More About Holiday Cactus

Schlumbergera Coral Red

On Friday I talked about what I thought made Schlumbergera–or holiday cactus bloom.

Today I am going to talk about why it’s really not such a great idea to refer to them as cactus.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “cactus?” Sunny? Hot? Dry? All of those apply. In fact, most people either kill cactus by over-watering, or by never watering. Cactus can be a little tricky.

But these “Holiday” cactus actually aren’t in any way related to desert cactus or even to succulents, despite their somewhat fleshy leaves.

They are most closely related to orchids. Yes, they are epiphytes, which means if you were to find them in their native South America, (the Brazilian south eastern forests, to be exact) you would see them growing in trees or on rocks–and most definitely in the shade.

So that’s what makes their care a little trickier than just an ordinary house plant. They don’t want hot sun, like their “cactus” name implies. They like that “bright indirect light–filtered sunshine (think through a curtain, perhaps).

I keep mine in east and west windows and they seem to do just fine but I am at a fairly northerly latitude. If I were in Florida–or at the top of a mountain–I doubt that would work. I am in one of those places where we can’t make our own Vitamin D by going outside this time of year even without sunscreen!

And while we all know someone whose grandmother/mother/aunt had one of these for 70 years, the plants they are selling now are not those plants. Most are hybrids designed to bloom earlier and with far more blooms. I suspect we will be lucky if our plants last 70 years. I just lost my oldest at about 24 years.

How can we help get a long life from our plants? I grow mine dry and cool and I pot them in clay pots with cactus mix. So far that’s working out well for me.

4 thoughts on “More About Holiday Cactus

  1. lulu November 16, 2020 / 2:58 pm

    I became a little smarter about Christmas cactus thanks to you. I never thought to relate them to orchids.

  2. gardendaze November 16, 2020 / 3:34 pm

    Oh, thank you. If you just think of them as little Brazilian rain forest gems–and not as cactus–I will have done something.

    This is where these “common names” for plants sometimes get us in trouble. We hear “cactus” and think “hot and dry.” And with these plants, that’s not what they want. About the “driest” they like it is our heated homes.


  3. tonytomeo November 26, 2020 / 3:10 pm

    They really are a type of cactus, in the family Cactaceae. They just happen to be tropical epiphytes. Orchids are in a completely different family. Only the cultural requirements are similar. There are actually many tropical species of Yucca too, even though we think that they live only in deserts, like Joshua tree.

  4. gardendaze November 26, 2020 / 5:36 pm

    Thank you. I described that really badly. My intention was to get people to not treat them like the desert cactus. In the process, I just muddied everything up.

    Happy Thanksgiving.


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