Christmas cactus, also known as the Orchid Cactus, is a great gift idea on Christmas eve especially when in full bloom. The Christmas cactus is a popular, winter-flowering houseplant native to Brazil. The pendulous stems of the Christmas cactus makes it a great choice for hanging baskets.
What is a Cactus?
A cactus (plural, cacti) is a type of succulent plant belonging to the dicotyledonous flowering plant family, Cactaceae. The Cactaceae has around 90 genera and some 1,500 to 1,800 species. Cacti are well-known natives of the Americas, mostly found in desert areas. Some are also rainforest epiphytes, growing on tree branches where, despite the high rainfall, water drains off quickly so that "dry" conditions prevail much of the time.
Like other succulents, cacti are well-adapted to life with little precipitation. The leaves have evolved into spines, which in addition to allowing less water to evaporate than regular leaves, defend the cactus against water-seeking animals. Photosynthesis is carried out by enlarged stems, which also store water. Unlike many other succulents, the stem is the only part of a true cactus where this takes place.
Facts about Christmas Cactus
- Cacti are believed to have evolved in the last 30 to 40 million years ago.
- Like many tropical cacti, Christmas Cactus is also an epiphyte.
- The flowers are available in a wide variety of colors including red, purple, orange, pink, fuschia, cream, etc.
- The Christmas cactus is a member of a group sold as holiday cacti that also include the Thanksgiving cactus and the Easter cactus.
- The green, flattened, leaf-like structures that make up the majority of a Christmas Cactus are actually modified stem segments called cladodes. In most cacti, the leaves have been modified into spines which have many different functions for the plant. In the Christmas Cactus, the leaves and the spines are absent.
- Various plant species require cues from the environment to regulate the timing of certain events, like flowering. This mechanism called photoperiodism occurs when plants initiate flowering or other activities in response to relative lengths of daylight and darkness.
Popular Holiday Cacti
The three common flowering cacti are called holiday cacti. The three types of holiday cacti are-
|Christmas Cactus||Schlumbergera bridgessii||The Christmas Cactus has pointed lobed leaves and is given from Thanksgiving to Christmas. These are also called True cacti.|
|Thanksgiving Cactus||Schlumbergera truncatus||These cacti are also called Crab or Yoke Cacti. They are available from early fall and all through Christmas.|
|Easter Cactus||Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerii||These cacti flowers have wider rounded leaves and are given from Christmas to Easter.|
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Growing a Christmas Cactus
- The Christmas Cactus is easily propagated by taking short Y-shaped cuttings of the stem tips.
- Remove a single segment and plant a quarter of its length deep in a pot filled with slightly sandy soil.
- Place the pot in a well-lit area (but not under direct sunlight) and keep the soil moist.
- The cutting should begin showing signs of growth after two or three weeks.
- To root cuttings for new plants, cut back shoots from the tips. Cut at the second joint of each tip.
- Place cuttings in a moist peat and perlite, or peat and sand mixture. Water sparingly at first to prevent rotting of cuttings.
- After two or three weeks, water as you would do to any other cutting.
- When cuttings are rooted, pot them in a very loose mixture of good potting soil.
- While the Christmas Cactus can adapt to low light, more abundant blooms are produced on plants that have been exposed to high light intensity.
- Keep your plants in a sunny location indoors or in semi-shady location. Too much direct sunlight can burn the leaves.
- The ideal soil for Christmas Cactus is composed of equal parts of garden loam, leaf mold and clean coarse sand (not sand from the seashore).
- After the plant completes blooming, let it rest by withholding water for six weeks.
- When new growth appears, re-pot and top-dress with fresh soil. Resume watering to keep soil fairly moist.
- As tender growth appears in spring, apply a weak solution of liquid houseplant fertilizer at 2 to 3 weeks.
Caring for a Cactus plant:-
- Do not let the plant dry out. Water when the top half of the soil feels dry to the touch.
- Be careful not to over water which can cause buds to drop.
- To add more humidity to a dry atmosphere, place the pot on a tray of pebbles and keep the pebbles moist.
- A Christmas Cactus needs a bright location out of direct sunlight.
- Apply a mild houseplant fertilizer solution every other week.