Epiphyllum oxypetalum (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Epiphyllum oxypetalum (DC.) Haw.

Protologue: Phil. Mag. 6: 109 (1829).
Family: Cactaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= unknown


Phyllocactus acuminatus (K. Schumann) K. Schumann (1897).

Vernacular names

  • Indonesia: hong te.

Origin and geographic distribution

E. oxypetalum is native to tropical America (Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela and Brazil), but is widely cultivated in tropical countries, e.g. in gardens in Java.


In Indonesia, a decoction of the fresh or dried flowers (often flower buds) and sometimes fresh stems is used externally to treat inflammations, wounds and boils, and internally to treat cough, phlegm, tuberculosis, pharyngitis, uterine bleeding and gastritis.

In Central America, a decoction of Epiphyllum flowers is also used to treat cough, and as an expectorant and tonic.

E. oxypetalum is planted as an ornamental for its flowers, and sometimes also as hedge plant.


The sweet-tasting flowers reputedly have anti-inflammatory and haemostatic activities, whereas anti-inflammatory activity has also been reported for the slightly acid stems. The acidity of the stem is possibly due to the presence of citric acid, which has been demonstrated in many other Cactaceae .


An erect shrub up to 3 m tall, widely and irregularly branched, spineless; stem terete or compressed-ensiform at base, strongly flattened and leaf-like towards apex; branches drooping and conspicuously articulate, internodes coarsely undulate-crenate, bearing a small areole in incisions. Leaves absent. Flowers solitary on upper areoles, bisexual, on stout, 0.5-2 cm long pedicels, 30-35 cm long; perianth gamophyllous, falling off shortly after anthesis, with long, red-scaly tube and much shorter, regular limb, outer tepals reddish, inner tepals white; stamens numerous, free, inserted on or near apex of perianth tube; ovary inferior, obtusely ribbed, style white, with 18-20 branches. Fruit a globose to ellipsoid berry, unilaterally dehiscent, many-seeded. Seeds shining black.

The plants bear a few flowers at long intervals. In Java, the flowers open in the late evening and close definitely in the late night or early morning. They are pollinated by hawkmoths and birds, at least in its natural area of distribution. Fruits do not develop in Java.

Epiphyllum consists of about 15 species and occurs mainly in Central America, with a few species extending to the West Indies and South America. It belongs to the tribe Hylocereeae of the subfamily Cactoideae , together with 5 other genera from tropical America. E. hookeri Haw. is also cultivated as an ornamental in Java, but it is not known whether it has the same uses.


In its native area of distribution, E. oxyphyllum is an epiphyte, growing on trees together with e.g. Bromeliaceae and Orchidaceae species. Acid soils with a pH of less than 6 are preferred for cultivation. Within the genus, E. oxyphyllum is the easiest species to cultivate. It grows and flowers extremely well in moist conditions.

Management E. oxypetalum can be propagated by stem cuttings.

Genetic resources

E. oxypetalum does not seem to be easily liable to genetic erosion as it is widely cultivated in the tropics. However, the genetic variability in Malesia is probably very limited as the plants are propagated vegetatively. Epiphyllum species have been crossed with species from related genera such as Disocactus and Selenicereus . Such hybrids are widely cultivated as ornamentals.


Although no research has been done on the phytochemistry and pharmacological properties, E. oxyphyllum seems to be an interesting medicinal plant as it is used for similar complaints in different parts of the world. Research is therefore needed to confirm the attributed medicinal activities.


62, 991.

Other selected sources

334, 366, 646.

Main genus page


R.H.M.J. Lemmens