2017-12-21 / From The Garden

A Sparkling Holiday Gift

By Cynthia Gibson

The beautiful, waxen-looking blossoms of the Christmas cactus create an incredible display of color in December. These simple, easy-to-care-for plants are a perfect holiday gift.

The name “Christmas cactus” refers to the plant’s repeat bloom time. It starts forming buds in November and reaches full bloom by December every year. Water it weekly, repot with fresh soil once every other year, and it will last for decades. I once received a cutting from a friend that was from her grandmother’s 40-year-old plant. The plant is not fussy, and it prefers a plastic rather than terra cotta pot with drainage, unless it is glazed. Even though it is classified as a cactus, it loves water.

The plant is quite odd looking. The leaves look like a string of lobster claws, with one coming out of the other. From the end of the last lobster claw, you will find a tiny bud that becomes the most complicated flower. The plant comes in a variety of hot pinks, white, white with hot pink edges, and reds, and they all look like a waterfall. If you keep your plant long enough, it will grow and fit in a pot that is more than one foot wide. The plant has multiple stems, so its maximum girth can grow to two feet.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. After many years, the base of the plant will almost look like wood. You only have to fertilize your Christmas cactus once a year. Now that is a low maintenance plant! For these reasons, it is truly the plant that keeps on giving.

The Christmas cactus does not come from the desert, like most cacti, but is native to the mountains of tropical Brazil. Its full botanical name is Schlumbergera bridgesii, from the parent plant Schlumbergera Truncata, produced in the late 1840’s by William Buckley at the Rollisson Nurseries in England. For years it was commonly called the “Crab” cactus as well, due to its strange, claw-like leaves.

Christmas cactus is usually found on kitchen window sills, but it will thrive in any south-facing window. As a tropical plant, it loves direct sun. Even without a southern exposure, though, you can grow the plant by placing it in the sunniest area of your home; filtered light does not hinder growth.

If you own a large “specimen” plant, it is best featured in your dining or living room, for it puts on a spectacular show when it blooms. The blossoms almost glow with intense colors, and sparkle in the tissue of the flowers.

The finest varieties are found in greenhouses, florists and nurseries. Some of the rarest Christmas cacti, known as Inca Sun and Harvest Gold, are bold gold or yellow. There are even more exotic mixes of bright orange, yellow and hot pink.

For the holidays, you can find the simpler red and hot pink colors in your local supermarket. They are a lovely gift, priced to fit everyone’s budget. Best of all, it stays green all year and requires little attention. Should you decide to give this lovely plant as a Christmas gift, you will be long remembered.

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