“Holiday” Cactus

"holiday" "cactus"

Another holiday plant some have trouble with is the poorly named Christmas Cactus.  For one thing, the genus schlumbergera is neither a cactus nor does it naturally bloom at Christmas.  It is a succulent, which means it needs a little more water than a cactus.

Originally, these are native to Brazil, and there, they grow in humid, shady regions in the trees. They are epiphytic, like many orchids.

Plants should never dry out completely (they are not cacti); and they should be kept in a fairly shady window. Bright indirect light–just like the poinsettia likes–is great for them.

They set their buds in relation to day length and temperature so again, a darker, cooler window is better if you want them to bloom earlier, or a brighter, (but not sunny) warmer one is better if you want them to bloom later. I find that as soon as we turn the clocks back in November, mine form buds.

Holiday cacti in bloom

And, of course, because we keep our house very cool, they bloom shortly thereafter. Here is my west window  this Thanksgiving weekend. If it has been a particularly cool and dreary October, I may have one or two in bloom by Halloween. But it is rare that I still have a plant in bloom at Christmas, unless I buy it that current season as I did with the one in the cream colored pot.* It’s no matter. There are enough other lovely things decorating the house at Christmas.  The house plants are often over looked at that time anyway.

*Cute story about the Spoiler. I walked into his den carrying that plant just after I had put it into the cachepot. He asked what it was. I think I replied “Christmas cactus.

“Oh, no water?” he asked. You see how pervasive the myth of these things are–or perhaps it’s just the problem of its common name “cactus.”

2 thoughts on ““Holiday” Cactus

  1. pal December 11, 2015 / 6:39 pm

    Your window collection looks so beautiful!
    Isn’t the true Christmas cactus different from the Thanksgiving cactus? I was given a small cutting of Christmas cactus which blooms in late Dec. and it’s leaf segments are smoother, more oval and they droop downward, whereas my Thanksgiving cactus has the pointed, cut leaf segments and is a bit more upright. I once also had a true Easter cactus (rhipsalidopsis?), but couldn’t keep it alive. It’s much more difficult in my experience. I treasure all of these holiday plants!
    Thanks for your post on these plants which are some of my favorites.

  2. gardendaze December 11, 2015 / 8:06 pm

    You’re absolutely right about the Easter cactus being more difficult. There is one on that windowsill as well, in a pot beyond the blooming pink cactus all the way to the right. If I am lucky, mine will bloom about every third year. Since it bloomed this year, I need to ignore it now for quite some time.

    As for whether there are distinct varietal differences between the so called Thanksgiving & Christmas cacti –ones that botanists would recognize –I am not entirely sure about that.

    I do know exactly what you are talking about. My very late blooming Christmas cactus has the sort of foliage you describe. It is closer to the look of the Easter cactus than it is to the look of the others.
    Thanks for pointing out this anomaly. Your comments are always wonderful.


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