Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Christmas Cacti ‘are very low maintenance’

While the colder winter months may be setting in, there are still plenty of activities for green-fingered enthusiasts to be getting on with.

Indeed, some plants grow very well at this time of year and require more attention than might be the case in the summer months.

For instance, Christmas Cactus is a very popular plant – and they are often considered to be household staples.

Originating from the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil, they are known for growing on trees and other humid and well-shaded habitats. While they share a name with the famous desert-dwelling cousins, their appearance is very different.

Christmas Cactus a part of a small genus of cacti known as schlumbergera – and most of the species in this group have stems that resemble leaf-like pads connecting to flowers from areoles located at the joints and tips of the stems.

Flowering in white, pink, yellow, orange, red or purple, the Christmas Cactus is technically a cultivar of this genus – and this festive moniker is its earliest known English common name. This is because after its discovery and cultivation across Europe in the early part of the 19th century, it largely started to be produced for market sale in the period leading up to Christmas.

This name is also in common use in Canada, but a more popular referent in the US is Thanksgiving Cactus, as the plant is a popular seller in the slightly earlier period of November in time for that holiday.

Author of The Plant Hunters and The Herb Garden Charles Lyte praised the plant as being one of the most striking and surreal-looking species in existence, going on to suggest that it would make an ideal Christmas present. In an article for the UK national newspaper the Daily Telegraph, he added that the flowers look like they have been invisibly stitched, which gives them an appearance akin to that of leaping shrimps.

"Most people imagine that cactus in the wild eke out a precarious existence among the burning sands and rocks of deserts," the expert commented, going on to clarify that: "The Christmas cactus lives epiphytically, high up in the trees of rain forests and jungles. Here it thrives on the rotting vegetable waste that gathers in the clefts and crevices of branches, enjoying comfortable dappled shade and plenty of warmth and moisture – facts that should be remembered when growing it in the conservatory or on a windowsill."

Mr Lyte noted that the plants can live to a very great age – and as such are often passed between generations of families. While the expert acknowledged that they can be fickle – often disobediently and unconventionally flowering as late as mid summer – they are very satisfying plants to maintain.

"In hot, dry conditions, such as those created by double glazing, stand pots on a bed of wet gravel to create humidity," Mr Lyte advised, suggesting that the body of the plant is occasionally sprayed with fresh water and kept in shade.