Are you getting tired of just having poinsettias and amaryllis in your home from December and into January? Would you like some different flowering plants to bring color onto the wintery scene? Perhaps you’d like a plant that flowers around the various winter holidays as well as the spring holidays: the so-called “Holiday Cactus.”
Holiday cacti are the most common epiphytic cacti commercially available. You may ask, “Just what is an epiphytic cactus?” Well, a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic is an epiphytic. They are like numerous ferns, bromeliads, air plants, and orchids that can grow on tree trunks in the tropical rain forests.
The iconic cactus is a large, barrel-shaped spiny monster in the middle of a parched desert or an enormous pillar-shaped cactus with arms that jut out from its sides set against a pink and orange-streaked sunset. Many people don’t realize that the flowering holiday plants they see around Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter are true cacti, as well; they are just the rain forest-dwelling cousins of the well-known desert cacti. The plant is native to the southeastern, coastal mountains of Brazil. It flowers in May in the southern hemisphere in response to the shorter day lengths and it is called Flor de Maio. These plants grow on trees or rocks that are generally shady with high humidity, and their appearance can be quite different from a cactus that took root in the desert.
The holiday cacti are part of a small genus or grouping of cacti called Schlumbergera, with six species found in Brazil. The Thanksgiving cactus has the botanical name of Schlumbergera truncate, while the Easter cactus is known as Schlumbergera gaertner. The most popular holiday cactus, of course, is the Christmas cactus that is named Schlumbergera buckley. To see the difference between the Thanksgiving cactus and the Christmas cactus, one must carefully examine the stem joints. The Christmas cactus has rounded indentations, while the Thanksgiving cactus has sharply saw-toothed indentations around the joints.
The fun part of all of this is that by purchasing some of each of the three types, you’ll have flowers all winter and into the spring. They are easy to grow and can last from generation to generation. They are also easy to propagate by leaf cuttings. Choose healthy stems and root in a glass of water or stick into perlite or vermiculite to get roots started. These plants have been with us since the 1800s, thanks to a European breeding program.
As a member of Garden Club R.F.D. in Middletown, you can expect to be exposed to a broader knowledge of the plants that just may be residing in your home. With a little more information, they will exist in a more comfortable environment and people will tell you that your thumb is definitely green! By calling Nancy Canade at (973) 452-4846, you can join a future meeting to learn more. You will enjoy the company of those that share a love of gardening and what it brings into their lives.