Christmas Cactus: A Holiday Treasure

By Norman Winter, Horticulturist, Author and Speaker

It seems as though every year since I graduated from Texas A&M, I have been asked how to get poinsettias to re-bloom. It doesn’t take long into the discussion before the gardener knows the task is more than formidable.

On the other hand, the Christmas cactus, so rare in beauty, is actually easy to grow and re-bloom, maybe for the rest of your life. In fact, this is a plant I often find as a hand-me-down from mom or grandmother.

The cacti I used to have in my office in Raymond, M.S., were living, blooming proof. Although I had them for several years, they were abandoned for weeks on end during the spring and fall garden season when I was on the road. If they got water or any other light than sitting in a north window, they were lucky.

Every year, however, they rewarded me with their floral displays as if I were along-lost friend – or as if I had been pampering them for months. It was almost incredible. You will find them available in several different colors and at unbelievably low prices for a plant that you will treasure for years.

The Christmas cactus is one of those plants that triggers fierce arguments over its botanical name and even the common name. You would think that with a plant this beautiful, we could just all get along. First, is it a Christmas cactus or a Thanksgiving cactus? Don’t bring that up at the dinner table; no use fighting.I am just thankful for it whenever it blooms.

The bloom period of these hybrid tropical cacti may be somewhat controlled by the amount of uninterrupted darkness the plant receives. You can delay blooming by giving more light. Once the plant receives 12 to 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness each day, buds will usually start to form.

This true cactus, minus thorns, is native to the South American rain forest. In Brazil, they grow on tree trunks and limbs alongside orchids and bromeliads,wherever rainwater quickly drains away. Their flowers are almost iridescent in shades of lavender, fuchsia, orange, red and white.

To read the full story, pick up a copy of the November/December issue of LiveIt magazine.