Christmas . . . or Valentine’s Day Cactus?

Christmas CactusImage compliments of waterloogardens.com.
Originally posted 2010

My Christmas Cactus never bloomed this past December. It is finally blooming now, on February 9th. It is a beautiful white-flowered variety with hot pink stamen. Stamen are┬áthe thin, long stalks with fuzzy heads that protrude out of the center of the flower. The fuzzy stuff is pollen. If you look extremely close at a flower, you’ll also see a pistil, which is a tube-like stalk, usually dead center of the stamen, that when the pollen drops in, it produces the seed. It is where the ovaries are located. Oops, this is starting to sound like a biology lesson! Well, I guess it might be actually, but it is not about reproduction . . .

As I mentioned, my Christmas Cactus never bloomed in December. I was disappointed. I had a former Christmas Cactus for years that was a dependable bloomer during the holidays. It finally met its demise and I purchased this white variety. Although it was a summertime clearance purchase, I had high hopes for it. While Christmas Cacti are fairly easy to keep alive and green, they are indeed quite finicky when it comes to blooming. You see, Christmas Cacti originate from a very unique environment and we must mimic that environment for the plant to be able to successfully produce the beautiful blooms we desire in our homes at Christmastime or otherwise.

Christmas Cacti are epiphytes in nature (as are orchids and some bromeliads.) Epiphytes are not to be confused with parasites, but they are indeed similar in that they live on other plants. Epiphytes live on other plants for support and light – not to suck the life out of them, so to speak! The Christmas Cactus in particular is native to the Brazilian rainforest. It thrives in the debris and decay (dead leaves, mostly) that collects in the crevices of tree limb joints, usually near the canopy of the forest where there is bright, but filtered, light. Although a succulent, the Christmas Cactus is not as drought tolerant as it’s desert cousins. It needs to be treated like the tropical it is when it comes to watering and fertilizing (i.e., moderately). I’m getting to my point about timing of blooming, I promise . . .

The rainforests of the world are located at the Equator and are blessed with receiving a balance of 12 hours of sunlight every day with 12 hours of darkness. This is where the finicky part comes in regarding the success of a Christmas Cactus as a houseplant. If you wish for your Christmas Cactus to bloom nicely, you need to ensure it receives 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness every night for about 8 – 10 weeks. As such, the best place for a Christmas Cactus in your home is near a sun filtered window in a room that you do not frequent during the longer nights of winter. Slightly closing the heating vents of the unused room will keep it a tad cooler as well. These actions will provide the Christmas Cactus the perfect environment it needs to prepare to bloom.

So . . . why is my Christmas Cactus blooming in February? Very simply, I moved it in early December (10 weeks ago, hint, hint) from a well-lighted living room to a rarely used den. My previous Christmas Cactus existed before I had furniture and a TV in this living room, so it did fine there. My new plant did not do well . . . until I moved it to its optimal environment.

If you are having difficulty blooming due to a life circumstance, as with the Christmas Cactus, give yourself adequate time to adjust. If there isn’t progress, though, don’t stay too long in the darkness. A new environment, even if a temporary vacation, may be all that is needed to get those buds started.

Until next time,

Cindy

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