Holiday cacti are popular, easy-to-grow houseplants that produce a spectacular flower display in late autumn. Though native to tropical coastal mountains in Brazil, these adaptable plants are now grown as potted plants around the world. Holiday cacti grow as mounds of arching, jointed stems (the flat segments are actually stem sections, not leaves). Responding to shorter days and cooler temperatures in autumn, the plants produce dozens of flower buds at the stem tips. These open into exotic, silken-petaled flowers; a holiday cactus in bloom makes a stunning table centerpiece, whether for a simple weeknight dinner or a grand holiday feast.
Common name: Holiday cactus
Botanical name: Schlumbergera species and hybrids
Plant type: Tropical houseplant
Height: 12 to 18 inches
• Sun: Bright indirect light
• Soil: Use coarse-textured, well-drained, soilless potting mix.
• Moisture: Moderately moist; let dry slightly between waterings
• Mulch: None
• Pruning: None
• Fertilizer: Apply diluted soluble fertilizer monthly.
Pests and diseases
• Overwatering may lead to root rot.
• Many holiday cactus cultivars (mostly from S. truncata and its hybrids with other species) have been introduced for commercial florists crop growers. Flower colors range from white to pink, lavender, fuschia, red, orange and pale yellow.
• In nature, holiday cacti are epiphytes that live in trees; their roots grow in loose plant litter that collects in branch angles. This is why potted holiday cacti grow best in coarse potting mix that doesn’t hold too much water.
• Holiday cacti can be very long-lived, and many plants and cuttings have been passed down for generations within families.
• Once temperatures warm up in late spring, move holiday cacti outdoors to a shady spot for summer and early autumn. Bring them back inside when night temperatures start dropping into the 40s.
• It’s easy to propagate a holiday cactus—just break off a piece (at least three segments long) and stick it into a small pot full of coarse, soilless potting mix. Water lightly, and it will start growing roots within days.
All in the family
• Holiday cacti are members of the cactus family (Cactaceae), which contains about 1,500 species that display a great range of forms and sizes.
• Most plants sold as holiday or Christmas cactus are S. truncate (also known as Thanksgiving cactus) and its hybrids. True Christmas cactus (S. x buckleyi) blooms about a month later.
Where to buy
• Logee’s Greenhouses, Danielson, CT; (888) 330-8038; www.logees.com
• White Flower Farm, Litchfield, CT; (800) 420-2852; www.whiteflowerfarm.com
• Whitton Greenhouses, Camden, DE; (302) 284-8863; http://whittongreenhouses.com