Fern Leaf Cactus (Selenicereus chrysocardium): Ultimate Care Guide

Common Name(s)Fern Leaf Cactus, Fern Leaf Orchid Cactus, Golden Heart Epiphyllum
Scientific NameSelenicereus chrysocardium
Sun ExposureBright indirect sunlight
Soil pH5.0 to 6.0
Watering RequirementEvery 10 days to 2 weeks
Hardiness Zone10a to 11b USDA
Plant Height5 Feet
Plant Width5 Feet

Fern Leaf Cactus is not what you’ll envision when you think about traditional cacti.  Instead of being tall, erect, and spiny, Fern Leaf Cactus is a series of stems with waxy leaves that drape.  They are a more friendly looking plant than regular cacti and grow naturally in the jungles of Mexico, not the deserts.

Being a jungle dwelling plant means Fern Leaf Cactus appreciates a more humid environment with less direct sunlight than typical cacti.

Their leaves are long and slender, they grow in an in and out or zigzag sort of pattern. Fern Leaf Cactus is fairly easy to propagate, so theoretically you could have a lot of greenery in your home from a single plant, or maybe you’re set for gift giving for the next few occasions.

Fern Leaf Cactus has the capability of spreading out magnificently, quickly becoming an impressive and large house plant.

The scientific name for Fern Leaf Cactus is Selenicereus chrysocardium.  It also goes by the common name Fern Leaf Orchid Cactus and Golden Heart Epiphyllum.  The second name comes from the beautiful golden center of the Fern Leaf Cactus Flower.

Fern Leaf Cactus (Selenicereus chrysocardium)
Fern Leaf Cactus (Selenicereus chrysocardium). Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0 / Edited Original

Are Fern Leaf Cactus a Cactus?

Although Fern Leaf Cactus doesn’t have spines or a main stalk, they are a cactus, thriving in well draining soil, growing in warm environments, and only needs occasional watering.

Fern Leaf Cactus Care

With limited watering needs and only occasional fertilization, Fern Leaf Cactus is a pretty easy plant to care for.  Because they can spread out a lot, make sure they have enough space to support their growth and draping leaves.

Size and Growth Rate

This plant likes to spread out.  It can grow up to 5 feet tall, but because it doesn’t grow vertically, but instead drapes over edges it can also be up to 5 feet wide.  Fern Leaf Cactus has a growth season in spring and summer and you should witness plenty of new growth and leaves during that time.

Light Requirement

Although Fern Leaf Cactus is a cactus, it is not a lover of direct sunlight. Its leaves tend to scorch easily and turn yellow in too much direct sunlight. Dappled or indirect bright sunlight is best for Fern Leaf Cactus.  Try placing it near but not right in front of an east facing window.

Soil and pH Requirement

There is some debate about whether Fern Leaf Cactus should be planted in cactus potting mix or orchid potting mix. Both sides can agree that Fern Leaf Cactus needs to be in well draining soil to avoid having wet, soggy roots.
If you’d like to try your hand at creating your own soil mix try a recipe of two parts regular potting soil, one part perlite, and one part sand.  Small gravel can also be added to the miz to increase drainage and help create air pockets in the soil.

The best pH for Fern Leaf Cactus is between 5.0 and 6.0

Watering Requirement

Although Fern Leaf Cactus does enjoy more humidity than your average cactus (about 40%) its watering requirements are the same.  Water your Fern Leaf Cactus well every 10 days to two weeks and let it dry out completely between watering.  If you notice Your Fern Leaf Cactus is getting crispy brown leaf tips, check the soil. This may be an indication that they are ready for a drink.

Temperature Requirement

Be sure temperatures are not dipping below 45 degrees Fahrenheit if you are keeping your Fern Leaf Cactus outside.  Indoors, regular house temperatures will serve them just fine.

Hardiness Zone

If you are putting your Fern Leaf Cactus outdoors, be sure your hardiness zone is between 10a and 11b USDA.

Fern Leaf Cactus (Selenicereus chrysocardium)
Fern Leaf Cactus (Selenicereus chrysocardium). Max Ronnersjö, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Edited Original

Fertilizer Requirement

Use a heavily diluted liquid house plant fertilizer to feed your Fern Leaf Cactus. About half of the recommended amount on the instructions package is sufficient.  Fertilize every 4 weeks in the spring and summer when Fern Leaf Cactus has its growing season.  Give fertilizing a break in the winter when your plant will be more dormant.

Fern Leaf Cactus Propagation

The propagation of the Fern Leaf Cactus is quite simple.  Here’s what you need: a blade or sheers that have been sterilized with rubbing alcohol and a container with fresh dry soil mix. 

Take a cutting of your Fern Leaf Cactus and place the cut end in the soil. Don’t water it right away as this can lead to stem rot.  Wait about a week until roots start to form, then gently water your propagated Fern Leaf Cactus to encourage the roots to go searching for water in the soil and create a sturdy base for your plant.

If you can tenderly tug the new plants and they have resistance and do not come out of the soil, that’s how you know your propagation is successful and you can care for them as usual.

Problems Growing Fern Leaf Cactus

Scale insects and Mealybugs are the most common pests to infest Fern Leaf Cactus. 

To identify scale insects look for groups of small grey bumps or thin white scabby lumps. Check the crevasses of the leaves and the underside of the leaves.  To get rid of scale insects create a solution of one part water and one part isopropyl alcohol and add a couple of drops of dish soap.  Spray the affected areas of your Fern Leaf Cactus and let it sit for a bit. Then use a sponge, cloth, or the edge of a credit card to remove the scale.

Mealybugs tend to create a cottony white wax on plants and this is often the first sign that you have these unwelcome visitors on your Fern Leaf Cactus. Other symptoms include yellowing leaves, stunted growth and occasionally you may see a mealybug move about on your plant. If your Fern Leaf Cactus has mealybugs, give it a shower with a gentle spray nozzle to remove as many bugs as you can.  Follow up with neem oil.  If the problem is seriously out of hand you can try introducing some ladybugs to your plant.

Common Diseases

Fungal infection can happen to your Fern Leaf Cactus. If you notice a foul smell and yellow or dark blister like marks on the leaves there’s a good chance this is the case. The new growth on Fern Leaf Cactus is more susceptible to fungus.

The first treatment step is to quarantine the infected Fern Leaf Cactus so the fungus doesn’t spread to your other plants.

Fungus infection spreads through water and unclean tools. The progression of fungus is more rampant in the warmer months.

Go to your local plant nursery and purchase a commercial antifungal product. Follow the instructions and monitor your plant for about 2 weeks.

Root rot is a possibility for Fern Leaf Cactus.  The best way to prevent root rot is to make sure you’re not overwatering your cactus. If the roots of your plant sit in water, bacteria start to form and the roots literally rot. This can be fatal to plants.

If you catch root rot early enough, you can try repotting your Fern Leaf Cactus to cure it.  Uproot the plant and gently shake off any excess soil. Using a sterilized tool cut away any damaged roots.  Replant your Fern Leaf Cactus in a clean container with drainage holes and make sure to use fresh soil.  Wait about a week before watering your replanted Fern Leaf cactus.

Fern Leaf Cactus Flower

Another name for Fern Leaf Cactus is Golden Heart Epiphyllum.  This name is due to the beautiful golden center of the Fern Leaf Cactus flower. Fern Leaf Cactus flowers are very large and white. They have long golden stamen at their center. It is a very brilliant sight.

How often does it bloom?

Fern Leaf Cactus does not bloom often at all. In fact. There is a good chance you will never see your Fern Leaf Cactus flower.

Are Fern Leaf Cactus toxic to cats?

Fern Leaf Cactus is not toxic to cats.  It is safe to have Fern Leaf Cactus in your home if you have cats.

Where can I find Fern Leaf Cactus for sale?

Fern Leaf Cactus is not easy to find in stock, but it may be possible to order them online.  You could also try local buy and sell sites.

Fern Leaf Cactus Price

Fern Leaf Cactus ranges in price from USD 35 to USD 80

Fern Leaf Cactus vs Fishbone Cactus

When comparing Fern Leaf Cactus (Selenicereus chrysocardium) with Fishbone Cactus (Epiphyllum anguliger) you will notice that they look very similar.  They both have a zig-zag leaf pattern, they are spineless and drape over edges. 

Neither like direct sunlight and their watering and care are very similar. Both are quite hardy plants.

Fern Leaf Cactus does have a slightly thicker leaf and the zig-zag is a little bit less pronounced than the Fishbone Cactus.

Garden Biology

Garden Biology is your source of gardening and plant care guides. We strive to provide accurate and helpful information based on decades of collective gardening experiences.

Recent Posts