ORRIN MORRIS: Christmas cactus prefer a tropical climate, but can bloom indoors during winter

Christmas Cactus zygocactus truncatus

Christmas Cactus zygocactus truncatus

The Christmas Season deserves a focus on some plants that actually bloom during this time of year. Thus, we are going to depart from the straight and narrow to examine the Christmas cactus. My mother had one for at least 30 years. As a child, I saw them in neighbors' homes during Christmas in Nebraska. As a teenager dating, I saw them in my girlfriends' homes around Christmas. As a pastor, I saw them in parishioners' homes.

My straying has two purposes: 1) to learn about this plant that is currently in bloom in many houses; and 2) to remind you that practically all the flowers commercially sold today were domesticated from wildflowers.

CHRISTMAS CACTUS (Zygocactus truncatus)

This variety of cactus originated in the tropical jungles of Brazil. Because of its tropical origin, it cannot survive without special care during the winter. The only exception is in Hawaii where it survives in the wild. Its tropical origin also requires the soil to be richer than our Georgia red clay.

The natural blooming season for an unattended plant may be anytime during the year. Some zygocactus plants bloom in late March or early April. Such a one is often called an Easter cactus. I have seen a very light pink variety that gets in a hurry and blooms in late October or Mid-November. Perhaps it could be called a "Thanksgiving Cactus."

Nevertheless, they are all the same species and each plant has adapted seasonally. There is some lore that my mother perpetuated regarding the care and nurturing of the Christmas cactus. In late September, the plant was to be brought inside. It was to be stored in a totally dark dry niche of the basement.

About the second week of December it was brought upstairs and put on a table where the winter sunlight could warm it and inspire it to bud and bloom. Each year this ritual worked. Even though Margaret and I don't follow that regimen, ours always puts on a colorful display each December.

When the zygocactus was introduced in the U.S., over 150 years ago, it was called the crab cactus, or by a few, lobster cactus. The uniquely shaped and drooping leaves seem to have inspired those names.

Generally, this cactus is kept in a pot or hanging basket. According to my mother's favorite source, "The New Garden Encyclopedia," it can be manipulated by attaching clippings a few inches apart along the heavier stems. Thus plants can be created with an abundance of graceful branches.

May you have many delightful and melodious experiences this Christmas Season as expressed in Psalm 105:2, "Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; speak of all His wonders."

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. Notecards are available of the wildflowers published in the Citizen. His email is odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com or call him at 770-929-3697.