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Cactus -- House Plant 

  Welcome to the confusing world of cactii.  One blooms in a tropical paradise, the other, in a desert.  We know have a Night-blooming Cereus, but still not sure about our "holiday" cactus (below).  It blooms heavily around Thanksgiving and Christmas has a second bloom in spring (February to April).  Whatever they are, it is worth the little effort it takes to keep them happy.

1.  Epiphyllum (Orchid Cactus, Night-blooming Cereus,Queen-of-the-Night) 

Our Cereus, given to us by a friend three decades ago, finally blooms in late August, 2003 -- and prolifically!  We believe it is due to an extraordinarily wet summer in New Hampshire.  Mike compares the weather to Borneo, which is ideal for such an exotic plant.  Maybe now that he has seen the bloom, he will complain less about the growing space (about 3 square feet) it takes!

Photos are forthcoming.


It can flower in the daytime or nighttime only.  It is not from the same genus as the Christmas (S. bridgesii)  or Thanksgiving (S. truncata)  below, or Easter (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) cactus.  The flowers of of Orchid Cactus are all very fragrant.   The   Night-Blooming Cereus, Epiphyllum oxypetalum, produces blossoms that open at night and last only 24 hours.  This grower has one for about 3 decades, and has seen blooms only once (in Virginia, outside in late sumer).

Washington Post columnist, Jack Eden, in an old undated article, correlates the flowers' bloom period with the cycles of the moon:  within 48 hours of a new moon; or,  on May 21, June 19, July 19, August 17 and September 15.  Flowering then stops and the plant goes dormant till March.   Hmmmm....   According to him, the plant only flowers on new stems grown in the current year.   


INTRODUCTION: The cactus family is one of the most common in house plant collections.
There are many members of the family and they are well adapted to indoor culture. the plural for
cactus is cacti. Cacti are dicots that have a fleshy, green, photosynthetic stem, the cladophyll,
and leaves modified as spines. One group of cacti, Pereskia, has true leaves that are shed during
long droughts. Some cacti are spineless and others have their spines modified as coarse hair.
Most cacti produce perfect flowers. The flowers vary in size but are showy, usually delicate, and very attractive. Most cacti are terrestrial but some are epiphytes. Many cacti can be grafted and the grafts can be made across genera.

Cephalocereus senilis is the old man cactus because it is covered in white, hair-like spines.
Chamaecereus silvestri is the peanut cactus because of its clusters of short, spiny cylindrical

The genera Echinocactus, Notocactus, Rebutia and Lobivia are all called barrel cacti for their
barrel-like shapes.

Echinopsis multiplex is the Easter-lily cactus. It has the shape of a barrel cactus and produces
long, upright, pink or white, fragrant, trumpet-like flowers. It flowers freely.

Epiphyllum oxypetalum is one of the large, trailing or cascading cacti called night blooming
cereus. ( Hylocereus and Selenicereus are also known as night blooming cereus.)  Day blooming  cultivars of Epiphyllum are known as the orchid cacti which produce attractive flowers in many interesting sizes, shapes and colors.

The genus Mammalaria is very large, containing hundreds of species, many of which are
cultivated as ornamentals. The genus gets its name from the numerous mammary-like or
breast-like protuberances occuring in lines along the stem. Some common mammalarias are the
old lady cactus, golden stars cactus, feather cactus, powder puff cactus, lady finger cactus,
thimble cactus and rose pincushion cactus. Mammalarias often cluster in masses.

Opuntia is a large genus that contains the pad cacti or prickly pear cacti since the cladophylls are pad-shaped and the fruit are the edible prickly pears. The cholla is a form of Opuntia that has cylindrical stems and vicious spines. Bunny-ears is a pad cactus with spineless pads covered with bright golden tufts. Pereskia is a genus of cacti that produce large spines as well as normal leaves.

The genus Schlumbergera contains the Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus and Easter cactus,
each named for the season during which it blooms.

Thanksgiving cactus had been classified as Zygocactus, but is not put together with the
Christmas cactus in Schlumbergera. These cacti have soft, wide green cladophylls that appear as joints of the stem.

General Care of Cacti:

temperature: Most cacti are tolerant of very hot temperatures but grow well at room temperature.
Some, such as Christmas cactus and orchid cacti, flower better when exposed to cool or cold
temperatures, but they can not take freezing temperatures. Many of the opuntias are very cold
tolerant and found growing wild in some of the northern states.

medium: Well drained medium is essential. The media recommended for succulents work well
for the cacti. A few types, such as the orchid cacti and Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti, grow
better with more organic matter in their medium.

water: Cacti should be watered thoroughly and then allowed to dry down between waterings. A
few, such as the orchid cacti, grow best in high humidity and benefit from misting or wetting the cladophylls.

light: Most cacti grow best in bright light. They reach maturity more rapidly and flower more
freely in bright light. They will tolerate moderate light but do poorly in low light. A few, such as Christmas cactus and the orchid cacti will burn in hot, bright light typical of summers in the
southwest. the Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus and orchid cactus all flower best when exposed to short days, long nights. The Christmas cactus often fails to flower if it does not get a short day, long night treatment coupled with cool temperatures in early fall.

fertilization: Cacti seem to grow slowly and attempts to promote faster growth with fertilizer
tend to fail as overfertilization makes the plants weak and susceptible to disease. Cacti chould be fertilized lightly in spring and summer and little or no fertilizer applied in fall and winter.
Nitrogen is especially problematic when given in excess.

pests and problems: Cacti have insect pests as do other plants. Meally bugs seem especially fond of cacti and can destroy the plants. Overwatering or poorly drained containers can lead to rot of the roots. Stems may be attacked by organisms that cause areas to decay. grooming: Cacti need very little grooming. propagation: Cacti are propagated by seeds, separation of pups or offsets and stem cuttings. Allowing stem cuttings to cure a few days in air before sticking in the
propagation bed will reduce rot. Cacti may be grafted. They have wide graft compatibility and it is not unusual for a cactus such as the Christmas cactus to be grafted to Pereskia, Opuntia or

2.  Christmas Cactus (Thanksgiving or Holiday) Schlumbergera truncata

I. Introduction

A. The holiday cactus is now placed in the genus Schlumbergera, which was formerly called
Zygocactus, Epiphyllum, Cereus, and Cactus. The family name is Cactaceae.

B. Plants normally flower from late November to early December and derive their names from the two closest holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas.

C. There is confusion in the plant description because two species exist: S. truncata and S.

D. The plants are epiphytic cacti and are native to a small region in the Organ Mountains north of Rio de Janeiro in South America.

E. S. truncata grows in the jungle between 3,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level. It roots in
plant debris trapped among branches or on decaying humus in stony, shady places.
F. Rainfall varies from 430 mm (17 inches) per month from December to March to 80 mm (3 inches) per month in the dry season.

G. Temperatures are fairly constant at 16 to 21oC  (60 to 70oF).

H. The Organ Mountains are located at 22o S latitude. The photoperiod ranges from about 11
to 13.5 hours.

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