Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Christmas Cactus Bloom Signals the Holiday Season

There are several traditional plants that have close traditional ties to the Christmas season in northeastern Mississippi. Holly, ivy, mistletoe, red cedar and the ever so popular poinsettia. One easily grown plant that is popular around this time of year is the Christmas cactus.

This past summer one of the branches was broken from my big Christmas cactus on the shaded patio behind my house and rather than discarding the small branch, I simply potted it in a small terracotta pot. True to form, that little pot of this rooted seasonal favorite started its annual Christmas blooming late last week. The vibrant blooms make a nice addition to my desk during these cold December days.

It has been said that the Christmas cactus is the second most popular holiday plant, with the poinsettia holding the number one position. The Christmas cactus (schlumbergera) is native to the Organ Mountains north of Rio de Janerio in Brazil and those plants we see today in the stores around the holidays are actually a hybrid of two different species of schlumbergera first bred in England about 150 years ago. It became popular during the 19th century, Victorian England to give these plants as holiday gifts.

I remember the Christmas cactus from childhood. My mom had a huge specimen that had once belonged to her mother, and as the plant was so easily propagated, many stems were shared with other area gardeners to create their own Christmas cactus pot.

This week my tiny pot of propagated Christmas cactus will serve as the perfect miniature Christmas tree on my desk. The colorful blooms create the perfect natural holiday ornaments for this little green plant.

Christmas Cactus Photograph by Bob Franks

2 comments:

Terry Thornton said...

Interesting and enjoyable read about Christmas cactus. We have a large pot of Christmas cactus --- last year we forced it to bloom by controlling the light for a few days. It rewarded us with hundreds of blooms in a riot of color --- but at Thanksgiving! This year when it started showing bloom buds, we tried the light control again and we got several dozen blooms (again at Thanksgiving) and the remaining blossom buds are slowly dropping off, one or two at a time, without opening. Any suggestions?
Terry

Bob Franks, Publications Editor said...

Thanks Terry. The Christmas cactus from the broken branch in the photograph was moved indoors before budding. It just sat the entire summer and fall in a quiet corner of my deep shaded patio. I suspect it got enough cool weather and shorter days naturally the past few weeks on the patio. I've read that if you move a Christmas cactus after it has started budding, you will have buds dropping. I've also wondered if indoor heat has an effect on budding. My house stays on the cool side in the fall and winter and my Christmas cactus gets indirect sunlight.