December 25, 2021

I have spoken several times about trying to nurture a Christmas Cactus without success.  While I have given up, Melissa has picked up the gauntlet and began sustaining them as part of her succulents.  She had several good blooms during the 2020 holiday, but a variety of maladies took several of the plants and then the cold got the stems of a few more.  Still, Melissa was determined to try and resuscitate the plants.  We had solo stems lying around the kitchen most of the early year trying to create epiphytic roots (air roots).  When these sprouted, the stems were transplanted into small pots, and as the stems grew, they were moved into larger pots.  This fall they were strong enough to be transferred into larger hanging pots and they are on the back porch greenhouse.  Now that the holiday is again upon us, they have decided to burst into blooms.

I previously reported that there are three types of holiday cacti: the Easter cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri), Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata), and Christmas cactus (S. x buckleyi).  Each is named as they typically bloom closest to a particular holiday.  While the time of flowering is a clue to which of the holiday cactus you possess, there are other features that distinguish between the varieties.  The stem segments (phylloclades) on the Thanksgiving cactus have distinctly pointed edges, while stem segments of the Christmas cactus are more rounded.  The Easter cactus has sharp leaves like the Thanksgiving cactus, but also has flowers that have pointed tips as opposed to the rounder petals of the Christmas cactus.  Another marker is the anther (part of a stamen that contains pollen) is yellow on a Thanksgiving cactus but purplish brown on the Christmas cactus.  These differences are quite minute, but I found if I just call them a holiday cactus, I am always right.

One characteristic of holiday cacti is ease of propagation.  To start new plants, just pinch off a three-leaf segment during the growing season and place it in 1 inch of a similar potting mixture as that of the parent plant.  The cutting should develop roots within two to three weeks of planting.  The cutting should be planted in a container no larger than 3 inches in diameter at this stage.  To get the holiday cactus to bloom and rebloom, you need to place them into similar conditions as the Poinsettia.  The main difference being, Poinsettias prefer temperatures of 65F to 75F (18C to 24C), and the cacti prefer temperatures closer to 50F (10C).  The holiday plants are triggered into bloom stage by the daylight hours and temperatures and prefer 12 hours of darkness per day for at least 30 days to set flower buds.  Once the buds set, they can be placed back into a cool well-lit location to enjoy the blooms for up to six weeks.

Thoughts:  As with many things we have around us throughout the year, the holiday cactus seem boring most of the time.  When they come into season, they transform from what we have taken for granted into an amazing display of color.  The same can happen with friends or members of our family.  Since we are always around them, we forget how special they really are.  If the pandemic did provide a positive, it may be the gift we have been given to appreciate the mundane and commonplace that we once took for granted.  Enjoy those who surround you and have a Merry Christmas!  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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