The origin of the Christmas cactus is entrenched in hot, tropical climates in Brazil, which heightens the mystery. Christmas cacti are a member of the Schlumbergera family and get their name from the season in which they bloom in the Northern Hemisphere. They bloom in their native area from April to May, hence the popular name is meaningless. Because of their clawed limbs, they are known as crab cactus in Europe.
The primary Schlumbergera species number six. Several of these have the label “holiday cacti in commercial manufacture.” These are forced to bloom between September and February and are then sold as gift plants during Thanksgiving and Christmas, hence earning the names Thanksgiving cactus and Christmas cactus. The name of the genus is a tribute to French botanist and exotic plant collector Frederic Schlumberger. Allen Cunningham found the group of holiday cacti in the early 1800s, and by the 1900s, there were a number of hybrids.
These were included in Christian holiday customs since Thanksgiving and Christmas fell during their blossoming seasons.
Are Christmas cacti actually cacti?
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.
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.
Are Christmas cacti seasonal bloomers?
Christmas cacti are highly common indoor plants, and for good reason too! They produce vibrant, tubular flowers that are pink or purple in hue when they bloom. They are a superb plant because of their lovely blossoms, lengthy bloom period, and simple maintenance needs. Someone in your family most likely owns a Christmas cactus!
About Christmas Cacti
The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) and its cousins don’t exist in hot, arid conditions like deserts or plains, in contrast to other cacti. These epiphytic succulents, which grow on tree branches and take in the high humidity, dappled sunlight, and moderate temperatures, are actually endemic to the tropical rainforests of southern Brazil.
Bottom line: Don’t handle a Christmas cactus like a typical succulent or cactus. They are unable to withstand the same kind of hot, dry weather that other cactus can. These cacti require more frequent watering than most succulents, but you also need to be careful not to overwater them. (See the care guidelines in more detail below.)
Thanksgiving, Easter, or Christmas Cactus?
The Easter cactus (S. gaertneri), Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata), and Christmas cactus are the three main varieties of “holiday cacti” that are available (S. x buckleyi). The holiday that each cactus is named after often sees the most blooming. Thanksgiving cacti, which often bloom from November to February and hence go unrecognized as Christmas cacti, make up the majority of “Christmas cacti” sold nowadays. See our post on the several Christmas cacti species and how to distinguish them for more information.
Note: Because it’s the most widely used term and it applies to all three of these species, we’ll refer to all three of them on this page as “Christmas cactus” for simplicity’s sake.
Potting Christmas Cacti
- Choose a pot with a drainage hole on the bottom if you’re choosing one for a Christmas cactus. This prevents the soil from getting overly saturated.
- Most succulent-specific potting mixtures work well for Christmas cacti growth. It’s crucial that your potting soil drains properly.
Where to Put a Christmas Cactus
- Plants should be kept in indirect light that is bright. The best location has an east-facing window or a well-lit bathroom. The delicate leaves might be bleached by too much direct sunshine.
- It is preferable to have a daytime temperature of 70F (21C) and an evening temperature of 60–65F (15–18C).
- Christmas cacti do well in a more humid climate, so keeping them in a well-lit bathroom or kitchen is a smart idea.
- Christmas cacti can be kept in a shady area of the garden or on an unheated porch during the summer until the temperature drops below 50F. (10C). Keep them away from the sun’s rays outside.
How to Care for Christmas Cacti
- Water your plants every two to three weeks, but only when the top third of the soil feels dry to the touch. If the plant is in 6 inches of soil, for instance, water when the top 2 inches of soil feel dry. (Check with your finger!)
- When the soil is completely dry, wet it until water seeps through the drainage holes in the pot. To collect the water, put a tray underneath the pot. To prevent the pot from sitting in water, remove any extra water on the tray after 10 to 15 minutes.
- While the plant is in bloom, it’s very crucial to water thoroughly.
- Feed your indoor plants with a balanced houseplant fertilizer every two weeks from spring through early fall. Feed the cactus once a month in the fall and winter to promote fruitful blooming.
- To promote branching and more flowers, prune plants in the late spring. Simply cut a portion of each stem off; the plant will grow new branches from the incision.
- If desired, plant the cut pieces in potting soil that is only gently damp; they will easily root after a few weeks and make wonderful Christmas gifts!
How to Get Your Christmas Cactus to Bloom
The longer evenings and chilly weather of fall are what cause Christmas cacti and its relatives to bloom. The three major varieties of holiday cacti typically bloom on the following schedule:
- Thanksgiving cactus typically produce flowers from late October through mid-winter, making them the earliest and longest bloomers.
- Christmas cacti often bloom in the early to midwinter months.
- Easter cacti flower around the middle of spring through late winter.
If your cactus isn’t flowering, it can be getting too much light or being exposed to too much heat. Here are some suggestions to help you get blooms from yours!
- For a minimum of six weeks, the nights must be at least 14 hours long and the days between 8 and 10 hours. You might need to cover your cactus or relocate it to an area that is exposed to the natural light cycle if you have powerful interior lighting that is on at night.
- When the plant is kept at temps between 50 and 60F, flower buds form best (10 and 15C).
- By subjecting the plant to temps around 45F (7C) for a number of nights in a succession, you can jumpstart the budding process.
- While the plant is in bloom, be sure to water it consistently. The plant may lose its buds if it dries out too much.
- Don’t worry if the cactus loses its buds one winter; the following year it should bloom.
The three primary varieties of “holiday cacti” are as follows:
- Often mistaken for Christmas cacti, Thanksgiving cacti (Schlumbergera truncata) bloom from late October to mid-winter.
- Christmas cacti (S. x buckleyi) flower in the early to midwinter months.
- Late winter to mid-spring is the blooming period for Easter cacti (S. gaertneri).
- Make sure to water your Christmas cactus frequently and keep it cool when the buds on the plant appear ready to open.
- The optimum time to propagate cuttings is late spring when most holiday cacti start to grow after their winter hibernation.
Blossom loss: Your Christmas cactus will probably lose its blossoms if it experiences any kind of stress. As mentioned in the plant care section above, this might be caused by the amount of light or a sudden change in temperature. Make sure your soil doesn’t become overly dry while buds are developing.
The plant could be vulnerable to mealy bugs and root rot if overwatered. If you experience issues, remove the affected sections and repot the plant in fresh soil.