Some interesting details, facts and tips about the Christmas Cactus, Schlumbergera bridgesii.
Christmas Cactus, True Christmas Cactus
Scientific Binomial Name
Schlumbergera bridgesii; Synonyms: Schlumbergera bridgesii x buckleyi, Zygocactus x buckleyi, Epiphyllum bridgesii , Epiphyllum x buckleyi
Description of Christmas Cactus, Schlumbergera bridgesii
Some people maintain the true ‘Christmas Cactus’ is actually a hybrid (Schlumbergera bridgesii x buckleyi) developed from its parent plant that grows wild as a succulent Brazil.
There is still debate, even among experts, about what should be designated as the true Christmas Cactus. It also gets confusing when sellers mislabel their plants. Many plants being sold as Christmas Cactus are in fact Thanksgiving Cactus.
As you know from our many other articles we do not get too adamant about proving and defending every scientific botanical debate about succulents. We think it is more important to just enjoy the plants without getting too stressed over exact names and such.
For this article we will go with Clemson University and other sources that designate Schlumbergera bridgesii as Christmas Cactus and Schlumbergera truncata as the Thanksgiving Cactus.
The Christmas Cactus grows wild in the rain forests of Brazil. Because it is epiphytic, it is typically found growing on trees. These plants like to grow in tree crevices where branches develop and extend out from the trunk.
The mature Christmas Cactus becomes a shrub-like plant that has a somewhat woody base. The stems are made up of short flattened dark green leaf-like segments that at first grow upright. As they continue to grow they begin to gracefully drape down. The roundish leaves do not have spines but they are scalloped with minor serrations along the margins.
It can be a challenge to distinguish the difference between the so-called ‘Holiday Cactus’ species, the Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, Schlumbergera truncata and Easter Cactus, Hatiora gaertneri. Read our in-depth article for detailed ways to tell the difference between the Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus and Easter Cactus.
Mature Size: Height up to 2 feet (60 cm); Width 9-12 in. (22-30 cm)
Uses: The Christmas Cactus is primarily used as an indoor houseplant. Because of the graceful drooping of the leaves it is often used in hanging pots or baskets.
Growing Conditions for Christmas Cactus, Schlumbergera bridgesii
Light: Do not expose these plants to prolonged direct sunlight. They will do better with indirect partial light which is closer to their natural habitat in Brazil. Provide more full direct sunlight while the plant is flowering in the late fall and winter.
Temperature: They tolerate cooler temperatures more than most succulents but should not be exposed to freezing temperatures. Most growers bring them inside when temperatures start falling below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius).
Humidity: Christmas Cactus do well with higher humidity. It they are in warmer temperatures they will benefit from a light misting every day.
Soil: Use a well-draining humus rich potting soil. The soil for a Christmas Cactus should be slightly on the acidic side.
Growing Season: Spring and summer.
Flowers: Flowers will bud and then start blooming in the late fall and early winter. The flowers form on the ends of the stems and may be red, yellow, purple, pink or white. There are many hybrids but the pure Schlumbergera bridgesii is almost always red.
To produce many more flowers some people move their Christmas Cactus outdoors for 8-10 weeks in the fall. This exposes the plant to cooler days and nights and helps the plant set its buds. Bring the succulent back indoors before it begins falling below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. After it starts to bud avoid extreme temperature swings and do not move the plant around or you may lose many of the buds and flowers.
If it is possible to consistently keep the temperature near 68 degrees Fahrenheit you may see flowering for 1-2 months.
Hardiness Zones: 9-11
Video of a Beautiful Schlumbergera bridgesii – Christmas Cactus
This video has some nice shots of a beautiful Christmas Cactus and yes it is the real Christmas Cactus, Schlumbergera bridgesii or also classified as Schlumbergera x Buckleyi.
Transcription of Video:
[Music] Hi guys, it's Lynne here. It has been an incredible day man. Today I have my Schlumbergera cactus plant commonly known as the Christmas Cactus even though it's nearly summer here haha. And it is in the most beautiful of flowers today guys. Now I have a number of these, a number of Schlumbergeras in my collection, or me and my wonderful fiance Hans collection, I must say.
And these are absolutely amazing. This is the first time this one has actually flowered for me. I have a few of the Rhipsalidopsis as well which is the Easter Cactus, known as Easter Cactus. And these are flowering at normally at Christmas time the Schlumbergera and flowering for me now in May. And this is the lovely pinky colored flowering one which is absolutely beautiful.
And this Schlumbergera x Buckleyi is because it has the rounded edges to the leaves, the scalloped edging rather than the claw, crab-like ones which is on the truncata. And it's absolutely breathtaking! As you say that they normally do flower around the Christmas time in November, October and December, but I've had a few of mine flowering, they're having a bit of a red blooming. And this is the first time to blooming for me. For this I'm very pleased and of course I wanted to share the beauty with you all.
Look at that, isn't that just so beautiful guys? I want to send you loads of love heaps our happiness and tons and tons of cactus power. As always from Avalon and until the next video guys bye bye. [Music]
General Care for Christmas Cactus, Schlumbergera bridgesii
Water: Avoid the extremes of over-watering or under-watering. Keep it somewhat moist by watering the Christmas Cactus before the soil has completely dried. Be sure it is in soil that will allow the water to drain away rapidly. A sign of over-watering is brown spots on the leaves.
Fertilizer: Lightly fertilize once a month during the summer with a diluted to half strength NPK of around 20-10-20.
Care: It is best not to place the Christmas Cactus near a heat source, an exterior door, or a drafty window. It is especially important for a month after flowering not to fertilize or overwater them.
Pests and Diseases: Thankfully it is rare for these to be affected by pests or diseases. It is still important to watch for aphids on new shoots, buds and flowers. The roots can also be attacked under the soil by mealybugs.
Pruning: It is best to prune the Christmas Cactus in the spring. It will not harm the plant to prune the leaves between the segments. Pruning is not always necessary but it will sometimes produce a fuller plant if that is what you want.
Propagation: The Christmas Cactus can be propagated from stem cuttings. Do not cut but twist off a short piece that is 1-3 segments long. Allow it to dry for 2-7 days until a callus has formed at the broken end and then plant it.
Repotting: The Christmas Cactus plant actually prefers to be a little root-bound so you may only need to repot it every 2-3 years.
Signs of Stress and Poor Health
If the plant’s stems start to shrivel you should provide more water. Overwatering, however, along with poor drainage are the main causes of root rot.
Medicinal and Other Uses
Mildly toxic if ingested.
The Christmas Cactus will attract hummingbirds.
Over the years there have been hundreds of hybrids developed. In addition to showy flowers, breeders were primarily striving for hardy plants that would stay upright for a little longer before they started drooping. This made them easier to show and eventually sell. There are too many to list but a few of the most popular hybrids are:
‘Lavendar Beauty’ – purple and white flowers
‘Christmas Flame’ – golden yellow flowers
‘Gold Charm’ – a true yellow flower
‘White Christmas’ – snowy white flowers
To encourage more flowers the Chicago Botanic Garden suggests:
“Temperature and day length provide crucial bloom triggers for the Christmas cactus. The term for this response is “thermo-photoperiodic.” Flower buds will form if one of the following conditions is met:
- A cool night temperature between 50 to 55 degrees
- 13 hours of darkness (if the temperature is above 70 degrees)
- 15 hours of darkness (if the temperature is above 70 degrees)
Uninterrupted darkness means NO light during the dark period, including lamp light within the home. Cover the cactus with a black cloth or plastic bag, or place it in a closet. Pay attention to the light schedule, and do not fertilize or overwater.”
Unrelated Species – To Clear Up Any Confusion
There is a plant called the Desert Christmas Cactus that looks completely different and is not closely related to the Christmas Cactus discussed in this article. The Desert Christmas Cactus, Cylindropuntia leptocaulis is also sometimes called Desert Christmas Cholla and Tasajillo. The Desert Christmas Cactus commonly grows wild in northern Mexico and the desert of the southwestern United States.