This common houseplant blooms during the Christmas season, but its long green arms are attractive throughout the year. With cultivars in a rainbow of colors, it is a plant worthy of appreciation. These ten facts about Christmas Cactus will help you to care for your plant.
1. It is called a "cactus," but it thrives in cooler temperatures. Christmas Cactus needs to be kept away from heat sources. A Christmas Cactus will blossom longer when exposed to only cooler temperatures. For best results, keep your Christmas Cactus in a cool place (away from heaters and fireplaces) where there are not frequent drafts (right next to a frequently used door would not be a good place). Big temperature changes can cause the blooms to drop off the plant before they open. The optimal temperature for a Christmas Cactus is 68 °F (20 °C).
2. Christmas Cactus needs light to bloom. Keeping your Christmas Cactus in a sunny location indoors is the key to prolonged blooms. However, if you move it outside during the summer, you will have the most success in a partially shaded location, as too much direct light can burn the leaves.
3. The Christmas Cactus is native to Brazil. This epiphyte (a plant that grows on top of another plant non-parasitically) grows in the Brazilian rain forest, among tree branches. Since it is a tropical plant, it thrives in humid conditions.
4. Christmas Cactus needs its beauty sleep. Set your Christmas Cactus in a room where you never turn the lights on at night. For the flower buds to set, Christmas Cactus needs 14 hours or more continuous darkness per day. However, after the flower buds have set, Christmas Cactus can withstand lights on at night.
5. Unlike the other Christmas favorite, Poinsettia, Christmas Cactus is not toxic to dogs and cats. Poinsettia is famously poisonous to dogs and cats. However, according to the ASPCA, if Fido or Fluffy nibbles on a Christmas Cactus, she should not experience irritation or vomiting like she would from the sap of the Poinsettia.
6. Christmas Cactus can live for 20 to 30 years. Can you imagine passing a living flowering plant on to your children or grandchildren? Christmas Cactus can live for 20 to 30 years when properly cared for. If you provide long nights starting around October 1st, you can force the Christmas Cactus to bloom year after year. Cool night temperatures can also encourage it to bloom.
7. Overwatering will kill Christmas Cactus, but it likes to be misted daily. Some horticulturalists recommend only adding water to the soil that a Christmas Cactus is planted when the soil is dry to the touch. Instead, others suggest misting the leaves of the Christmas Cactus to maintain the desired level of humidity around the plant.
8. Five diseases commonly infect Christmas Cactus. Some experts provide a handy fact sheet that outlines the plant diseases that most often affect Christmas Cactus. Their list includes Basal stem rot, botrytis blight, impatiens necrotic spot virus, phytophthora root rot, and pythium root rot.
9. Fungus gnats, flower thrips, and root mealybugs are the pests that most often infest Christmas Cactus. The biggest culprit in attracting pests to Christmas Cactus seems to be overwatering. Preventative care, such as discarding infested plants, is another recommended tactic. Pesticides are available for commercial growers, although home-growers may not get their hands on those pesticides.
10. By the way, that Christmas Cactus you are buying is probably not a Christmas Cactus. Surprise! The True Christmas Cactus is an interspecific hybrid of Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera russelliana that originated about 150 years ago in England. It is a common houseplant but is not often grown commercially. Plants have segments with rounded margins, ribbed ovaries, and purplish-brown anthers. The correct Latin name for Christmas Cactus is Schlumbergera x buckleyi.