December 2014 Plant Profile: Schlumbergera

Christmas Cactus flower close upLooking  nondescript throughout most of the year, the so-called “Christmas cactus” puts on a tremendous show as the holidays arrive in November and December.

As part of the Cactus family, they are actually epipthytic plants (similar to air plants) that grow on rock crevices and trees in the wild and require a well drained potting mixture and specific dry rest periods in order to initiate flowering when grown as a house plant.

Most receive a Christmas cactus as a blooming gift for the holidays. They can be enjoyed anywhere in the home where it receives bright, indirect lighting, humidity and very sparse (about once every two weeks) watering.  Following the tremendous floral show, plants will rest and watering is greatly reduced further until about March or April when they can be re-potted if desired (although they prefer the tight confines of being potbound in a small container). New growth resumes and regular watering and fertilizing (all purpose fertilizer is fine) can take place (once every week or two). They can also sit outdoors up against the house protected from direct light during the summer and can be treated like other container plants.



To initiate flowering again:

Water is withheld as days get shorter and temperatures begin to drop. They need a cycle of normal daylight and then  complete darkness for 12-14 hours for about 6 weeks. All this usually begins around September into October where you can either start bringing them indoors in a room that will be completely dark for that period of time or they can stay outdoors and make sure street lights aren’t disrupting this dry/dark period. If temperatures are expected to drop below 55F, then the plants should be brought inside.

After this treatment, buds should have formed and regular watering and care (once every one or two weeks) can resume as they begin to open and flower.

Christmas Cactus habit
A bright, deep pink Schlumbergera begins to show off amongst the tropicals just as you enter the Douglas Conservatory.


Genus: Schlumbergera
species: × buckleyi (T.Moore) Tjaden = S. russelliana × S. truncata; S. Buckleyi Group is the most common.
Cultivar: Assorted named cultivars exist, but often offered by color only
Common Name: Thanksgiving/Christmas Cactus, Zygo-Cactus
Location: CUH Douglas Conservatory Entry
Origin: Wild species originate from SE Brazil
Height and Spread: 1.5-2′ high with stems that can drape 3-4ft. long
Bloom/Fruit Time: November-early January