Buds N Bugs: Christmas cactus

Christmas cactus Photo available for purchase

Christmas cactus

LOIS SWOBODA
Published: Monday, December 30, 2013 at 02:04 PM.

Christmas cactus is the common name for a number of cactus varieties in the genus Schlumbergera.

Other members of the same group are known as Thanksgiving cactus, Easter cactus, crab cactus and holiday cactus.

The ancestors of all of these originated in the cloud forest of Brazil at altitudes of 2000 to 9000 feet above sea level. Plants are epiphytic or lithophytic, meaning they grow on moss-covered tree branches or in rock crevices, often in small pockets of soil formed from decayed leaves and other vegetation.

Most species of Schlumbergera have stems that resemble leaf-like pads joined one to the other with flowers that appear at the joints and tips of the stems. In Brazil, the genus is referred to as Flor de Maio (May flower) because they flower in that month in the southern hemisphere.

Specimens of the wild cactus were collected in the early 1800s and taken to Europe where they were hybridized with each other and with other cactus varieties resulting in the current wide array of colors, foliage form and bloom period. Blooms rang in color from red, rose, purple and lavender to peach, orange, cream, white and metallic gold.

The natural distribution of Schlumbergera species has become confused because European cultivars were deliberately introduced into some areas by the Brazilian Agricultural Department, including the Parque Nacional da Serra dos Órgãos where many of the cultivated Christmas cactus ancestors were collected.

Flowers of many Christmas cacti exhibit different colors depending on the temperature during bud formation and growth. Temperatures below 57 °F produce pink tones in normally white and yellow cultivars, and deepen the color in pink and red cultivars. The availability of iron to the plant has also been suggested to affect flower color.



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