The Lepismium Cruciforme is also known by its more common name of Hurricane Cactus. It is a most unusual cactus. It is one of those succulents that are called epiphytic. This means that its roots are not always anchored directly in the ground, and it can grow on another plant.
Unlike most other species of cactus, the Lepismium Cruciforme is not a desert succulent. It does not need hot, arid areas to grow. It is native to the tropical and subtropical rainforests of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.
Both tropical and subtropical climates receive large volumes of rain, so these succulents are used to a lot of water. In the rain forests of South America, the Lepismium Cruciforme can receive as much as 157 inches of rainfall per year.
Even though the Lepismium Cruciforme grows on other plants, it is not a parasite. It does not feed off its host, draining it of nutrients in the process. It grows on trees, where it takes root in the angles and folds of the trees’ branches.
These angles and folds are usually filled with decomposing organic material, and the roots of the Lepismium Cruciforme get their nourishment from this material. The roots are also able to absorb rainwater that collects in these angles and folds, giving the Lepismium Cruciforme the hydration that it needs.
Lepismium Cruciforme Appearance
The Lepismium Cruciforme has a completely unique appearance. The stems are very long, up to 20 inches each. They are thick and fleshy, with numerous segments on each stem.
The stems are covered in small, whitish thorns. While the thorns look prickly, they are actually quite soft and will not pierce your skin if you accidentally touch them. The stems themselves are green, but develop a reddish tinge when exposed to full sun for long periods.
The Lepismium Cruciforme develops nodules that are soft and pale. Leaves emerge from these nodules and grow downwards in an almost spiral formation when the plant is kept in a hanging basket.
The flowers of this succulent are very small, only about 1 inch long, and can vary in color, ranging from white to cream, yellow, pink, and sometimes even deep purple.
Caring for the Lepismium Cruciforme
The Lepismium Cruciforme is unlike most other succulents, which generally do not need much attention and can safely be left to their own devices. This succulent requires careful nurturing in order to thrive. However, with the right care, it makes a wonderful house plant.
Most cactus plants need about 6 hours of direct sunlight per day, but this will not be good for your Lepismium Cruciforme. This succulent, being native to rainforest areas, is not used to intense direct sunlight and will wilt and die if it is left in the sun for prolonged periods.
The Lepismium Cruciforme needs filtered sun with dappled shade. If it is kept outdoors, it should be placed in a position where it will receive a few hours of sunlight in the earlier part of the morning, before the sun becomes too hot, with light shade for the rest of the day.
With the Lepismium Cruciforme, there is a fine balance between enough direct sunlight, and too much. Without enough sunlight, the plant will fail to thrive, it may suffer from stunted growth, and it will not produce flowers.
These succulents do particularly well indoors. They will thrive in a warm room that does not receive full sun all day. They should not be placed directly on a window sill, as the glass in the window often intensifies the heat of the sun, and this intense heat will cause the leaves to wilt and shrivel, and may eventually kill the plant.
An ideal position would be a minimum of 20 inches away from the window, where they can benefit from the natural light, but will not get burned by the intense heat.
During the dormant winter months, the plant can be moved to a cool room that gets minimal sunlight. As soon as it starts to come out of the dormant period, in early spring, buds will start to develop. This is the time to move your Lepismium Cruciforme to a warmer room that gets more natural light.
The Lepismium Cruciforme is not at all drought-resistant. It needs a lot of water in order to flourish. In its native environment, it is used to a mesic habitat that has a constant supply of water.
As with its light requirements, the Lepismium Cruciforme requires a careful balance in its water needs. If it does not get enough water, it will wilt and die. But it can also suffer from overwatering.
The Lepismium Cruciforme is dormant through the winter months and will require less water during this period. During spring, it will need more water as it is starting to wake up from dormancy. Throughout the summer, when it goes through its growing period, it needs to be watered very frequently.
Too much water can cause fungal infections and root rot. The soil should always be kept slightly damp, with the top one-third of the soil being allowed to dry completely between waterings.
If your Lepismium Cruciforme is planted in pots, they should have good drainage holes at the bottom, to allow excess water to run off freely.
This succulent is extremely tolerant of high humidity levels. During its growing period, in spring and summer, it will do well in an environment that has a lot of natural moisture in the atmosphere. But if the humidity level is very high, you may have to adjust the watering frequency slightly, watering a little less often, in order to compensate for the high humidity.
In the winter months, during the plant’s dormant period, it may be helpful to use a dehumidifier in the room in which you keep this succulent, in order to maintain the humidity at a lower level.
The Lepismium Cruciforme is used to a humid, warm, tropical climate. Therefore, it is not at all cold hardy, and it will not do well in a cold environment. It should not be planted outdoors in zones where the temperature frequently drops below 40° Fahrenheit.
The ideal temperature for the Lepismium Cruciforme to thrive is between 60°-75° during its growing period, in the summer months. During the dormant period, throughout winter, it prefers a slightly lower constant temperature, between 60°-65° during the day, and between 40°-45° at night.
If your plant is outdoors in a container, it should be brought indoors if the weather turns cold. It should also be shielded from frost, as the ice crystals will do permanent damage to the leaves after frost exposure.
When cultivating the Lepismium Cruciforme as a house plant, it is advisable to keep the soil pH level between a slightly acidic 6.1 and a lowish alkaline 7.8. The ideal pH would be a neutral 6.6-7.3.
More important than the pH level of the soil is its drainage. It is crucial that the soil should have excellent drainage so that the plant does not remain very wet all the time. Sitting in saturated soil constantly can cause the roots to become infected with fungus, and this will lead to root rot. This can be fatal for your succulents.
Cactus potting soil on its own is too thick, and will not allow water to drain away. The soil needs to be aerated in order to allow for adequate drainage. The best way to do this is to combine the potting soil with other elements.
When preparing the soil, it is recommended to use a mixture of cactus potting soil and either mineral grit, or bark chips, in a ratio of 3 parts cactus potting soil to one part mineral grit or bark chips.
The best mineral grit for this succulent is pumice. Pumice is a natural stone that is ground into fine particles and mixed with soil. It allows water to run freely through the soil, providing good drainage for the plant.
If you are planting your Lepismium Cruciforme in containers, it is essential that the containers should have good drainage holes at the bottom, in order for excess water to drain away.
While most cactus plants don’t need to be given fertilizer and will do very well without it, the Lepismium Cruciforme will thrive if it is given a boost of some fertilizer mixed in with the soil.
During the summer growing period, it should be given a dose of fertilizer once a week. This can be reduced to once a month during the dormant winter months.
There are many commercially produced fertilizers available. Your local nursery or garden center will be able to assist you in choosing something suitable from their range.
The fertilizer will help to ensure the rapid and healthy growth of your Lepismium Cruciforme. If the plant is left in a container that is too small for its needs, the roots will not have enough space and they will not be able to spread. This will inhibit the healthy development of the plant, and its growth will be stunted.
Once your succulent is growing well, it will eventually outgrow its container and will need to be repotted. See our informative information about repotting, together with our step-by-step guide to repotting your Lepismium Cruciforme, later on in this article.
Propagating the Lepismium Cruciforme
The Lepismium Cruciforme can be propagated in a few different ways. It can be done using stem cuttings, leaves, or seeds.
- Propagating from stem cuttings
Using stem cuttings taken from a healthy plant is the easiest and most successful way of propagating the Lepismium Cruciforme.
A word of caution: when cutting a piece from the mother plant, it is vital that the utensil should be spotlessly clean and extremely sharp.
Using a dirty utensil may introduce potentially harmful bacteria to the newly cut surface of the stem. This surface should be treated as an open wound. Introducing dirt and bacteria could cause infection to set in, and the cutting will not grow.
If the utensil is not sharp enough to make a clean, quick cut, you may have to hack at the stem in order to remove a piece. This can damage the cutting, and it will not take.
Using a clean, sharp pair of gardening scissors or knife, cut a healthy piece as close to the base of the plant as possible. The piece should be long enough to contain at least three leaf segments.
Leave the cutting to stand for 2-3 days, allowing the cut edge to form a callus. Once it has callused over, insert the piece into a prepared pot of soil and water lightly.
Water every 2-3 days until the cutting has taken and is growing well. Once there is a viable plant growing, the watering schedule can then be reduced, and you can start to follow the watering guidelines given earlier in this article.
- Propagating from leaves
Propagating from leaves is usually successful, and it can be very satisfying to observe the development and growth of the new plant.
Select plump, healthy, fleshy leaves. It is best to take leaves from the center of the plant, where they are likely to be the healthiest.
Carefully twist off 2 or 3 leaves, as close to the stem as possible. Place them on a piece of paper towel or a clean cloth, and leave them to dry for a day or two.
Prepare a shallow dish with a little cactus potting soil. Place the dried leaves in the dish of soil, and sprinkle lightly with water every second day.
After a few days, you will notice little shoots emerging from the leaves. As soon as these start to develop stronger roots, they can be planted in a small pot of potting soil.
Water lightly every 2-3 days until you have a viable plant growing. You can then gradually reduce the watering schedule.
- Propagating from seeds
Propagating the Lepismium Cruciforme from seeds is a very long and difficult process. While it can be done, it takes many years for a new plant to start thriving from the time that the seeds are sown. We, therefore, do not advise using this method.
Common pests and problems with the Lepismium Cruciforme
The most common problems to watch out for are infestation with bugs and giving too much water.
Like many other succulents, the Lepismium Cruciforme is prone to infestation with mealybugs. These are tiny insects that can be quite difficult to eradicate. They slowly and systematically devour the leaves of the plant, and, If left unchecked, they will eventually destroy your plant completely.
While the insect itself is so small that it is hard to see it, it leaves a tell-tale sign of its presence. If you notice a white, powdery film on the underside of the leaves, your Lepismium Cruciforme has probably got a mealybug infestation. It will need to be treated with a pesticide.
Even though the Lepismium Cruciforme is native to rainforests and is used to an abundance of water if it is left in constantly soaked soil the roots will rot and the plant will die.
By following the watering guidelines given above, you can prevent root rot from setting in.
If you take the necessary precautions to avoid these pests and problems, your plant will thrive and will eventually need to be repotted.
Repotting the Lepismium Cruciforme
If you are an avid gardener, growing succulents can be a wonderfully satisfying hobby. They are usually fairly resilient plants, and not much can go wrong with them. However, there are certain basic needs that they have, and one of those is having enough space to grow and develop.
Therefore it is important to be able to recognize the signs of when your succulent needs to be repotted, and knowing exactly how to do this correctly. Repotting incorrectly can do serious damage to the plant, and it may not recover from the trauma.
- How to tell when to repot
If you start to see tiny root hairs peeping out from the drainage holes at the bottom of the container, it is time to transfer your Lepismium Cruciforme to a bigger pot. You may also notice the tops of the roots showing through the surface of the soil at the base of the plant.
Generally, these succulents grow at a fairly rapid rate and need to be repotted about once every second year.
- Choosing the right type of pot
It is not recommended to use a pot that is made up of metallic components, such as tin or iron. These may rust over time, and the rust can alter the mineral balance in the soil. This can be harmful to the plant.
The best type of pots to use are either ceramic or plastic pots. These will not rust, and will not affect the quality of the soil in any way. They will not develop any kind of coating that could potentially damage the plant’s roots.
The Lepismium Cruciforme does particularly well as a hanging plant. Hanging baskets should always be made of plastic so that if they accidentally get bumped against the side, they will not shatter.
- What size pot to use
The roots of the Lepismium Cruciforme are not very long and do not grow deeply. Therefore it is best to start off with a shallow pot.
The pot should also not be very wide. It should be just big enough to comfortably contain the plant.
You may think that by initially planting your succulent in a large pot, you will be saving yourself work in the future and you can avoid the effort of repotting at a later stage.
This may be so, but the danger is that if the pot is too big, you will be more likely to overwater, which can be very harmful to the plant. A small plant in a big pot is also not very attractive. It is far more aesthetically pleasing to have a pot that matches the plant’s size.
- How to protect your hands
The little thorns on the Lepismium Cruciforme may not actually pierce your skin, but they are prickly and can make it very uncomfortable to handle the plant.
You should always use something to protect your hands when repotting a cactus plant. Either wear good quality, thick gardening gloves or use an old towel or a cloth to protect your hands when handling the plant.
- A step-by-step guide to repotting
The following guide is helpful in teaching a novice gardener how to repot and can be applied to most plants. Succulents, in particular, should be repotted with great caution, as their roots tend to be fairly fragile and delicate.
Repotting can be stressful for the plant, and it may cause damage to the root system. Follow this step-by-step guide in order to ensure that your plant does not suffer trauma during the repotting process.
- Select a new container that is only one size bigger than the old one. You do not want it to be too big, or else the plant will feel ‘lost’ in its new environment.
- Fill it halfway with the right soil mix, following the soil guidelines given earlier in this article.
- The plant should be carefully placed in the pot, about halfway down.
- The pot should now be filled to the top with soil mix. Press down gently, but firmly, with the palms of your hands, around the base of the plant. This will secure it and help to anchor it correctly in the soil.
- Allow the plant a few hours to settle before watering.
- The first time you water, you should only give a very light sprinkling of cool water. It is useful to use a very small watering can, or even a spray bottle.
- Leave the plant to stand and avoid handling it further.
- The next day, give the plant a more thorough soaking.
- Continue to follow the watering guidelines given above.