The Christmas Cactus

 The Christmas Cactus ready to bloom
Todd’s Dad’s’ Christmas Cactus

Last week I wrote about the iconic poinsettia many give to family and friends over the holidays. This week, I’m discussing the other seasonally appropriate gift-plant: the Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera). Like it’s holiday competitor the poinsettia, you can buy a Christmas Cactus  just about anywhere and since the holidays have passed — they’re on sale now!

The plant is called a Christmas cactus because a drop in temperature is needed to produce blooms, therefore it’s most showy in December. It’s a welcome surprise to see the buds in the cold winter months when our gardens are barren and colorless. There are many cultivars, producing a variety of  colored blooms at different times of the year. The most popular that we see in the stores, the pinkish reds are one of the oldest species, the Buckleyi. Adding to their beauty is the crab like flattened stems (not leafs!) which are linked together forming their unique shape.

Unlike most cacti, these plants thrive in humid climates. This cactus is more like a succulent plant in appearance. They’re native to southeastern Brazilian rainforest. The Christmas Cactus grows on other organisms such as trees, plants and rocks! Plants like this are categorized as epiphytes. Differing from parasites, they rely on other structures  for physical support and do not negatively affect the host. You know, like Curzon Dax and Trill symbionts*.

The Christmas Cactus is easy to care for. Water every week or so when the soil completely dries out, Mist will encourage a very healthy plant. The cacti prefers sandy soil with organic matter and good drainage. Don’t worry about repotting your plant, it prefers a cramped root system.  65-75 temperature range is idea but it can handle up to 100F. To bloom, a drop of 50 degrees is needed. Also, its recommended to keep the plant in a room where the lights are always off in the evening. This will mimic its natural involvement and also help the blooming process. If cared for well, a Christmas cactus can live up to 30 years!

segment for propagation

Propagating the cactus is simple. Clip a Y-shaped cutting from a healthy stem tip. The cutting should consist of at least 3 joined segments. Let the clipping sit for one day without water. Then take a segment of at  least three and insert it a quarter of its length below the soil. Put in a few of these clipping to grow a full-looking plant. Place the pot in a well-lit area. Water the cutting sparingly at first to prevent rotting. After about two or three weeks the cutting should start showing signs of new growth which is usually reddish in color. Then you can water normally.

Here’s a great how-to video on propagating.

*Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, best show ever!

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