The Selenicereus anthonyanus was only successfully introduced in Europe in the 1950s, but in recent times it has been successful and is becoming much more common in nurseries and also in supermarkets. It is much appreciated for its relative ease of cultivation and for its beautiful flowers; however, the aspect that distinguishes it is the very particular shape of the stems (zig-zag or herringbone) that make it ornamental even in winter.
Description and origins
The Selenicereus or Cryptocereus Anthonyanus is an epiphytic cactus native to Mexico, more particularly the Chapas rainforests, at an altitude of about 800 metres. Like all epiphytes, it grows by clinging to rocks and branches thanks to its aerial roots and thrives in tropical or equatorial environments, characterised by a warm climate, strong diffused or direct light and a high level of ambient humidity.
Its popular names (cactus zig-zag, cactus herringbone) refer to the characteristic shape of its stems. The stems are bright green with a semi-endulous habit, up to 75 cm long, flattened, with marked marginal incisions, up to 4,5 cm, and which lead to the formation of lobes. The areoles carry from 2 to 4 pale brown thorns. Between spring and summer, it produces horn-shaped flowers, up to 12 cm long, cream-white and with brick touches.
They open during the night (hence the name, Selericereus, which means “moon candle”) and give off a strong and characteristic sweet scent.
The cultivation of the zig-zag cactus is quite simple: it is a plant that can grow both by those who live in the city and in the countryside, placing it outside in the warm seasons and sheltering it in winter. It is not particularly delicate, if we exclude the lack of rusticity. A little more effort is required if we want to achieve a beautiful flowering. Here are some general indications.
Vase and soil
The selenicereus is ideal for growing in pots or hanging baskets: its semi-pendulum bearing and its flowers are more appreciated when viewed from below. If desired, it can also be bred as a climber, providing a pylon as support. Let’s make sure in any case that an excellent drainage and drainage of the water is guaranteed: especially in the winter months it is important to avoid stagnation and consequently the onset of rottenness.
The ideal compound for epiphytic cacti is obtained by mixing in equal parts garden earth (not too clayey), soil (or a mixture of soil and peat) and sand: this will allow good nutrition and maintenance of the right degree of moisture. If we do not know where to get the garden earth, a good alternative is given by a mixture of soil, sand and peat in equal measure. On the bottom of the pot we always create a draining layer with expanded clay.
Climate and exposure
It is a tropical plant and therefore, in order to grow at its best, we must try to replicate its natural living conditions. The ideal would be to provide medium-high temperatures and strong radiation throughout the year, but this can only be guaranteed by those who have heated greenhouses. More commonly we recommend growing it indoors in the winter season, in a very bright position. It is very sensitive to the cold: it starts to suffer already below 15°C and dies if it reaches 8/5°C.
In winter it should therefore be kept in an inhabited room with a window facing south or east: loving humidity often grows well in kitchens and bathrooms.
When the summer arrives it can be moved outside, gradually increasing the amount of light to which we expose it (so we will avoid dangerous burns). After this phase you won’t have any problems with direct light either.
During the summer the watering must be abundant, even daily, taking care that the substrate remains always fresh, but at the same time there are no stagnations. At the same time, it is important to maintain a high level of ambient humidity by spraying the area often or by placing expanded clay marbles in the area to be wetted often. Rainwater or demineralised water is strongly recommended for all uses because limestone is very harmful.
In winter, in an apartment, we can suspend almost completely, just making sure that the ground bread never dries completely.
During the summer the selenicereus has a very vigorous growth and, if well supported, can give a spectacular flowering. It is therefore important, from March, to give every 15 days a fertilizer for flowering plants: it must have an excellent supply of potassium and good in nitrogen and phosphorus. Nitrogen should be administered with care because it could cause very long but fragile stems (in addition to attracting the cochineal, its most frequent parasite).
In winter we can suspend completely or reduce to a monthly administration (if it is in a very warm and well exposed room).