Paul Nickerson

Christmas Cactus Confusion

In Propagation on December 19, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Each year as we approach Christmas, stores line their shelves with beautiful leaf cacti with attractive fluorescent blooms. With these plants comes a lot of discussion on blogs and forums about the differences between the Christmas Cactus, Schlumbergera sp., Thanksgiving Cactus, Schlumbergera truncata, and Easter Cactus, Rhipsalidopsis sp..

All three of these cacti are all native epiphytes to tropical forests in Brazil. As epiphytes, they are found attached to the sides of trees or other plants. This is not to say that they are parasitic, as they do not obtain nutrients from their host. Through hybridization, cultivators have alters these plants to bloom in a wide range of colors.

These cacti have received the name “leaf cacti” due to their modified stems that very much resemble leaves. The Christmas Cactus has ‘stem margins’ that have slightly lobed protrusions, while the Thanksgiving Cactus has very define points along the edges of the stem segments. The Easter Cacti have very smooth stem segments that are almost perfect ovals.

Although Christmas Cactus, and Thanksgiving Cactus, are both members of the Schlumbergera genus, while Easter Cacti as member of the Rhipsalidopsis genus, they are very similar plants.

Blooming:

All of these plants bloom in response cool temperatures and short days. I have heard a number of different stories about people whose plants fail to bloom well. This is commonly due to the fact that they treat these plants with the same care as other houseplants. In order for these plants to bloom, they must be exposed to cool temperatures (10-20 degrees Celsius) for a short while, while also being exposed only natural light during the short-day period.

To accomplish this, it is best to place the plant next to a window in a room that is not commonly used after dark. This will allow for the appropriate temperature change and lighting. During the winter period, watering is not necessary until blooms begin to appear. Once buds show, water the plant sparingly. Commercial growers will force blooming by creating an artificial spring inside greenhouses. This same process if used to bloom mums for Mother’s Day.

Propagation:

All three of these species propagate very easily with the same method: Stem Propagation. Segments from the stem can be buried just below the surface of the medium. With slight moisture, they will root fairly rapidly. It is common for leaf cacti to put out adventitious roots from nodes, making them incredible easy propagate.

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