A Tale of Three Cacti
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 13, 2012
URBANA – Inquiring
horticultural minds want to know if there are differences among the plants we
refer to collectively as holiday cactus, said a University of Illinois
Extension horticulture educator.
"These plants are often sold under the names of Thanksgiving
cactus, Christmas cactus, and Easter cactus because they are often seen in
flower around these particular holidays," said Greg Stack. "But are they different?
Yes, they are different, and the greenhouse growers who grow
all kinds of flowering seasonal gift plants know how to make these plants
produce flowers at just the right time of the year. "And, once you own one of
these cacti, you too can make it re-flower at just the right time of year," he
The difference between these three cacti is in the stems.
While those green flat pads may look like leaves they are really stems. The
margins on the stems of the true Christmas cactus are rounded with scallops
(usually four) along the edges. The plant also tends to be more arching and
pendant in habit. The Thanksgiving cactus has stem margins that bear two to
four saw-toothed upward-pointing projections on the sides of the stem. And,
finally, the Easter cactus has stem margins that are smoother than either the
Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus and have hair like bristles at the tips.
"Another thing to note about these plants is that they are
not very demanding," he said. "All three need just about the same type of care.
Even though they are members of the cactus family, they are probably in better
company with orchids and bromeliads. That is because they are considered jungle
cactus, and their needs for light, moisture and temperature are different than
the cactus you see out in the desert."
When buying one of these plants for indoor decoration, it
will probably be in flower. Putting it in a location that is well lit and cool
will help to extend the bloom period. Under very warm, low-light conditions,
flowers will very quickly fade and fall from the plant. Water when the soil
feels dry to the touch. If it has a decorative foil wrap on the pot, make sure
the foil has holes to allow excess water to drain.
"After it has finished flowering, put it in a very bright,
sunny location, water as needed, and fertilize with a half-strength liquid
houseplant fertilizer perhaps once a month," Stack recommended. "After all
danger of frost is past in your area, locate the plant, pot and all, outdoors.
Place plants in a partially shaded location, keep the soil uniformly moist, and
fertilize once a month."
Even though this is a member of the cactus family, it likes
soils that are a bit moister and a little protection from the sun. Repotting
should not be necessary for quite a while as these plants actually flower and
grow best when they are pot bound."
Stack says that there are certain steps that have to be
followed to make them flower again.
"Getting the plant to re-bloom will rely on you manipulating
day's length and temperature," he explained. "Both Thanksgiving and Christmas
cactus depend on cool temperatures and short days to set flower buds. Easter
cactus will bloom with cool temperatures and normal day length exposure."
To get them to bloom around the holiday periods, start short
days around September. Put the plant in a cool area, ideally 50 to 55 degrees.
Give the plant bright light for 10 to 12 hours and total darkness for 12 to 14
hours each day. This means no light, artificial or natural. Put the plant in a
spare room with no light, moving it in and out of a closet each day or covering
the plant at night with several thicknesses of brown paper bag.
Stack said it is also important to reduce water and not to
fertilize. Do this for 6 to 8 weeks while buds form. When tiny pinpoint buds
appear at the ends of the stems, the plant can be moved to a sunny, cool
location. Resume watering to complete the blooming process.
To avoid the short-day treatment, both the Thanksgiving
cactus and Christmas cactus will set flower buds if 50 to 55 degree
temperatures are maintained during the fall. A cool porch kept above freezing
would be ideal.
"Holiday cactus also can become a treasured member of the
family," he said. "These plants can live for many years if given good growing
They are also plants that are passed down from one
generation of gardener to another. "A plant that I received in high school in
the mid-1960s still rewards me with flowers at the holidays, Stack said. "Such
a cactus is truly a gift that has the potential to keep on giving for many
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News source/writer: Greg Stack, 708-720-7520, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Greg Stack, Extension Horticulturist, email@example.com