One of the plants you’ll see almost everywhere this time of year is Christmas/Thanksgiving/Holiday cactus. So here are some interesting facts about these beautiful seasonal bloomers.
When they bloom in their native habitat in Brazil, they are beautiful spring bloomers that the locals call “Flor de Maia” or May Flower!
Holiday cacti are a small genus of plants called Schlumbergera. They are members of the cactus family but are native to a very small area in south-eastern Brazil where they often grow on trees or moss-covered rocks in lightly-shaded areas with high humidity. They have flat segmented stems with toothed margins.
There are two types of Holiday cactus—Truncatas, which have stem segments with more pointed teeth and tend to bloom November-ish, and Buckleyi’s which have rounded more symmetrical teeth on the margins and blooms a bit later. Easter cactus is related but not the same.
A Holiday cactus is what is called thermo-photoperiodic—meaning it needs a period of cooler night temperatures and long dark nights (12 to 14 hours) in order to initiate bud set. In our homes, that’s easy enough to do if you have a room that is very bright during the day, but around 50 at night with uninterrupted darkness from sunset until dawn. Don’t have a spare room that you keep that cool at night? Neither do I. I simply put mine outside for the summer—moving them outside the first week or so in May (depending on temperature) and not bringing them back inside until night temperatures are falling to around forty.
How to Grow and Bloom
Remember, when you put them outside, place them under a tree where they get only a little dappled sunlight.
Basic care is simple—even though Holiday cacti are real cacti, their environment is the tropics, not the desert. An African violet exposure—a couple of hours of good morning sun (before 11:30) or afternoon sun (after 2:30) is ideal. Allow them to dry partly but do not let them go bone dry. As they are native to areas with lots of humidity, a light misting while inside or setting on pebble trays would make them happiest. Give them an occasional shot of African violet food from April through August. Don’t feed after August as this may interfere with bud set. Also, let them dry out a little more in the fall as they prefer a slightly dryer “rest” before blooming.
Prune in mid-spring before just before putting them outside for the summer. Prune by simple “twisting” off the stems where the segments attach. The tips can then be placed in a small pot where they easily root. Pruning will help your plant to branch. More branches mean more flowers.
We’ve just gotten in our first shipments of these beautiful and easy holiday plants so the selection is great.