Easter Cactus, Hatiora gaertneri – Details, Growing Tips

The Hatiora gaertneri Easter Cactus formerly Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerii is a beautiful succulent that flowers in the spring.

A flowering Easter Cactus, Hatiora gaertneri or formerly Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri.

Some general facts, details and tips concerning the Easter Cactus, Hatiora gaertneri.

Common Names

Easter Cactus, Spring Cactus, Whitsun Cactus

Scientific Binomial Name

Hatiora gaertneriSynonyms (Regel) Barthlott; Formerly called Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri, Epiphyllum gaertneri, Schlumbergera gaertneri, Epiphyllum russellianum var. gaertneri, Epiphyllopsis gaertneri

Description of Easter Cactus, Hatiora gaertneri

The spine free Easter Cactus is native to the rain forests of Brazil.  It sometimes grows on rocks but more often they are epiphytes, growing on trees.  It clings to the trees with thick, strong, aerial roots.  These plants take advantage of the moisture and organic matter that accumulates in the crevices and forks of tree branches.

It matures into a shrub-like plant with a woody base.  Each stem is made up of narrow flattened segments that are connected by the midrib.  These stems are first a dull green but get darker and brighter color with age.  On the edges of each segment there are small notches where areoles grow.  Not always, but occasionally there are tiny golden bristles present in the notches.  As the plant gets larger the leaves will droop or arc down in an attractive way.  This is not a sign of poor health but actually means the plant is healthy and continuing to grow.

The official binomial name of this plant has changed many times because it was not easy to classify.  Also it was often confused with the smaller Christmas Cactus which blooms in the winter instead of the spring.

Depending on the growing environment these plants may surprise you and produce oblong red ornamental fruit.

These succulents are very easy to care for and since they will grow for many years they are sometimes passed down through generations.

Mature Size:  Height 12-18 in. (30-45 cm); Width 9-12 in. (22-30 cm)

Uses:  The Easter Cactus is a great indoor houseplant.  Because of their attractive drooping habit they are often used in hanging baskets or pots.  They also do well hanging in well sheltered patios in areas without extreme heat or freezing temperatures.

Growing Conditions for Easter Cactus, Hatiora gaertneri

Light:  It should not be in prolonged direct sunlight and will do fine in partial light.  In their natural habitat growing in trees they thrive with partial indirect light.  They do best with an east, west or northern exposure.

Temperature:  They tolerate cooler temperatures more than most succulents but should not be exposed to freezing temperatures.

Humidity:  Unlike some succulents these will do well in high humidity.  They actually thrive if you lightly mist them every day.

Soil:  Use a well-draining potting soil that is half pumice or perlite.  The Easter Cactus soil should be slightly on the acidic side.

Growing Season:  Spring and summer.

Flowers:  Flowers will start blooming in the spring.  The large 3 inch blooms are a striking starburst shape with a delicate yellow stamen in the center.  The flowers may be orange, scarlet, rose or pink.  The flowers will bloom from areoles that are on the ends of mature segments.  In a good year you may have double or triple blooms on the end of each leaf.

To produce more flowers in the spring there are a few steps you can take during the winter season.  First, make sure that your plant has absolutely no light for 12-14 hours during the night.  To accomplish this some people put a box or paper over the plant to block the light.  Maintain this routine and be patient.  It may take as much as 8-12 weeks of shorter days before your succulent starts to bloom.  Avoid moving the plant around until after the buds set.  Finally, more flowers form with cooler temperatures but be careful that your plant is not exposed to sudden temperature changes.

Hardiness Zones:  10, 11

General Care for Easter Cactus, Hatiora gaertneri

Water:  Water after the soil has completely dried.  These plants are not as sensitive to overwatering as most other succulents but the still needs to drain away rapidly.

Fertilizer:  Lightly fertilize once a month in the summer with an NPK ratio of around 10-10-5.

Care:  It is best not to place the Easter Cactus near an exterior door, a heat source or a drafty window.  It is particularly important to be careful for about a month after they flower.  During that time do not fertilize them and only water them sparingly.

Pests and Diseases:  Watch for spider mites, mealybugs and fungus.

Pruning:  Wait to prune the Easter Cactus until after it has flowered.  It will not harm the plant to prune the leaves at the segments.

Propagation:  It is possible to grow the Easter Cactus from seeds.  After the fruit ripens, clean the seeds and then dry them before planting.  It can also be propagated from stem cuttings.  In the late spring cut off a full segment of a stem.  Allow the cut surface of the stem to callous over and then plant.

Repotting:   Generally you need to repot the Easter Cactus every other year in the mid-summer after it has bloomed.

Signs of Stress and Poor Health

If the succulent pads start to shrivel it is a sign that the plant needs more moisture.  Overwatering or poor drainage will cause root rot.

Medicinal and Other Uses

None

Cautions

Not toxic to humans or pets.

Native Distribution

Brazil

Other Tips

There are three cacti that are sometimes called ‘Holiday Cactus’.  It is not easy to tell the difference between the Christmas Cactus, Schlumbergera bridgesiiThanksgiving Cactus, Schlumbergera truncata and Easter Cactus.  Read more about the distinguishing features is our article about how to identify the Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus and Easter Cactus.

The Easter Cactus will attract hummingbirds.  The Easter Cactus is more challenging to grow than the Thanksgiving Cactus or the Christmas Cactus.  The most important thing is not to over or under-water these plants.

Patent

Not patented

Hybrids

‘Colomba’ – This hybrid produces a bright orange flower.  Also known as Easter Cactus ‘Colomba’, Hatiora gaertneri ‘Colomba’, Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri ‘Colomba’, Colomba Orange Easter Cactus.    Caring for a ‘Colomba’ is similar to the Easter Cactus.

‘Crimson Giant’ – Produces red or crimson flowers that are larger than other hybrids.  An important book on flower breeding states, “‘Crimson Giant’ was superior to the other clones in its ability to flower at 18 degrees Celsius minimum.  All of the ‘Crimson Giants’ plants flowered but 75% of the plants of the other 22 clones flowered.  Also, ‘Crimson Giant’ yielded the highest percentage of apical phylloclades flowering and the most flower buds among the 23 clones. (Boyle, 1995)

‘Rainbow’ – Produces red flowers.

‘Scorpius’ – These are similar to a true Easter Cactus but have darker red flowers.  Also known as Easter Cactus ‘Scorpius’, c ‘Scorpius’, Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri ‘Scorpius’, Scorpius Easter Cactus.  Caring for a ‘Scorpius’ is similar to the Easter Cactus.

‘Sirius’ – This is the only Easter Cactus hybrid with white flowers.  Also known as ‘Easter Cactus Sirius’, ‘White Sirius’ and ‘White Easter Cactus’.  Caring for a ‘Sirius’ is similar to the Easter Cactus.

Closely Related

The Hatiora rosea, also called Dwarf Easter Cactus, is closely related to Hatiora gaertneri.  It is smaller than the Easter Cactus and has pink flowers.

Video

This video gives some good Easter Cactus growing tips!

Hi, my name is Byron Martin, here at Logee's. And today, we're going to be talking about Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri or the Easter Cactus. [Now correctly classified as Hatiora gaertneri ] These are house plants that have been grown for many, many years. They're notorious for their ability to survive under very harsh conditions, particularly in the way of dryness. And, they're also known as the Spring Cactus, because, like Epiphyllums, which are closely related, they flower during the spring time-- that being Easter, or around that time. In terms of their culture, they are cactus; but, they're epiphytic cactus. Meaning that they grow up in the trees, in the tropical jungles, and therefore, they like an open, drained mix, and a period of dryness between waterings. Now, that dryness needs to be more accentuated during the winter time, which would be the dry season in tropical forests.

And that actually, is part of the mechanism that helps them initiate flowers. So, the reason why we see blooming in the springtime is because the plants have gone through this chill period. We grow them below 60 and above freezing-- any of those temperatures will work consistently at night and, the fact that we grow them a little drier. And, there's also a decrease in day length that helps stimulate blooms, as well. So, they recognize the time of year, as long as they've gone through that dry period-- and cool-- the flowers will initiate on the tips of these, what we would call "pads" on their growth.

Now, the older varieties were usually a red to fuchsia color, and there has been hybridizing done on these, where we now have many, many colors. We have right here whites and oranges.

And there's some light pinks; there's some fuchsia colors, and these very dark reds, which are somewhat unusual, from the original, older varieties. In terms of light levels, they are somewhat understory plants, so they do very well in a sunlit window, but not direct, hot sun; although they will grow under those conditions. It's better to give them some shade, and if you move them out in the summertime, it's better to put them in a place where they get partial sun-- maybe morning or afternoon sun, and protect them from the harsh noonday sun.

As far as pruning goes, when the plants get very large, and they get too big for the space... once they're finished with their flowering cycle, you can trim them back. And simply come in just cut these pads off, to head them back and reduce the size. That's going to allow the growth of spring, coming into summer, to fill out. And that pad, that is the last one to form in the summertime, will be the one that will initiate the flowers off of it.

So, in terms of potting them, here's a root system. You can see how very fibrous it is. It's typical of epiphytic cactus, where the roots have a lot of little fine roots that come off of the main roots. And that actually helps to attach themselves to trees, but also it's very good at scavenging water during periods when there is moisture. As you can see, they're growing right now, and they will grow year-round, even in the winter time, as long as they're getting moisture.

If you ever see them shrivel badly-- the pads all shrivel up—its either you haven't given them enough moisture, or they've lost their root system; and that's the typical symptom of that. Good time to feed them is in the summertime, during active growth. You can sprinkle a little granular organic on the top. That will give you kind of a slow release fertilizer, or you can add some, maybe monthly, to your water, in terms of a soluble fertilizer. But, they do appreciate that, and will perform much better if you do give them some fertilizer.

The greatest problem with them, in terms of their culture-- other than the fact that if there are scale infected plants nearby, because there is a cactus scale that can get on them-- it's really about root rot. And that is a matter of too much water, or poor drainage in the container. We grow them here in plastic pots for production. But, if you have clay pots, it's a good idea to put them in it. They can handle more water that way, and then, being epiphytes, they really do appreciate that much air around their root systems.

Thank you for watching today. There's a little bit of information on how to grow Rhipsalidopsis, or Easter Cactus.

Other References

Genetic Testing – A study posted in Science Direct used genetic testing to establish the the distinctions between Schlumbergera, Hatiora, Rhipsalidopsis. It stated that “The molecular phylogeny obtained comprises four main clades supporting the recognition of genera Lepismium, Rhipsalis, Hatiora and Schlumbergera. The evidence gathered indicate that a broader genus Schlumbergera, including Hatiora subg. Rhipsalidopsis, should be recognized.”
Vulnerable – Unfortunately Hatiora gaertneri is listed by The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as “Vulnerable” in the wild.  Their report states that, “This species is listed as Vulnerable because its Extent of Occurrence is between 10,000 and 15,000 km, it is known from five locations, and there is a continuing decline in the habitat due to various threats and also a decline in mature individuals due to collection… There is loss of habitat due to afforestation with eucalyptus and clearance for small-scale crop planting. Plants are probably removed from the wild, especially when in flower.”  Please only buy Easter Cactus from human cultivated plants and never from a wild collected source.

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