Late fall is Christmas Cactus season! These drooping cacti have weeping willow-like arms and flowers that are neon pink. The blooms of these plants are some of the most exotic-looking flowers in the plant kingdom.
They are of a small genus of cacti, Schlumbergera, which contains just a few species. Common names of these plants refer to their flowering season. Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, crab cactus and holiday cactus are members of this genus. Different varieties flower in red, pink, white, and orange. Their long green arms are attractive throughout the year.
This plant produces small, flat stem segments that are roundish in nature with minor serrations on both sides. When flowers form, they are at the very ends of these segments. Their cascading nature makes Christmas cacti an excellent choice for hanging baskets.
The unique, exotic-looking flowers of these plants are absolutely stunning! The flowers are tube-shaped with a “double flower” appearance. The “outer” flower is formed by shorter leaves that curl back near the flower’s base. The “inner” flower is formed farther up the flower near the stamen.
These flowering beauties are native to the Brazilian rainforest and is also found in the coastal mountains of south-eastern part of the country. They usually grow on trees or rocks and can form sizeable shrubs with woody bases if given the space and time. Plants that grow on trees are called epiphytic.
Historical records state it was cultivated in Europe 200 years ago in 1818. They were in the first greenhouses and prized for their fall and winter blooming season. By 1852, they had become less popular and most cultivars were lost. In the 1950s, breeding of these plants resumed in North America with the increased popularity of these plants.
Unlike most cacti, these houseplants thrive in cool temperatures and need to be kept away from heat sources. Keeping these plants from getting too warm will make it’s blooming season longer. Make sure to keep them away from heat vents and fireplaces. Big changes in temperature will shock the plant and cause the flower buds to drop off before blooming.
Christmas Cacti also need light to bloom and usually do well close to windows or in sunny locations indoors. They can be moved outside during the summer but should not be in direct sunlight because it can burn the plant. Partially shaded locations are preferred outdoors.
When these plants are cared for properly, they can live for 20 to 30 years! Long nights during the winter triggers the blooming season. Providing long nights starting at the first of October will cause the beauties to bloom year after year. Cool night temperatures also encourage buds to bloom.
Unlike other christmas favorites like poinsettias, christmas cacti are appealing because they do not die every year after their blooming season. They are also not poisonous to dogs and cats, like the poinsettia. This makes them a great option for pet owners because they do not induce irritation and vomiting like poinsettia sap does.