Cactus for the Holidays

Nancy Gmeiner
Adam's County Master Gardener Program

As we approach the holidays, a variety of Christmas flowers and flower arrangements are available. Everything from poinsettias to cyclamen are on display for sale. One very old, very versatile plan is especially interesting - it is the holiday cactus. Did you know there are many varieties available, all of which we tend to call the Christmas Cactus, but in fact, are very different plants?

The botanical name for the Christmas cactus is either Schlumbergera bridgesii, Schlumbergera x buckleyi, or Epiphyllum x buckleyi,). There is also Zygocactus - a hybrid and Schlumbergera - a holiday cactus, bred about a 150 years ago in England. These varieties can be difficult to find

but are most available at Christmas. Joints are somewhat rounded.

Most popular is the Thanksgiving cactus, also called Yoke Cactus, Linkleaf Cactus, Crab Cactus and Claw Cactus. If you look at the fragile joints, they remind you of claws stretching out from their roots. The Christmas cactus joints are more rounded than this Thanksgiving cactus by comparison. Checking the difference in the shape of the joints is the best way to tell the difference between the two. Most of us have the Thanksgiving variety.

The Easter Cactus is least popular of these plants (Schlumbergera gaertneri) - not easy to find but can be seen in the stores prior to spring. In Brazil, they are called "Flor de Maio" or May Flower.

You can easily propagate these plants by removing a joint and placing the end in sandy soil. Do not place in direct sunlight and keep it moist. It may take 2 to 3 weeks to root.

A brightly lit area seems to enhance the various blooms of the cactus. Colors range from white to red to peach and pink. They are very versatile in that they enjoy temperatures between 50 and 85 degrees. Lower or higher than this temperature range will inhibit both growth and bloom. Cooler is better.

I have had my cacti for years. Some say with good care, they can last a

hundred years! In the summer, I put them under a shade tree so their joints will not be burned by the hot sun. In winter, a cool place (not under 50 degrees, though) seems to generate the best and most long-lasting blooms. Give a holiday cactus this year, and try one yourself - enjoy it for many years to come!

Read other winter related gardening articles

Read other articles by Nancy Gmeiner