Christmas cacti are succulent plants, of Brazilian origin, belonging to the schlumbergera genus (also called zygocactus, or Ephiphyllum); there are about six species of schlumbergera, characterized by an autumn or winter flowering. They are plants that produce short stems, which are divided into long ramifications, erect, arched or drooping, made up of flattened, oval-shaped, fleshy sections; the articles end with small points, or are completely rounded, dark green in color, they tend to change color as the amount of light varies: if the plants are placed in an excessively dark place they tend to become light green, if instead we place the schlumbergera in full sun the branches become pink or reddish. In the nursery we usually find only hybrid varieties, which can be divided into two large groups; the schlumbergere are very appreciated for their long flowering, in autumn and winter, from the areoles present at the apexes of each single article, large flowers with fleshy petals, with very evident pistils, of red or pink color, bloom. There are hybrids with particularly colorful or very large flowers, very common are the schlumbergere with white flowers streaked with pink.
To this group belong the hybrids obtained from schlumbergera truncata, which have zygomorphic flowers, ie the upper part appears different in shape compared to the lower part; the flowers bloom in autumn and are placed horizontally with respect to the ground. These schlumbergere typically have arched branches, although there are varieties with erect branches. The typical characteristics of these hybrids can be found at the end of each single article, which ends at the sides in two small fleshy points.
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The varieties of Schlumbergera originating from the hybridization of Russell's Schlumbergera belong to this group; contrary to what happens for the varieties of the truncata group, the articles of these schlumbergere do not have small points, but are rounded. These schlumbergerae may also have arching branches, but more often they are completely drooping or erect. The flowers are hardly zygomorphic, but are generally completely symmetrical, and are carried erect and not horizontal.
Cultivating the schlumbergera
The schlumbergera belong to the cactus family, as happens for most of the succulent plants of the American continent; despite this, they differ greatly from what is commonly called cactus, and not only in the shape of the stem divided into segments. In fact, these cacti grow in nature in mountainous areas of Brazil, where there is a fairly mild climate, with high humidity; they also grow at the foot of tall trees in forests, or even in crevices between rocks, where they can enjoy small amounts of direct sunlight. So while they can withstand quite different conditions than ideal, they will not survive if grown like most cacti - that is, with little water, a consistently warm climate and lots of sunlight. The schlumbergere are epiphytic plants, which do not need large quantities of soil; they are grown in relatively small pots, possibly not very deep, filled with soil for acidophilic plants, mixed with universal soil and leaf soil (or even sphagnum). The pots should be kept in a semi-shady place, where they can enjoy a suffused brightness: direct light, especially in the hottest hours of the day, causes the stems to turn red. Watering will be regular, throughout the year, in order to keep the soil slightly moist, but without soaking it and without leaving it dry for long periods of time; every 12-15 days let's mix the watering water with fertilizer for succulent plants, poor in nitrogen and rich in potassium. These plants can bear temperatures a few degrees below zero for short periods of time; but they are usually grown indoors, where they show to develop and flower best if kept in a poorly heated room, or in a stairwell, where the climate is mild enough, but not hot. Plants kept constantly indoors tend to produce fewer and fewer flowers from year to year, as they need a cool period, with a few hours of light, to start producing their beautiful flowers.
Parasites and diseases
Excess watering can cause total or partial rotting of the stems; as soon as the plant shows a mushy appearance, as if it were "fainted", we cut all the healthy stems and use them as cuttings, because the rot from the roots quickly goes back to the whole plant. Drought can also be a problem for schlumbergerae, especially if prolonged: a poorly watered plant takes on a wrinkled appearance; if the water shortage is short-lived, it is sufficient to water so that the stems return to their turgid and fleshy appearance. In spring, it can happen that aphids nest on flowers.
Propagate the schlumbergera
This cactacea is characterized by flattened stems, similar to broad leaves, divided into segments; every single segment can give rise to a new plant, and it also happens naturally that the falling segments produce roots if they remain in contact with the ground. Given that the varieties present in the nursery are hybrid, and that these plants are pollinated by hummingbirds, not present in Italy, the stem cutting is one of the fastest and most convenient methods of propagation. Stems are taken in spring and the various segments that compose them are divided; we avoid choosing a very old stem, or one that has just germinated, and we prefer healthy and fleshy stems. Each single segment will be buried for about a quarter, in a rich soil; after about a couple of days we begin to water, keeping the soil just moist, until we see that the stems begin to sprout.
Christmas cactus - schlumbergera: How to water the Christmas cactus
As we have already said above, the Christmas cactus is a plant that must be grown in the apartment because it needs not too low temperatures to vegetate properly. The ideal temperatures for this plant are in fact always above 20 ° C and we will have to take this aspect into account when cultivating it.
Being grown in the apartment, this plant in winter does not undergo a great evapotranspiration and with watering particular care must be taken to avoid overdoing the quantities of water.
Let's water the Christmas cactus once in a while and make sure that the soil has time to dry between one watering and the next. A constantly humid soil can cause root problems, such as root rot problems or other pathologies favored by the presence of a humid climate such as mushrooms.