Lepismium Bolivianum

Pfeiffera bolivianum - Coypright: Pilea Plant Shop


  1. Top Tips
  2. Location, Water, Humidity & Fertilisation
  3. Common Issues
  4. Origins, Temperature, Propagation, Repotting & Toxicity.

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Top Tips & Info

  • Care Difficulty - Easy
  • Provide a bright, indirect location with little to no direct sun. Alternatively, a shady spot with minimal lighting is all acceptable, as long as you reduce waters significantly to counteract the slowed rate of drying soil. 
  • Water once the soil's top half dries out, reducing this further in the autumn and winter. It's always better to under-water this species rather than over-do it, due to the risk of rotten roots. 
  • Average room humidity acceptable for Lepismium, but introduce a pebble tray to keep the surrounding moisture high in locations near a heat source (heaters or radiators).
  • Fertilise using a 'Houseplant' or 'Cactus' labelled feed every four waters in the spring and summer, reducing this to every six in the colder months.
  • Regularly check for pests, most notably Mealybugs and Scale that'll inhabit the cubbyholes of the stem.
  • Keep the ambient temperature above 10℃ (50℉) throughout the year, especially if placed outdoors in the summer.
  • Repot every three to four years using a Cactus & Succulent potting mix, in the next sized pot with adequate drainage holes. Keeping this plant potbound won't hurt its health, so only repot if necessary!

Location & Light - 🔸🔸

We'd recommend situating your Lepismium in a location that offers a good amount of indirect light. Although a splash of direct sun won't hurt the plant too much, you can easily fall in the trap of sun-scorch with those not acclimated to the harsh rays. A location within three metres of a north, east or west-facing window, or below a skylight window is ideal. If yours is seated in a relatively shady area of the house, be sure to dust the foliage regularly and keep the soil on the dry side to counteract root rot. 

Water - 🔸

Always allow the top half of the soil dry out in between irrigations, reducing this further in the autumn and winter. It's always better to under-water a Lepismium than over-do it due to the tendency of basal rot. Over-watering symptoms include yellowing older leaves that soon drop off, mouldy soil, little to no growth and shrivelling foliage. These are common with too much soil moisture, an improper soil medium or too low light -scroll down to 'Common Issues' for more information. Under-watering symptoms, on the other hand, include little to no new growth, a much-needed transplant and drying or shrivelling leaves. 

Humidity - 🔸🔸🔸

Average room humidity is enough to occupy Lepismium; however, as the heaters begin to be switched back on, introduce a pebble tray to counteract the risk of dry air.

Fertilisation - 🔸🔸

Feed every four waters using either a 'Houseplant' or 'Cactus' labelled fertiliser, before reducing this to every six waters in the autumn and winter.

Whilst the plant is budding or in bloom, swap for a potassium-based feed, for example, 'Tomato' food, to prolong the flowering process in the late spring. Never directly apply an RTU (ready to use) feed without a pre-water first, as this will result in root burn and yellowed leaves.

The berries of Lepismium bolivianum (now classified as Pfeiffera bolivianum)

Common Issues with Lepismium bolivianum

Mould or mushrooms developing on the soil means two things - too little light and over-watering. Despite the harmlessness, it'll prove unsightly to most gardeners and is therefore removed once known. To remove, replace the top two inches of the soil for a fresh batch of 'Cactus & Succulent' compost. Either increase the amount of light received (no direct sunlight for the first few weeks to prevent environmental shock) or decrease the frequency of waters slightly. If the mould is accompanied by yellowing lower leaves, you may also have a case of root rot.

While following the red cut line above, prune your Lepismium's leaf tip if it has became brown/dead. 

Root rot is a big issue with symptoms including yellow lower leaves, stunted or softened growth - often accompanied by stem collapse. Take the plant out of the pot and inspect its root systems. Yellow roots translate to good health, however, brown and mushy sections with soggy soil is the result of over-watering. More information about addressing root rot can be found on this link.

A brown, rotten base is also another byproduct of over-watering. If the majority of the trunk has rotted over, stem cuttings must be taken to save the remaining section of the plant. Scroll down to ‘Propagation’ for more information!

Too much sunlight will cause a red tinge to the foliage. Although Lepismium bolivianum is best grown in locations offering just a few hours of sun, prolonged periods on non-acclimated specimens will lead to sun-scorch. If yours is a newly-purchased plant, build its tolerance to the sharp rays by increasing the amount of receivable light per week by an hour. (The plant pictured is a Thanksgiving Cactus, but it behaves in the same way when exposed to sunlight with its red leaves).

A lack of flowers is caused by immaturity or an insufficient dormancy period served in the winter months. Specimens will only flower once they reach maturity - which can take in the region of three to six years from a leaf cutting. Also, locations that offer near-similar temperatures all year round won't allow the plant to go dormant, resulting in poor spring growth. To achieve bud development, situate in a location that offers nighttime temperatures of around 12°C  (54°F) with fewer waters. The combination of both cooler temperatures and dry soil during the colder months will help season the plant, thus leading to a better chance of flowers in the future.


The true name of Lepismium bolivianum is Pfeiffera bolivianum, penned initially by Britton & Rose in the early 20th century. It was then transferred into the latter genus by D.R. Hunt around a hundred years later, honouring German botanist, Ludwig Pfeiffer. Lepismium comes from the Greek word for 'scale' which refers to the scale-like portion below the areole. 

The Distribution of Pfeiffera bolivianum.


10° - 26°C   (50° - 78°F)
H1b (Hardiness Zone 12) - Can be grown outdoors during the summer in a sheltered location with temperatures above 12℃ (54℉), but is fine to remain indoors, too. If you decide to bring this plant outdoors, don't allow it to endure any direct sunlight as it may result in sun-scorch and dehydration. Regularly keep an eye out for pests, especially when re-introducing it back indoors.


Up to 1m in vine length and 30cm in width, with maturity taking up to eight years.

Pruning  & Maintenance

Remove yellow or dying leaves, and plant debris to encourage better-growing conditions. While pruning, always use clean utensils or shears to reduce the chance of bacterial and fungal diseases. Never cut through yellowed tissue as this may cause further damage in the likes of diseases or bacterial infections. Remember to make clean incisions as too-damaged wounds may shock the plant, causing weakened growth and a decline in health.


Via seed or leaf/stem cuttings.

Soil Propagation of Leaf Cuttings

  1. Choose which leaves to use. The ideal candidates are those that show no sign of damage, pests or diseases, and have small wires roots already-attached. Cuttings that don't have any roots will still root, but it may take a little longer for its propagation.
  2. Delicately prune the whole leaf off from the plant, and cut it into several sections sideways. If you're stuck on which way to propagate the leaves, look at the image below.
  3. Prepare the pot and soil. Choosing a free-draining potting mix, for example, 'Cactus & Succulent' compost, which provides a nice balance of moisture-retention and drainage. If you've got any shallow and wide pots, for example, a Bonsai pot, this is the time to use it. Propagating tropical cactus cuttings won't require deep soil, so try and avoid pots that are too big. Terracotta and plastic pots are both acceptable in this instance.
  4. Place the cuttings ON TOP of the moist soil. Allowing both the plant and it's wound to callus over (dry out & harden) will kick-start the rooting process, along with the prevention of rot. Keep the cuttings on top of moist soil for a week, misting the soil and foliage on opposite days.
  5. Provide a bright, indirect location with temperatures above 18°C (64°F) throughout this period.
  6. Then, place the cuttings into the soil, submerging the bottom third. Make sure you don't set it too deeply, as this may lead to 'Blackleg' (the rotting of its base).
  7. Do NOT pat down the surrounding soil to aid support. The ideal soil conditions need to be fluffy and oxygenated, so compacting the soil will result in the suffocation of roots that'll lead to root rot. Tap the pot's side to consolidate (not compact) the soil. If support is needed, use a small stick or cane, but be sure NOT to condense it.
  8. Aftercare - Maintain evenly moist soil, allowing the top third to dry out in between waters. The ideal location would be in a warm, humid room within a few metres of a window, but out of direct light. After another month or two of being in the soil, treat it like a normal houseplant.


Lepismium will flower once matured in the summer with rosette-shaped blooms, sporting either pink or white appearances. Each flower will take several days to develop along the phylloclades (leaves), lasting up to ten days once opened. They'll produce slightly toxic berries if pollination is successful. 

Our Lepismium bolivianum usually flowers in late June.


Repot every three to four years in spring using a 'Cactus & Succulent' labelled potting mix and the next sized pot with adequate drainage. Lepismium are far better potbound for several years due to the heightened risk of root rot and repotting-issues (like transplant shock), so only repot if you feel it's wholly necessary - restricted root growth will also increase the chance of blooms, too.

Hydrate the plant 24hrs before tinkering with the roots to prevent the risk of transplant shock. For those situated in a darker location, introduce an extra amount of perlite and grit into the deeper portion of the pot to downplay over-watering risks. Click on this link for a detailed step-by-step guide on transplantation, or via this link to learn about repotting with root rot.

Book a 1-to-1 video call with THE HOUSEPLANT DOCTOR™ if you'd like a personal guide to repotting your houseplant. This will include recommending the right branded-compost and pot size, followed by a live video call whilst you transplant the specimen for step-by-step guidance and answer any further questions!

Pests & Diseases

Keep an eye out for mealybugs, spider mites, whitefly, scale & vine weevils. Typical diseases associated with Lepismium are root or leaf rot, leaf-spot disease & powdery mildew. For more information on how to address any of these issues, click on this link - Identifying Common Houseplant Diseases


Lepismium are classified as non-poisonous. If large quantities of the plant are eaten, vomiting, nausea and a loss of appetite could occur.

Retail Locations

Blue Diamond, Online Stores.

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