Coral

February 12, 2022

Several months ago, I blogged how our four hanging baskets of Holiday Cactus all burst into glorious blooms.  The information I found on them noted they would stay in bloom for several months, and while they are not as glorious, they are all still blooming.  Recently another of Melissa’s winter bloomers has burst into flower.  One of her succulents decided it was time to produce small white flowers on the ends the narrow round stems that characterize the plant.  The small yellow tips in the photo are flowers ready to bloom.  When they do, they will cover the plant with beautiful white blooms.  When Melissa showed me the stems and blooms, I was struck how much they looked like living coral when the polyps come out of their skeletons to feed.

When I looked online, I found the coral cactus (Rhipsalis cereuscula), also called the rice cactus, is a small cactus native to South America.  It is often found in the dappled sunlight beneath large trees in regions of Brazil and Uruguay.  Although called a cactus, the coral is an evergreen and epiphytic (tree-dwelling) succulent.  Rhipsalis cereuscula gets its name from its interesting looking foliage.  Rhipsalis is an ancient Greek derivative for the word meaning “wickerwork” and cereuscula means “small torch or small candles” which refers to the shape of the plant.  The Rhipsalis succulent gets the nickname coral cactus from the branching appearance of the arms.  The plants tend to grow in intertwining clumps that give it the appearance of aquatic corals.  The coral is epiphytic, meaning it lives on other plants without harming them.  It tends to grow in precarious places along rocky edges where the branching arms hang freely.  It has short, branching, leafless stems with white flowers on their tips.

When Melissa first identified the plant, she called it a Dancing bones (Hatiora salicornioides), or bottle cactus.  The bones plant gets its common name as the segmented digits that form the stems look like long fingers.  Bones look much like the coral cactus, being a small, shrubby succulent plant with slender, segmented stems.  The bones cactus is also a native of Brazil and is an epiphytic species that thrives in the rainforest.  The stems are spineless, although older plants may develop a few spiny growths at the base.  A mature bones cactus reaches heights of 12 to 18 inches (30-45 cm.).  While the coral and bones cactus appear similar, particularly when small, they are easily distinguished by the yellow orange (rather than white) blooms that appear on the bottle-shaped stem tips in spring.  Many succulents of the same family are hard to distinguish from each other.  Melissa has learned the different shapes and colors of their flowers make them easier to distinguish.  You just need to get them to bloom.

Thoughts:  As I researched the bottle cactus, I kept finding images of bright yellow flowers on the tips of long slender stems.  I initially wrote my blog trying to justify the yellow flower images with the white flowers on our plant.  Something never felt right, so I asked Melissa for her opinion.  When she found an image of the bottle cactus online, she immediately knew ours was mislabeled.  It did not take 30 seconds for her to reidentify the plant as a coral cactus.  Some have questioned the experts as they provide changing information on the virus and the different variants that have appeared.  The difference between experts and those who provide false information is experts recognize changes or different approaches and revise their recommendations.  False analysts make an initial response and stick to it regardless of the facts.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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