists they would be called Epiphyllum hybrids.

It is rarely possible to produce successful crosses by putting orchid cactus pollen on the stigma of a true Epiphyllum species. You will wind up with seedlings identical to the female Epiphyllum parent, even if you pull off the anthers before the bud opens. [This is called parthenogenesis. It happens in many plants when incompatible pollen is put on a stigma.]

[Orchid cacti typically begin growing in early spring. Most hybrids flower at the same time each year, which may be any time from early spring to midsummer. Some flower multiple times per year. They complete growth as it cools in fall, and are mostly dormant in winter.]

[Most orchid cacti have as ancestors Heliocereus (now Disocactus) speciosus or cinnabarinus, spiny sprawling thin-stemmed plants; Aporocactus (now Disocactus) flagelliformis and flagriformis (both now flagelliformis), called rat-tailed cacti after the stem form, with thin, dangling, spiny, cylindric stems; and Disocactus macranthus (formerly Pseudorhipsalis), with flat, spineless stems resembling leaves. These are all epiphytic cacti from mid to higher elevations. Some orchid cacti have spines, but most have none. They don't tolerate much sun, nor much heat. I can't grow any outside in Phoenix summers, but they do well in home temperatures.]

Sometimes people refer to the plants as they have leaves; no, they have branches, and the leaves are very small. They are in these areoles where the flower buds are made. [The leaf-like stems are called phylloclades, from the Greek "leaf stems".]

[Orchid cacti have long, flat green stems with notched or scalloped edges. They don't have visible leaves. They branch from the base. The notches hold the areoles, a characteristic of cacti, which have tiny spines, and from which flowers or more stems may arise. They grow as sprawling plants, and people usually put them in hanging baskets. If space is limited, they can be grown in 6" pots, with the stems tied up together, or trained inside a tomato cage. This forms a 3 foot/1meter tall column of gathered stems.]

[Cactus taxonomy has undergone extensive revision. There are now considered to be four main lineages of epiphytic cacti, but that is still under study. It is not easy to make crosses across these four lineages, but it is usually easy to make crosses within any lineage. Many species have been moved among very many generic names, and even among various lineages. Any name you read attached to an epiphytic cactus may have been changed, and it can be difficult to keep track of the literature unless you're familiar with the plants.]

Orchid cacti are grown successfully outdoors all year in warmer winter areas of California. They become more difficult inland due to summer heat. They cannot tolerate any frost at all, and stems develop necrotic spots when they approach freezing. They do very well along the California coast, and would do well in similar areas like southeast Australia, the Mediterranean region and the Canary Islands. [They do very well outdoors in the American Midwest hanging under trees. They are not hard to overwinter inside, but they are large plants. In most of country they would make good house plants except for their size. They do flower better with cooler and somewhat dryer winters. They prefer to be evenly moist all year, but never soggy wet for long, and they really struggle if they dry out completely.]

Two people who are always inspiration for me are Kurt Knebel and Kurt Petersen. Kurt Knebel lived from 1871 to 1954. And Kurt Petersen lived from 1916 to 1993. These are the two people who started hybridizing in Germany and in Europe. Knebel was one of the first, in Erlau in East Germany, and he created about 233 hybrids. Petersen was, and is, known for his Frühlings hybrids, which have a very nice fragrance. And he is the one who made one of the first small hybrids. A small hybrid in flower, not in plant, of course, the Frühlings hybrids are still two to two and a half meters when they are grown out.

Knebel made the first multi-petaled hybrids, in 1935: Flore Pleno, Heureka and Königin [Queen], and they are the first with more petals than the others. I've had a good contact with the Knebel family. We are working on a book about Kurt Knebel, with information on all the DNA tests we did get from them, and also from our other sources.

Knebel was also one of the first people who made crosses with Heliocereus [now Disocactus] cinnabarinus.

Kurt Petersen was one of the few people I already knew when I was 6 year old. He taught me a lot considering making new hybrids. One of the parents [of his Fruehlings series of hybrids] is Disocactus macranthus, which gives fragrance to these hybrids. They are all small, about eight to ten centimeters in diameter. So three to four inches. [Flower size, not plant.] He made Frülingsliebe, which means Spring's Love, Frülingsanfang, [Spring's Arrival], Frühlingsstern [Spring's Star], Frühlingsgold [Spring's Gold], Maiendank [May Thanks], and many others in this series.

Mr. Petersen lived in Osterholz-Scharmbeck, northern Germany, and he had a relatively large collection for that time, and he was also the Chairman of the Dutch-German Cactus Society.

Once the German hybrids arrived in the US in the 1940s, American hybridizers began producing wonderful plants with them. Some of them are hard for us to flower in Europe because they are accustomed to more light than we have.

Don't make the mistake to think that every Epiphyllum hybrid is easy. These multi-petalled ones from Knebel are really difficult to grow [in Europe and most of the US.] You should have a greenhouse to put them in, or a pergola, or whatever, that they don't get the rain on it. [They don't do well in typical closed greenhouses where nights are too warm for them, or outdoors in Europe where summers are too cool and damp. They do very well in coastal California and Midwestern summers outdoors.]

Helmut Paetzold from Germany was a good friend of mine. He produced a lot of crosses, especially ones with smaller flowers. He put the word Paetz in most of the names.

To stay ahead of pests and disease you have to clean your greenhouse up; every 10 years you have to propagate all your plants from new cuttings, then throw away all your old plants. It looks awful for some people, but that's how you keep your collection alive. You keep your collection healthy without any spots or without any diseases.

We put on new gloves for each plant when we do cuttings. We sterilize the tools. We put every cutting in a separate bag. And don't forget that, of course, if you're going to drink a coffee, and you come back and you don't know the name any more. We also put always a name on every cutting [with a black Sharpie type pen.] Cuttings can be held unrooted [in a warm, bright place] up to 6 months if you haven't the time to pot them in containers. But actually it's better to do that soon.

[Orchid cactus can form new roots from areoles at the leaf notches, and also from the central vascular cylinder in the stem. Most of the audience knew to take orchid cactus cuttings at least 4"/10cm long. They can be tip cuttings, bottom cuttings or mid-stem cuttings. One long stem can easily yield 6-12 cuttings. Immediately write the name on the cutting with a Sharpie, and identify which end is down, for the mid-stem cuttings. They will grow fine if you pot them upside down, though.]

[Let the cutting dry at least 2-3 days in bright shade. Put single cuttings into the smallest diameter pot that will hold them. 2"/5cm wide rose pots (taller than most pots) work better than shallower pots for most individual cuttings, because there will be more rooting surfaces buried in a deeper pot. Put the cutting on the bottom of the empty pot. Backfill loosely with your mix. Do not tamp down the mix; leave it very loose. The mix should be just barely moist from the bag, or completely dry. Do not use wet mix, and do not water now, or they will rot. Rooting is promoted by warmth and humidity, not wet medium.]

[Some people put 3-4 cuttings in a 4"/10cm pot. Use the same damp or dry mix. Very loosely fill the pot, then push the cuttings in until they touch bottom. Do not water yet.]

Frank said he usually puts three to five cuttings in a four to five inch/10 to 12.5cm container. And that's a start for one to two years. And then repotting it to a container of eight inch/19cm.

[Set cuttings in a warm, humid spot with bright shade for growing. If you only have one or a few, you could use a jar or lidded terrarium. Spraying or misting the cuttings daily might help if you don't have a humid rooting area, but don't wet the soil too early. After a full 2 weeks, water once, very lightly, not enough to soak all the medium, just enough to get some water into the pot. Cuttings may have been shriveling before that. Wait 2 weeks to water for the first time, or you might rot the cuttings. After the first watering, water again, very lightly, once a week until the plant sends up new growth, which will probably come from beneath the soil. Once the plants are growing, keep them evenly moist and begin fertilizing.]

[After a year they can be moved up to a larger pot. Most people don't use pots larger than 8"/20cm because the plants become too heavy to move. Cuttings should flower in the third growing season, sometimes earlier]

I'm going to talk about my own collection. The measurement is about one thousand square meters. [About 10,700 square feet, or nearly a quarter of an acre.] I have about eight and a half thousand different hybrids. Many are still not named, because they are my own hybrids.

You see it's clean in the greenhouse. That's the best thing to do to keep your plants healthy. [There are racks of pots slightly off the ground; rather than normal benches, baskets dangle from the roof at three different levels. In the propagation greenhouse there are benches to hold the pots] A lot of air ventilation is given. Medium temperature in this greenhouse. It is ten to eleven degrees Celsius in the winter [at night, 50-52 F], and a lot of air movement also in the winter. We can open the windows at the sides. Besides the Epiphyllum collection also a large Christmas cacti collection [genus Schlumbergera, formerly Zygocactus], and a Rhipsalis collection [another genus of epiphytic cacti], and also greenhouses for that. And it's a lot of work every day, if you want to do this in this way, in your hobby, and your hobby is a little bit larger than normal. I am standing up [waking up] every day at about three o'clock in the morning, and going to stop about eight o'clock in the evening. So, all day, plants, in every kind and every way you can imagine.

You have to imagine that if you cross plant A with plant B, you actually get 450 seedlings, up to 450 seedlings, so you have to have also a lot of space. So, at the moment I have about two and a half thousand seedlings still there which haven't been blooming longer than three years, and they will be going into, they will be going into evaluation the next years. So I still have enough to do for the coming years.

Here do you see some hybrids from me without any names; they are still not named. They will be for the future, they will be evaluated and have a name. See how much difference there is in flower form and flower color and texture. For me it's very important that not only the flower is OK, but also the branches are good, with no spots. If a hybrid has spots [on the branches] it is automatically going to the bin.

Here you the first hybrid I ever created, In Memory Of Kurt Knebel, this was sown out when I was six years old. It's now forty years old.

Some hybrids have red anther filaments. That's something which is coming back from Heliocereus cinnabarinus from Kurt Knebel.

DNA tests have shown that some hybrids of Knebel do have a recognizable multipetalled gene. So, you have to use these exceptional hybrids in your work.

A really stunning for me, stunning, is Hellfire Again. [Bright red flower with a very high petal count; outer petals are much longer, and droop down like fireworks trails.] It's a very long-petalled flower, about twenty three to twenty four centimeters, it's about nine to nine and a half inch in diameter. And this is a cross between two Knebel hybrids, two multipetalled Knebel hybrids, Heureka and Flore Pleno. I love this very much, and I hope that this hybrid will be used as parent. It's not the easiest one, because it doesn't like to be outside [in the Netherlands.] It has to be in the greenhouse the whole year. And we have greenhouses, of course. But it shouldn't be also not too hot in the greenhouses. Maximum of thirty degrees Celsius [86 F.]

Q&A

The questions about pests and diseases went into a separate OB message in the Pests and Diseases Forum.

Panelist: What are the easiest Epis to take care of for a beginner? I'm wanting to get into growing Epiphyllums.

Frank: Everything with a simple flower [not multipetalled], which is white, red or orange. Those are the simplest ones. Everything multipetalled, don't begin as a beginner.

Panelist: There are certain varieties that we all know are as tough as nails. There are things like French Gold, where almost everybody can grow it; it grows strongly, and flowers regularly. One of the good things about having social media and online presence is, you can ask, "Hey, is there anybody else in the area growing this? What grows well for you here?" Because what may grow well for me [in inland Southern California] may not grow well for you in Minnesota or Germany or Australia.

Frank: What I am not going to advise is anything involved with German Empress [Deutsches Kaiserin.]

Chorus of all Epi growers: Absolutely! No way! Ja ja ja ja ja!

Frank: Because it is a hell to get this plant healthy without any spots. Because you have to take so many care. So I'm not also using German Empress in my crossings. Because all the hybrids have this.

Panelist: Yeah. It ends up being, like, almost all spots for me, and then it dies. [He lives in inland Southern California and grows outside without a greenhouse. It's far too hot there for Deutsches Kaiserin.]

Frank: It must be kept very cold. [He doesn't mean cold all the time. It needs cooler summer nights than many people growing in greenhouses have. Cuttings do well in my sunroom with summer nights in the upper 70s to low 80s F.]

Jerry Williams, Rainbow Gardens Nursery, Vista, California: One of the wonderful plants for beginners that I always preferred is Harald Knebel. It was a very strong grower; it blooms off and on throughout the year.

Host: Jerry, at your nursery, you did a lot of grafting on Opuntias. Is that a common practice, only in Southern California, or is it done worldwide?

[Jerry grafted Epi cuttings onto Opuntia ficus-indica understock, a very fast-growing, upright prickly pear cactus with no spines. This made the Epis grow much more prolifically than they would on their own roots, and they didn't need frequent watering.]

Jerry: I don't think it's a real common practice, however a lot of individual growers are now trying to do grafting. But if I had to do it all over again, I probably wouldn't do grafting, because of viruses. But at the time we were in business, we needed cuttings, and we didn't have a lot of space, and that was one of the ways to create the cuttings. But I don't recommend it because the virus can be spread very easily through the pads. Now, I'm not sure about grafting them onto Hylocereus, and things like that. That would be a fun thing to experiment with. But I don't think you would get the growth that you got from the Opuntia pads.

Panelist: There are a lot of questions about care, such as soil mixture, fertilization. What would you recommend?

Host: Does it vary from area to area?

Frank: Yes, every country [is different.]

Panelist: I think it's the timing that varies. I would bet we all do a variation of the same thing as far as fertilization. You know, start a couple of months before they flower. As it gets warmer we use more fertilizer to promote growth. Now, the mixture, that's going to be totally local. What works for me may not work for Frank over in the Netherlands. Simply because I grow mine outside, I have no greenhouse.

Panelist: What you do might not work for me just down the road in San Diego. It might not work for somebody in east county San Diego, where it's much hotter or dryer [because it's much higher in elevation than the city of San Diego, perhaps inland over a mountain range and mostly beyond marine influence.]

Panelist: Because I'm inland, and I'm very much hotter than, say, like Los Angeles, or Long Beach. In fact, that's why I think sometimes I have problems with Don Burnett's stuff, [well-known Epi hybridizer] because he's in Long Beach [on the coast slightly south of Los Angeles], I don't have the cooler temperatures and the humidity off the ocean there, or that you might have. And that is one of the things that I noticed that Frank said something about that, that they don't get as much light over there, so "ours [in the Netherlands] don't flower as well." And that's a deal, as you might well be selecting for stuff that grows well where you are.

Frank: [question about renewing collection] Renew [Rhipsalis] cuttings every ten year? No, it's not for Rhipsalis. Easter cactus, for example, have a very small lifespan of five to six years, so you have to do that every five, six years. [Easter cactus are hybrids in genus Rhipsalidopsis, which look vegetatively like Christmas cactus but have actinomorphic rather than the zygomorphic flowers of Christmas cactus.] Orchid cactus plants are going to degenerate in about nine to ten years. So you have to do something to keep that [Epi] hybrid in your collection.

Panelist: How long does it take from planting the seed until the plant blooms and you can see the result in the flower?

Frank: If you graft [seedlings onto larger rootstock when they're big enough to handle], then it's in two to three years. If you don't graft them, it takes up to ten years. And then, it has to flower three years before you can evaluate the flower. And so actually you can, in a lifespan you can make four or five generations. And now I'm on third generation, so, I can still do two generations!

Frank: I've never thrown a seedling away. From every cross I have three, four or five hundred seedlings. But the most interesting are the not normal growing ones. So you can already make a selection then. But actually you should keep all the seedlings. Until they have bloomed.

Host: There was years ago a tendency to grow Epis with smaller flowers, but longer blooming seasons. Is that still something that people are looking at?

Panelist: There is a hybridizer in Germany, Rudolph Hessing, and that's his, his mission, so to speak, is to hybridize Epis, small blooms, compact growth, so that he will have flowers every single month of the year. And he has been very successful.

Frank: There's also a question about, did you use any [Epiphyllum] species in your hybrids, or only other crosses? What are the best species for making new hybrids? Oh boy. There are several [Epiphyllum] species you can use. But results are different and difficult. Meaning these [Epiphyllum species x orchid cactus] hybrids need temperatures in the winter of at least eighteen degrees Celsius [65 F], which is very high for most of the people. But I did use some species and I have some crosses with very interesting stem segments. But it's a different world. It's not the world I actually do a lot. Always blooming at night, and then you have a certain... how do I say that? They are not compatible to each other. You can't use any hybrids for making a cross with [Epiphyllum] species because, if you use that [hybrid] pollen, automatically, the species will [reproduce] itself, even if you have removed the pollen from the mother plant, actually. You do still get exact same plants as the mother plant.

For example, this Curly Sue, Epiphyllum guatemalensis monstrosus, you can pollinate it with what you want, but you always get monstrosus.

Panelist: Do cuttings bloom better if the pot has many cuttings? They do like to be a little bit root bound. They do bloom better it seems like if they have not as much space to just spread out and grow. But the other problem is, if you're talking about multiple different varieties in the same pot, that's probably not as good, because one of them, like Frank said, every Epiphyllum hybrid is not the same. They don't grow the same. Some grow much better than others, and you risk one taking over. And flooding out the others. [But that's done. Grow up three or four, then put them into one bigger pot.]

Frank: I usually do three to five cuttings in a four to five inch/10 to 12.5cm container. And that's a start for one to two years. And then repotting it to a container of eight inch/19cm. And then that's the maximum size. I'm not going to do any larger pots any more. Because containers twelve inch/30cm you can imagine, are very hard to lift.

Panelist: It gets to the point where you risk root rot because there's too much soil and too little plant. Also, they're giant and unwieldy. Some of these things will continue to grow, so that you have six, eight feet long phylloclades in all directions [2-2.5 meters.] If you try to move them it's 50, 60 pounds[/23-27kg.] It's so weighty it breaks the hook off where you're hanging it.

Frank: And you have to imagine, for example, this little one I showed you, Inca's Golden Dream with the small flowers, is about fifteen feet/4.6m when it's full grown. You can imagine. You have to reduce the size, because it's too large. You can't handle it any more.

Host: Is there a directory of Epi societies?

Panelist: No. There are a few in Calfornia. Most in the rest of the country are mixed growers of other plants. The Epiphyllum Society [of the US] is in the process of modernizing their Web page [and the societies will be listed.]

Host: What about Europe? How many societies are there in Europe?

Frank: There are actually three societies. One in England, one, in of course, the Netherlands, Epiflora, and one in Germany, only one. But normal cactus societies are really covering the Epiphyllum hybrids more than enough. And in the Dutch society [journal], which is coming out next week, there is a ten-page article on Epiphyllum hybrids, which is very uncommon. Because I remember that the only larger article about the epiphytic cacti was my article in 2005 in the Cactus Society of America about Christmas cacti. So you don't see too much. There is not so segregation in America, this plant or that plant, they put everything in it. [There are many Epiphyllum groups on Facebook.]

Host: We're running way overtime here. One more question. Beth, tell us about the Epis at the San Diego Wild Animal Safari Park.

Beth: [The San Diego Epiphyllum Society volunteers to care for a large Epi display at the Wild Animal Safari Park in the north county. This is not the same location as the San Diego Zoo though they share management.] There's a display area behind the tigers. The growing houses are not part of the public display area. We have arranged behind the scenes tours. You would need to contact us for that. They start blooming the end of March. This year they are starting now (March 6.) Mid to late April, into May is the peak bloom time.

Panelist: Question about basic potting mix.

Panelist: Needs to be well-draining. Epis do not like to sit in water. I use 1/3 potting soil, 1/3 orchid bark, 1/3 perlite. Some people use more potting soil because they want it more moisture retentive in hot areas. They are cacti, but not terrestrial cacti. They don't like hot sun. They need humidity. When hot in summer [San Diego] go out every morning to spray with hose [to increase humidity.] Safari Park has a misting system on a timer.

Panelist: [inland southern California, very hot and arid in summer] 2 parts coir, two parts perlite, one part pumice, and one part Wormgold Plus. I use coir rather than peat because once peat dries it is very difficult to rewet. Some people use half African violet mix and half cactus mix. They need very good drainage.

Jerry Williams: Half Supersoil and half pumice. Add 14-14-14 slow release Osmocote fertilizer. But he tells people to repot into what works in their area, because their microclimate will be different. They need good drainage.

Frank: I'm using a special mix which is made for us. But I use, I don't know if you know it, white peat. Not the normal peat, but white peat which is a little bit expensive. But it's better, because it has a lot more structure than the normal peat. So if I'm not watering in the winter, I don't have the problem that the soil doesn't take the water any more. [Once peat-based mixes become dry it is very difficult to rewet them. It can't be done with regular watering. The pot must be soaked in a bucket for many hours to days.] It's about 80% white peat, 10% normal peat and 10% perlite. And then of course some nutrition, whatever. But I don't use cocopeat (coir) because I've had very bad experience with it. And also I don't use orchid bark. Because in this orchid bark, mealy bugs are always in it.

Panelist: Well, I will tell you a little tip I that learned from my orchid friends. They soak their orchid bark in a solution of Physan.

Frank: You know then, also, in these little bark chips, it's easy to hide for a mealy bug. And that's a problem. And if you are having a large collection such we have, you can't, I don't want to use chemicals. So I have to be careful. I don't use bark. I didn't and don't see any advantage for bark [for growing orchid cactus.] Also it's very expensive here.

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Old 03-23-2021, 02:56 AM
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Frank Suepplie: The Splendour of Orchid Cacti Male
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Thank you estación seca I needed to read that! kg5
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