Christmas Cactus

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Originally this species was known as Epiphyllum truncation, and in the nineteenth-century gardening books it was always referred to by this name. Later the name was changed to Zygocactus truncatus, commonly known as the Christmas cactus, because it will flower naturally at Christmas (in the northern hemispere), given the right conditions. According to modern classification the species is now called Schlumbergera truncata, but as with many species which are widely known under a name which has been well established, it is easy enough to change the name but very difficult to get the majority of gardeners to use the new nomenclature, and consequently most gardeners still refer to the Christmas cactus by its old name of Zygocactus truncal us.

The species is a native of Brazil, but nowadays all the plants offered for sale are hybrids. Much hybridising took place in the nineteenth century and plants were usually sold as named varieties in quite a wide range of colours, such as deep rose, reddish-orange, purple, and whites with coloured edges (e.g. white edged with rose, white with purple margin). Today, plants are not usually offered in named varieties and mostly only red shades are available.

The Christmas and Easter cacti do not have true leaves. The leaf-like portions are really flattened stems and, as the plants grow larger, they gradually become cylindrical.

As plants grown from seed take some four to eight years to reach flowering size it is usual to buy plants already in flower which will, of course, be during the winter. During the winter months plants will require a minimum temperature of 35°F (2°C) to survive, but to maintain growth require 55-65°F (13- 18°C).

The flowering period is during early and midwinter, after which the plants should be kept watered until late summer. During this period feed the plant with a weak liquid fertiliser, and in the summer months it is best to keep the plants outside but protected from the direct rays of the sun.

The plant makes growth at the tip of each segment or pad, and as the stems grow longer they tend to droop; therefore it should be staked at an early age to encourage a more upright growth.

Watering of the plants should be discontinued at the beginning of autumn and the plants kept on the dry side until flowering buds appear, when watering should be recommenced. The purpose of withholding water is to allow the plants to rest; and it also seems to stimulate the initiation of flower buds. Bring the plants indoors at the end of the summer but keep them in a cool place until the buds are well-formed, when they should then be given warmer conditions -minimum 60°F(15°C).

The best time to repot is shortly after the plant has flowered, using a soilless compost suitable for ericaceous plants, because schlumbergeras like an acid compost. Repotting is usually only necessary every other year and the plant should be left undisturbed unless it is pot-bound. Always use the smallest size of pot possible.

This is also the best time to take cuttings. Sever the top three segments at the end of a branch, and insert ¥2 in (13 mm) deep in moist peat, covering the pot with a plastic dome or bag until the cutting has rooted, which should be in about three to four weeks. Allow the cuttings to dry for two or three days before

Zygocactus Species

RtiipHhJofna giurtntrit ihc Easier Cactui, with ¡ts bright ted Bowrra, will bliiom i'reely in the house inserting in the rooting medium, otherwise they tend to rot.

RtiipHhJofna giurtntrit ihc Easier Cactui, with ¡ts bright ted Bowrra, will bliiom i'reely in the house


This species was originally known as Schlumbergera gaertneri, hut its new name is Rhipsalidopiisgaertneri. The plants offered for sale are, of course, hybrids which have been developed from the species. The flowers which appear on the tips of the stems are various shades of red ranging from pink to crimson. The plants, in form, are similar to the Christmas cactus, having leaf-like stems which tend to droop unless supported.

The cultivation of the Easter cactus is the same as for the Christmas cactus, except that the watering and resting periods are at different times. The Easter cactus blooms naturally during late spring, so the rest period, when watering is reduced to a minimum, is during late winter and early spring; otherwise give the plant the same treatment as you would a Christmas cactus.


These are much larger plants than ihe foregoing and the flowers they produce are much larger and more showy. The plants offered for sale are hybrids between the various species, in particular Epiphyllum ackermannii, which comes from Mexico, Central America and South America.

The natural flowering time of the epiphyllum is early summer; consequently you will probably purchase a plant at this time. After flowering the plant is best kept in a shady spot, in a good light.

At the end of the summer bring the plant indoors or into the greenhouse. Water normally from the flowering period until the end of autumn, and then withhold water to give the plants 3 resting period, until the first signs of the flower buds, which should be some time in early spring. Do not allow the compost to dry out completely, but water very sparingly and keep it well on the dry side. During this resting period the plants should be kept in a cool atmosphere, at about 45-50°F(7- 10°C). As soon as pot is full of roots. I'se the smallest size of pot compatible with the root system and only transfer to a larger pot when necessary.

The propagation of epiphyllums is by cuttings, because like the Christmas cactus it takes four to eight years for plants to flower when grown from seed-Select a healthy terminal growth of the leaf-like stems and remove the top 5-6 in (13 - 15 cm), making a

Eptphylhm the flower buds are visible pul the plants in a warmer temperature, minimum 60°F (15°C), and commence watering again. Feed every two weeks with a high potash fertiliser until the first flowers open.

Repotting, if necessary, should be carried out shortly after the plants have finished flowering, using soilless compost of the type suitable for ericaceous plants, because epiphyllums require an acid compost free from lime. Do not repot plants before they are pot-bound, as an epiphyllum flowers best when its clean cut with a knife. Allow the cutting to dry off for two or three days and then push the cut end into moist peat, Vj in (13 mm) deep, and support it with a thin stake. Cover the pot with a plastic dome or enclose in a plastic bag for two or three weeks and keep in a minimum temperature of60aF{15°C) until it is well rooted when it should be potted in the compost in a 2'/j-in (6-cm) or 3-in (9-cm) pot.

The growth of epiphyllums is much more erect than the Christmas cactus and plants should be kept staked from the time of taking the cutting, to encourage the plant to remain erect; otherwise it tends to sprawl, owing to the weight of the young stems. Plants can be grown on for years. The flowers of epiphyllums are usually shades of red, but there are also hybrids with flowers in white, pink, cream and purple or mauve.

If you grow epiphyllums in the house, on a windowledge, it is advisable to avoid moving them once the flower buds have formed, because the buds are drawn towards the light. If a plant is turned the buds will obviously have to change direction and this weakens them to the extent that you get quite a number of buds dropping ofTthe plant. This does not apply in the greenhouse because there is sufficient light all round the plant. Once all the buds have opened into flowers the plant can be moved without detriment. The same remarks apply to the Christmas cactus and the Easter cactus.

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  • filmon gebre
    How to grow a easter cactus seedling with roots on it?
    8 years ago
  • adamo
    Are christmas cactus incomplete?
    3 years ago

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