The Christmas cactus is a plant I clearly remember growing on our windowsills at home when I was a child (some time ago now), close to a number of “money plants” mum had grown. I always loved the red pink flowers to cheer up the holiday season.
This tough little plant baffles those who try to grow it every year. The trick to this cactus is in the realization that it is a tropical cactus, and not at all like its desert dwelling cousins.
The Christmas Cactus possesses a scientific name that belongs to a genus that has a confusing history – to say the least. The plant currently belongs to the Schlumbergera genus and has the botanical name (Schlumbergera bridgesii – synonym: S. × buckleyi – hybrid) from the parent plant named Schlumbergera Truncata. Adding to this confusion is the fact that many synonyms for the species are used and the change in genera.
The parent plant of the Christmas Cactus (this is a hybrid) is native to South America and grows in the mountains of Brazil. Its tropical nature commonly confuses growers into offering too much heat and light, without enough water.
How It Looks: This cactus produces small, flat stem segments that are round in nature, with minor serrations on both sides. They flower from the end of these segments. The Christmas variety has neon pink pollen-bearing stamen. Along with the December blooming preference, this is the Cactus’s defining feature.
Flowering: The flower produces a unique, tube-shaped “double flower” appearance, with the “outer” flower being formed by shorter leaves that curl back near the flower’s base, and the “inner” flower being formed further up the flower, near the stamen. They bloom from mid-November and January and are a red pink.
If temperatures are kept steady near the 68°F (20°C) mark, flowering can continue for eight weeks or more. To induce flowering for the coming year, place your Christmas Cactus in a dark room for 12-14 hours on fall nights. For best flowering results, pinch off any plant segments less than 1 cm long in early September.
Facts about Christmas Cactus
|Names:||Christmas and holiday cactus (common). Schlumbergera Bridgesii, S. × buckleyi(botanical/scientific).|
|Max Growth (approx):||Height 10 in/25.4 cm, diameter 24 in/61 cm.|
|Poisonous for pets:||Non-Toxic to cats and dogs.|
Close up of Christmas Cactus
Christmas Cactus Care
|Resting Period:||Temperature: Best kept at 68°F (20°C), although fluctuations from 60-70°F (15-21°C) are tolerated. The plant can be kept at 55-59°F (13-15°C) and will grow slowly and allow rest. Plant death can occur at below 50°F (10°C).|
|Temperature:||Temperature: Best kept at 68°F (20°C), although fluctuations from 60-70°F (15-21°C) are tolerated. The plant can be kept at 55-59°F (13-15°C) will grow slowly and allow rest. Plant death can occur at below 50°F (10°C).|
|Light:||During the late fall and all winter long these plants like full, direct sunlight. At any other time of the year, the plants should be grown in partial sun conditions. Too much light during non-flowering times will cause the plant to turn yellow and fail to produce buds in the coming year.|
|Watering:||Although a cactus, this is a tropical plant and likes water just like the cactus orchid species. The top inch of soil should be kept moist to the touch at all times. Never allow the soil to become water-logged, or permit water to stand in the pot tray. Use a pot with drainage holes and pebbles in the bottom to prevent root rot.|
|Soil:||This cactus requires a resting period that helps it to bloom again, from Feb – March. During this time keep temperatures at approximately 55°F (12.7°C) and water less. The pre-flowering period from Oct – Nov requires the plant soil to be kept fairly dry until flowers bud, and then resume normal watering and temperatures.|
|Fertilizer:||The Christmas Cactus likes being grown in pots. It demands an easily drained growth medium. Suggested is a mixture of 60% potting soil with a pH-balanced formula and either 40% bark or 40% perlite.|
|Re-Potting:||This is best performed in the late spring season. Place the cactus with plenty of room in the container. Re-potting is required every three years to provide additional growth room, although they do prefer being partially pot-bound.|
|Humidity:||Normal room humidity is suggested for this plant. Mist leaves frequently.|
|Propagation:||Best propagated through the cutting method. Sections of stem tips at least 3 segments long should be removed from the main plant. These must be left to dry for three or four days. Combine the three cuttings and place at least one inch deep in the soil. For best results, cuttings should be taken in early summer.|
- Temperatures must always be kept above 50°F (10°C) or any forming or flowering buds will drop off the plant. The soil must be kept moist at least one inch down, or the cactus segments will shrivel and die.
Elyssa Goins is an experienced house plant hobbyist who maintains over a hundred plants. She is a gardener, beekeeper, and a proud mother of four. She is a member of the American Horticultural Society, has been published in a Scientific Journal, and loves to talk about her love of plants. For the past twenty years, she’s been all about growing and caring for various fruits, veggies, herbs, livestock, kids, and houseplants. Managing a big garden to feed four growing kids and raising dairy goats has taught her so much about being an excellent plant parent and now is her time to share with you.