How to Care For The Fern Leaf Orchid Cactus, Selenicereus chrysocardium

by | Sep 7, 2022 | 2 comments

When I first saw this plant many years ago,  it was in a hanging basket at a local garden center tagged as a fern. It was a large plant and out of my price range. The label perplexed me, to say the least. The leaves resembled a fern, but the texture was rubbery like a succulent. I never found out what it was until years later and I never saw one for sale again until recently. I grabbed it up immediately! It is a Selenicereus chrysocardium (formerly Epiphyllum) or fern leaf cactus. Let’s talk about how to care for the fern leaf orchid cactus. 

Selenicereus chrysocardium

The fern leaf cactus does have a leaf that resembles a fern

Selenicereus Has Cladodes

As we talked about last week, those fern-shaped leaves are cladodes. Cladodes are stems, not leaves at all. These modified stems function like leaves, in that they photosynthesize and make food for the plant. The roots are what attaches it to the tree (or other item)  it lives on and collect nutrients for the plants. 

Selenicereus chrysocardium

The leaf is a cladode or flattened stem

Selenicereus is an Epiphytic Cactus

This cactus is one of many jungle cacti that grow in the crooks of trees. Their roots cling to the tree and use nutrients produced from decomposing debris dropped from plants, birds, and other small animals. We use fertilizer in our homes to mimic the nutrients plants get from nature through soil or as in this case, debris. It is a true cactus though this particular one is a spineless variety. 

Selenicereus chrysocardium

Fern leaf orchid cactus

Potting Mix

Because this is a true cactus and an epiphyte, this plant would prefer a high porosity potting medium. That means it likes lots of air around its roots, so when I repot this, I will use some orchid bark mixed in with my potting soil, as well as added perlite and vermiculite. As this is a jungle cacti, it would prefer not to completely dry out like its desert cousins.

Light Preference

As an epiphyte in its natural habitat, this cactus has a tree canopy above it and leaves shading it. That means it doesn’t need or want a full sun situation, but can live in an east or west window or under lights with no problem. If it were in full sun, such as a south window or outside for the summer, it may develop brown spots from sunburn. 

Selenicereus Blooms

If you are lucky enough to have this plant bloom, which I have not been, it will be a white flower, like the queen of the night or Epiphyllum oxypetalum. I am lucky enough to have the queen of the night bloom in my home. I love it! Below is a picture of my Epiphyllum oxypetalum blooming last month. 

Epiphyllum oxypetalum

Queen of the Night attracts bats and moths to pollinate it


This cactus is easy to propagate by using a cladode cutting. I cut approximately 3″ off the end of the stem and let it callus over or dry for a few days (this is a must) Then I inserted the end into a small pot of moistened potting mix and am looking forward to new shoots appearing in a few weeks. 

You can see in the picture below, a piece of the cladode was inserted into the soil and growth comes from the edges. 

Selenicereus chrysocardium

Fern leaf orchid propagation area


I’m glad I found this plant again and was able to buy it. It is so cool and if it never blooms, I’m okay with that. Sometimes it is about the foliage! And we all know I love ferns, so a fern cactus seemed to be a must for me. 

Have a great week, plant friends!


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  1. Wendy

    Thank you for your information. I bought my fern leaf cactus from a rare plant market about 5-6 years ago. It is flowering profusely this year. It is my fav plant

    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Wendy,
      You are welcom and thanks for visiting my site. Can’t wait for mine to bloom.


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