While shopping the other day I came across this beautiful plant about to bloom with the brightest pink flowers which really made me smile on an otherwise dreary winter day. I recognized this plant as the Christmas Cactus.
Though not a desert cactus at all, this plant originates from South America in the rain forest. It’s an epiphyte which means it grows on other plants, in this case trees. It’s not a parasite but rather lives on the rainfall and air and other debris that accumulate near it. I’m sure that is why this plant makes a great houseplant. It doesn’t require strong light but prefers indirect lighting.
The scientific name for the Christmas cactus is Schlumbergera x buckleyi. Here’s the interesting news. When I was looking up the scientific name for this plant I realized that I did not buy Schlumbergera x buckleyi. Instead, I bought Schlumbergera truncata also known at the Thanksgiving cactus. Upon further research I found that the majority of plants sold as the Christmas cactus are actually the Thanksgiving cactus. Outside of the fact that the Thanksgiving cactus normally blooms around Thanksgiving, and my is just starting to bloom, there is another key feature that distinguishes the two. The stem or what looks like the leaf segments on the Thanksgiving cactus have distinct pointed edges while the true Christmas cactus is more scalloped and round as shown below.
So, if you know anyone who has had a “Christmas cactus” and it always blooms too early, you may now know the reason why. I’ll have to see what happens next year. In the meantime I found that this plant likes cool temps, enjoys being pot bound and indirect light. Also, it should be allowed to dry out between watering but will thrive with a daily misting. If you are a traditional red lover no worries. This plant comes in red, peach, white, cream and purple. Lastly according the The Old Farmer’s Almanac a properly cared for cactus can life for 20-30 years. That quite a good bang for your buck.