Will the Real Christmas Cactus Please Stand Up
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 19 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
There are three main types of holiday cactus; Easter (Hatiora gaertneri), Thanksgiving (Schlunbergera truncata), and Christmas (Schlumbergera x buckleyi). Now a lot of folks believe that Schlumbergera bridgesii is the original Christmas cactus but after a ton of research, I must agree with Paul Brunelle. Mr. Brunelle, a highly respected cacti and succulent horticulturist, states:
"The true "Christmas Cactus" is Schlumbergera x buckleyi, a hybrid between S. russelliana and S. truncata produced in the late 1840s by William Buckley at the Rollisson Nurseries in England. There are possibly two, perhaps three slightly different surviving clones (vegetative descendants created through layering or cuttings) of three hybrids of this cross, named S. x buckleyi 'Buckleyi ' , S. x buckleyi 'Rollissonii', and possibly S. x buckley 'Snowii'. 'Rollissonii', has flowers magenta in colour, 'Buckleyi', with white tube shading to magenta petals, and 'Snowii', with smaller magenta flowers and stem segments. The name Schlumbergera bridgesii, still seen occasionally, was mistakenly published for it very early, and only in 1964 was the plant's proper history and correct designation traced and reestablished by Will Tjaden, a member of the Epiphytic Plant Study Group in England.
In the late 1840s, William Buckley decided to cross hybrid S. x russelliana and S. truncata to become the first true Christmas cactus. However, the Schlumbergera were first introduced in 1818 in England.
To be able to differentiate between these cacti, you must look at their leaves or stem segments called phylloclades. The Christmas cactus has a rounded lobe on the edge of the leaf. Nothing pointed on this one. The phylloclades also arch downward. The Thanksgiving cactus leaves have soft points on the margins. The leaves are also very erect and tend to spread out more than the others. The Easter cactus is very easy to spot. The flowers are very different for starters. The stem segments are thick and the edges are slightly serrated but rounded. The one also only blooms once per year around Easter whereas the other two bloom twice.
The piece I was given had been propagated in a glass of water. But leave the section only long enough to see roots start. Then I planted it in a 12-inch pot with a soil mixture of vermiculite, potting soil and a little sand. Schlumbergera really prefer to be kept in a cool environment so mine sits on my kitchen counter. It receives indirect sunlight and bright indoor light. DO NOT let your holiday cactus get direct sunlight! They don’t respond well at all. You can shape your plant by pinching off stem segments. (Use these as gifts!) My plant is very lopsided because I did not groom it well but it’s happy so who cares! Some people complain that their cactus never blooms. So here is the recipe for a beautiful flowering show. Around 4 to 5 weeks before buds should start to show I cover the plant with a paper bag at night and leave it for 10 to12 hours. You can move your plant to a closet or dark room but these guys are a little fussy about being moved around. It makes them lose their buds so I personally do not move mine during this time. The temperature should be around 60 to 65 degrees. Now on this point I like my house cool so it wasn’t a problem. Maybe you could place your plant in an out of the way corner far from any heating vents.
Once your cactus does bloom you will forget all about the pains you took to get it there! Kind of like having a baby. HA. The blooms are diurnal so they close a night. I have seen plants with at least 300 blooms! I’ve read about one that is 4 feet in diameter and sports around 800 blooms! Color of bloom can range from light pink to magenta, white to yellow. All are spectacular. Let me urge you to go online and check out the amazing collection of cacti and succulents at Dalhousie University. Most of these were donated by Paul Brielle.
I hope I have persuaded you to try a Christmas cactus of your own. They truly are worth it!
 Paul J. Brunelle, Paul’s Notes
20 Dec. 2001
Thanks once again to my DG friends for the photos on this article.
Discussion about this article: