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Plant Of The Week

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Holiday cactuses are sometimes marketed as Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, or Zygocactus. The "true" Christmas cactus is an interspecific hybrid of Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera russelliana that originated about 150 years ago in England. The correct Latin name for Christmas cactus is Schlumbergera x buckleyi; the "x" indicates that it is an interspecific hybrid. Most commercial cultivars of holiday cactuses are actually Schlumbergera truncata, commonly known as Thanksgiving cactus or Zygocactus.

The plants most often sold as Christmas cacti are actually the Thanksgiving cacti, Schlumbergera truncata. Christmas cacti hang like giant daddy long leg spiders from trees in the rain forests of Brazil where they grow naturally seeking sunshine in a shadowy world. Their close cousins, S. bridgesii flowers later than Christmas Cacti under natural growing conditions and originated at a higher altitude in a cooler, drier, wooded environment.

Both are composed of flattened thick sections, connected end to end like leaves emerging from leaves. S. trancata has toothed edges while S bridgesii's segments are smoother. Spindle shaped buds at the tips of these peculiar stems open into exotic pink, red, white, lavender or violet blossoms with outer petals becoming recurved (curving outward). These tropical plants look lovely on stands or tables or as hanging plants.

Although Christmas cactus is a true cactus, its rain forest home gives a clue as to its ideal growing conditions. In their natural environment, they thrive in indirect sunlight and a humid environment. They live well under average home conditions and are attractive with moderate maintenance. Christmas Cactus can spend the summer outdoors in a shady place but don't put them in direct sunlight.

Water just as the soil surface dries to the touch. Water thoroughly, keep soil evenly moist to touch (not saturated), and do not let the pot sit in water. Water and fertilize regularly in spring and summer.

To force blossoming, beginning on Oct 1, keep the plant at about 55 degrees at night with uninterrupted dark periods of about 14 hours. If flowering is poor, move plant to brighter location.

Allow plenty of air circulation, indirect sunlight (filtered light through a south window, or an east window, and fertilize every other week. Ideal temperatures are between 60 and 70 degrees during the day and 55 to 65 degrees at night during normal growing season.

Although they are cacti, Christmas cacti prefer some humidity of 30 percent or more. Central heat creates a home environment with low humidity. Raise the humidity by placing the pot on a pebble tray.

Larry A. Sagers Regional Horticulturist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office

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