Christmas cactus, or hybrid Schlumbergera buckleyi, is a well-known cactus in the Cactaceae family that is grown for its eye-catching cerise flowers, which bloom inside around the time of Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere. The majority of Christmas cacti that are currently grown are thought to be hybrids between S. russelliana and the Thanksgiving, or crab, cactus (Schlumbergera truncata, originally Epiphyllum truncatum). It is native to Brazil, where it grows as an epiphyte in rainforests, primarily on trees or bushes but also in shaded areas among rocks. It is a member of the Schlumbergera genus. Zygocactus, the alternate name for the genus, is commonly used.
The Thanksgiving cactus and the Christmas cactus are sometimes confused, although the former has crenated (rounded) stem joint margins, and the latter has strongly saw-toothed stem joint margins. Thanksgiving cacti are frequently mistakenly marketed as Christmas cacti since they bloom in the late fall.
How did the Christmas cactus come to be?
The Christmas cactus’ time has come! Not familiar with it? These drooping cacti are the ideal plant to use to adorn your mantel during the holiday party season because their weeping willow-like red, pink, white, and orange flowers resemble clusters of jingle bells. But is the schlumbergera’s moniker purely a result of their bell-like appearance?
Many touching stories that purport to tell the real genesis story of the cactus may be found online. For instance, Larry Hodgson, the author of the Laidback Gardener blog, claims that the tale originates in Brazil, the cactus’ home country. In order to escape the heat and humidity of the jungle, it seems that a small kid prayed to God, asking for a sign of Christmas. He saw that the blossoming cacti had suddenly populated the jungle on Christmas Day when he left his hut.
According to a different version of the tale, which is told on the Flower Meaning website, Father Jose, a Jesuit missionary, attempted to teach the Bolivian bush people about the Bible but found it difficult to win their trust. He prayed to God on Christmas Eve for direction after being overwhelmed by the size of his mission. He heard the peasants start singing a hymn he had taught them all at once. He turned to see the village kids carrying armfuls of vibrant flowers they had gathered for the Christ Child as they marched towards the church. The Christmas cactus gained the name for these flowers.
The name, however, is more associated with the time of year the cactus blooms, according to an essay written by the University of Illinois Extension. In reality, the schlumbergera family of cactus also includes species known as the Thanksgiving and Easter cacti. A month or so before the Christmas cactus typically blooms in late October, the Thanksgiving cactus does the same, and the Easter cactus starts flowering in February.
Whatever its history, you may find information on how to care for your own Christmas cactus right here.
What kind of cactus is Christmas cactus?
While poinsettias continue to be the most popular Christmas flower, Christmas cacti (Schlumbergera bridgesii) are also highly well-liked. Since the 1800s, Christmas cacti have been grown as seasonal plants. French botanist Charles Lemaire created the first Christmas cactus, which he named after Frdric Schlumberger, a French horticulture collector. Although their actual botanical name is Schlumbergera, they are most usually referred to by their previous moniker, Zygocactus. Cherry-red flowers on the original hybrids bloomed around Christmas time.
In southeast Brazil, the ancestors of the modern Christmas cactus were found in 1819. Schlumbergera truncata, the first to be discovered, blooms in October and November and is now known as the “Thanksgiving cactus.” Another, known as the “Easter cactus,” Schlumbergera russelliana, was found in 1837 and blooms from February to April. These two combined to create the first “Christmas Cactus.” These plants have somewhat varied leaves in addition to flowering at various periods. Thanksgiving cacti feature pointy teeth, whereas Christmas cacti have flattened leaves with rounded teeth on the borders. Easter cacti feature leaf joints covered with fibrous hairs and sharp teeth.
In different hues and combinations of white, pink, red, fuchsia, and more infrequently, orange and yellow, there are about 300 hybrid variants. This plant, which really blooms in the winter, belongs to a family of epiphytic cacti that originated in the South American rainforests. Despite what its name suggests, the plant is not a genuine cactus and is not as drought-tolerant. It is a succulent plant, though, and its leaves can hold a respectable amount of water.
In addition to being well-liked holiday gift plants, Christmas cacti are frequently a point of contention among gardeners. They can and do flourish for many years when given the proper care. Plants that are 40 or 50 years old frequently outlive their owners. They are frequently given to the following generation of the family, such as Aunt Mary’s Christmas Cactus or Grandmother’s plant. During their yearly flowering cycle, these long-lived plants can grow to be several feet tall and produce hundreds of blooms. They also acquire what appears to be bark.
Regarding care, upkeep, and especially how to encourage these unusual tropical cacti to bloom again, there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding. The cultural prerequisites are same for all of the holiday cacti. Thought of being heat-loving plants, Christmas cactus actually retain their blossoms longer in colder climates. Homes are frequently dry, and the Christmas cactus enjoys humid environments. Placing the pot with the drip pan on top of a small container packed with pebbles is one approach to increase the humidity specifically for your cactusis. Pour water on top of the pebbles, making sure that it doesn’t go past the bottom of the top layer of stones. As the water evaporates, the humidity level around the cactus will rise. Keep the plant away from drafts from fireplaces, heat vents, and other hot air sources in a well-lit area. The flower buds on the plant may fall off before they have a chance to open due to drafts and temperature variations.
As a tropical plant, the Christmas cactus may really drop its flower buds if the soil becomes too dry. When the plants are stressed by drought, they will wilt. When the top inch or two of soil seems dry to the touch, water it thoroughly. The amount of time between watering sessions will change depending on the relative humidity, air temperature, amount of light, and growth pace.
Although most gardeners like the challenge of keeping the plant beyond the holidays so it can rebloom the next year, the plant doesn’t really need to be fertilized while it is in bloom. Use a fertilizer made for flowering houseplants while the plants are actively growing and adhere to the label’s feeding recommendations for quantity and frequency.
While the Christmas cactus can tolerate low light, plants that have been exposed to higher light intensities tend to produce more profuse flowers. Indoors, keep your plants in a bright area. In the summer, plants can be carried outside, but do so in a shady or somewhat shady area. If leaves are exposed to too much light, they may begin to turn a little crimson. The leaves may actually burn if they receive too much direct sunshine, or they may grow limp. When it comes time to bring the plants back inside in the fall, gradually increase the number of hours they spend inside each day to help them become used to living indoors.
It could be time to repot your plant into a little bigger container if it frequently dries out and/or wilts. Avoid going overboard with the larger pot size; Christmas cacti flower best when they are little pot-bound.
Christmas cactus requires soil that drains well. For succulent plants, use potting soil that has been professionally packed or make your own by mixing two parts ordinary potting soil with one part clean sand or vermiculite. Your Christmas cactus will branch out more if you prune it after it blooms. Pinch off a few pieces of each stem with your fingers or a sharp knife to remove them. To grow new plants, these pieces can be rooted in damp vermiculite.
The thermophotoperiodic Christmas cactus is a type of plant. A specific ratio of day duration and temperature is required for the bud to form. These plants will start to bloom in the Northern Hemisphere when the length of the day is roughly equal to the length of the night and when the temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees F. If given lengthy, continuous dark periods—roughly 12 hours each night—Christmas cacti will bloom. To have plants in full bloom by the holidays, start the dark treatments about mid-October. For 6-8 weeks, or until you see buds growing, you can place the plants in a dark closet from around 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. each night. Christmas cacti can blossom without the dark treatments if they are exposed to cool temperatures of around 50 to 55 degrees F. If chilly treatments are initiated by early November, plants should blossom in time for the holidays. Happy holidays and healthy gardening!
About Cultivating Cherokee County
Josh Fuder, the agricultural and natural resources extension agent for Cherokee County, writes for the UGA Extension: Cultivating Cherokee County blog. The blog aims to provide as a resource for individuals to learn about home landscaping, agriculture, gardening, and educational opportunities offered by the Cherokee Cooperative Extension office.
The best places to find Christmas cacti are?
Holiday cacti may be bought pretty much anywhere that sells plants, from the grocery store to the flower shop, and are incredibly popular gifts during the winter and spring. Holiday cactus are attractive and attract both seasoned and newcomer houseplant aficionados with their succulent foliage and colorful, multicolored blossoms. They frequently pass down from one family to the next and, given adequate care, can live for many years.
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi), Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), and Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) are three separate varieties that are commonly offered at retail outlets depending on the season “All of them are frequently referred to as Christmas cacti. Due of their comparable maintenance requirements, it is simpler to refer to all three as holiday cacti.
Despite “Holiday cacti require very different maintenance than their desert-dwelling siblings because it’s in their name. Holiday cactus are epiphytes that naturally grow in the shaded limbs of trees in Brazil’s tropical rainforests. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants rather than in the ground and obtain their nutrients and moisture from the rain and the atmosphere.
As a result, unlike other cacti, holiday cactus are less tolerant to prolonged drought. Once the potting soil seems dry to the touch, they should be watered, allowing extra water to freely drain from the bottom of the container. Do not allow plants to sit in standing water as this can cause the soil to become flooded. Root rot can develop as a result of ongoing exposure to excessively moist soil, particularly during the winter.
Holiday cacti’s watering requirements vary depending on a variety of elements, including the type of potting soil used, the size of the container, the amount of sunlight the plant receives, and the temperature outside. Making ensuring the plant is in the proper area and only watering when the soil mixture is dry are the keys to maintaining a healthy plant.
Holiday cacti thrive in partial shade, such as an east or west facing window, with temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Lack of light can limit growth and make the soil mix dry too slowly, while too much harsh sunlight, especially in the summer, can burn the foliage. When in doubt, it is better to water your plants too much than too little.
How long does a Christmas cactus live?
During the holidays, the Christmas cactus may be seen everywhere, and with good cause. It’s a blooming succulent that requires little maintenance, produces lovely blooms, and, with the right care, can last up to 100 years! That is correct! This plant may endure for a long time, bringing color to your holidays for many years. For a plant that is as cheap and uncomplicated as the Christmas cactus, that’s a fairly great investment!
Are Christmas cacti uncommon?
In this blog, I’ll discuss how to distinguish between Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti as well as share a link to a video I made for my Cacti & Succulent You Tube Channel called Desert Plants of Avalon in which I go into greater detail about the distinctions between Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti as well as Easter cacti.
Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti are epiphytic cacti that normally grow in tropical rainforests hanging from trees where they receive more moisture and shade than their desert sun-loving siblings. They are members of the Schlumbergera cactus family.
Schlumbergera cacti usually flower from mid-October to late-January, but it’s not uncommon for these cacti to bloom at other times of the year as well, especially if they’re cultivated indoors with artificial lighting.
Schlumbergera buckleyi, the real Christmas cacti, flower later than Schlumbergera truncata, the Thanksgiving cacti that are more frequently seen for sale. Schlumbergera buckleyi (Christmas cactus) blooms from early December to late January, while Schlumbergera truncata (Thanksgiving Cactus) blooms from early October to late December.
The Thanksgiving cactus, Schlumbergera truncata, is also known as the crab cactus because of its stem segments’ crab-like edges (see diagram below). Because of this, Schlumbergera truncata is frequently called the crab cactus.
Schlumbergera truncata, also known as the Thanksgiving Cactus, comes in a wide range of colors thanks to the numerous hybrids that are currently on the market. This cactus is the one that is most frequently seen for sale around the Christmas season and is also mistakenly referred to as the Christmas Cactus when it is actually a Thanksgiving Cactus.
Schlumbergera truncata has blooms that are more upright and do not hang down like Schlumbergera buckleyi.
The actual Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera buckleyi, has stem segments that are flattened and have smooth, scalloped edges rather than teeth ( see diagram below ). These days, this cactus is extremely infrequently offered for sale in garden centers and nurseries, and if you have lately purchased a cactus marked as a “Christmas Cactus,” it is almost always a truncata and not a buckleyi.
The actual Easter Cactus is Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri, and it likewise has stem segments that are highly spherical with scalloped edges, hairy coverings at the tips of each segment, and frequently red edges ( see diagram below ) Easter cacti typically bloom from March to April and their flowers are also significantly smaller.
Here is a video I did for my Cacti and Succulent You Tube channel called Desert Plants of Avalon where I go into great detail on how to distinguish between Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter Cactus.
In the coming days, I’ll be creating a blog post and a video on how to take care of Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti, so keep an eye out for them.
From the entire Emerald Isle, I’m sending you all my love, happiness, and an abundance of PLANT POWER.