Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas Cactus

Christmas is almost here when the buds swell on the Christmas Cactus.
My Christmas Cactus is an older variety with stem segments (phylloclades) that undulate gracefully instead of ending in little points along the edge and is probably Schlumbergera x buckleyi.
The Christmas Cactus I have now is not the original one I inherited in 1976 but a cutting of a cutting of a cutting. Once every two or three years, I take cuttings, choose the best of the rooted cuttings, and discard the mother plant in favour of a smaller one with a less sprawling spread, a new plant that fits in the spot allocated to it.    
My cactus actually blooms at Christmas unlike many store-bought cacti that should more accurately be called Holiday Cacti since their natural bloom time may be Thanksgiving or Easter, instead of Christmas.  Those cacti with the flowering blooms we purchase in Fall/Winter have been forced to bloom.  Their natural bloom time won’t be obvious until they have grown for a full cycle.
I keep my Christmas Cactus in our back sunroom, lit by natural light only, cooled in summer by open windows and barely warmed in winter by one hot air outlet travelling under the room across an unheated, dirt-floored crawl space, losing much of its heat before it enters the room. The room gets quite cold but never freezes.
My plant sits in eastern light that is also perfect for African violets and is exposed only to available light and the temperature changes that follow the season by diminishing as Christmas nears. Bud set, beginning somewhere around the first of November, is spurred into action by those seasonal changes, a lessening of available light or a reduction of temperature or maybe both.
Christmas cacti are very sensitive once they begin to set bloom and should never, never be moved once bloom set has begun. Changes to light or temperature will cause new buds to drop.
At one time I used to transfer the current Christmas Cactus to a shady spot outside – a holiday for the plant.  One year I almost lost it when I forgot about it and left it outside until after the first bad frost.  When the plant was brought in, all the stem segments shriveled and died but the main plant was OK and eventually put out new stems.  There was no bloom that year but the plant lived to bloom again the next year.  Since that almost death of the plant my memory has not improved so the plant resides inside all year.
After so many years of predictable show, my Christmas Cactus is an old friend giving me the feeling that all’s right with the world when the Christmas Cactus blooms.

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