Meet Your Houseplant: The Christmas Cactus

We here at Thing in a Pot Productions have recently been afforded an unprecedented opportunity to spend quality time with our house plants! We’re VERY excited about it! 

This month, I thought I’d get to know our Christmas Cactus better. We have two such plants, both cuttings from a cactus owned by Katie’s great-grandmother. Christmas Cacti are supposed to live 20-30 years. This one didn’t get the memo…

Like any other cactus, the Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is adapted to arid conditions, but it is not native any sandy, rattlesnake-infested desert. Christmas cacti are originally from the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil. They grow as epiphytes on the trunks of other trees or on fallen, rotting logs. They can develop into sizable woody shrubs, up to 4 ft tall. Imagine that in your living room! Its tropical Brazilian heritage is the reason why Christmas cacti love cooler weather and high humidity.

While more of a succulent than a true cactus, Christmas cacti carry on the cactus-like tradition of giving up on leaves; they’re all stem. The stems are segmented and often flattened to produce wing-like structures that help create more surface area for photosynthesis.

Given the right periods of uninterrupted darkness (~13 hours), the cactus will produce beautiful flowers that vary from white to purple and a few colors in between. Flowering normally occurs in late Fall or early winter when the plants are traditionally sold as gifts to help lend some much needed balmy, Brazilian warmth to dreary winter interiors. 

Brian Rutter, PhD, is the cofounder of Thing in a Pot Productions and a postdoctoral researcher in plant biology at Indiana University. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive our “Things About Things – Odd Facts About Plants” and video production tips in your inbox every month!

Works Cited:
MacMillan, A. J. S., & Horobin, J. F. (1995). Christmas cacti: the genus Schlumbergera and its hybrids (Vol. 4). David Hunt.

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