Popularly known as Holiday cactus, Christmas cactus, Easter cactus, Thanksgiving cactus or Crab cactus, Schlumbergera is an epiphyte, growing mostly on shrubs, trees and between rocks.
They are native to the rainforests of Brazil and flourish in tropical and subtropical climates. In Brazil, these succulents are called Flor de Maio or the May Flower because of the time they flower.
The types of Schlumbergera are typically differentiated by their leaf shapes and traditionally, the flowers of the plant were scarlet, pink and magenta; however, nowadays, you can find the plant with orange, salmon, purple, yellow, white and apricot-colored blooms.
1,000 Types of Cactuses with Pictures
13 Schlumbergera Varieties and Hybrids
The cultivars of the Schlumbergera are classified into 2 main groups i.e., the Truncata group and the Buckleyi group.
- Truncata Group: This group comprises all the cultivars that are derived from the Schlumbergera truncata. Usually known by the names Thanksgiving cactus, claw cactus or crab cactus, the plants in the group are characterized by stem segments having pointed teeth, horizontally held, asymmetrical flowers with yellow pollen. These plants usually flower much earlier than the Buckleyi group.
- Buckleyi Group: This group comprises the cultivars that inherit some of their features and characteristics from the Schlumbergera Russelliana, having rounded and symmetrical teeth on the stem segments, symmetrical flowers that hang downwards with pink pollen. They are popularly known as Christmas cacti because they flower much later than the Truncata group plants.
Learn how to differentiate between the holiday cacti in this post “What does a Christmas cactus look like?“
There are different species and hybrids of the Schlumbergera including:
Belonging to the plant species of the Cactaceae family, the following species are common to the rocky areas of the coastal mountain areas of the south-eastern parts of the humid Brazilian forests, belonging to the same genus as the Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus.
Known as the false Christmas cactus, the Schlumbergera truncata species is found mainly in the tropical and subtropical humid Brazilian forests and is the parent of the Christmas cactus.
The following 3 species originally belonged to Hatiora and were later moved to Schlumbergera:
- Schlumbergera gaertneri: Originally, Hatiora gaertneri, this is the species belonging to the subfamily Cactoideaeof the family, Cactaceae. Schlumbergera gaertneri along with Schlumbergera rosea is called Whitsun cactus or Easter cactus and is popular as an ornamental plant.
- Schlumbergera rosea: Originally known as the Hatiora rosea, this species belongs to the Cactaceae family and is one of the parents of the Whitsun cactus or Easter cactus.
- Schlumbergera lutea: Originally known as Hatiora epiphylloides, the species is a shrubby epiphyte that belongs to the subfamily Cactoideae and family Cactaceae. It is characterized by flat stems and yellow-colored flowers.
The following are the hybrids of Schlumbergera:
- Schlumbergera x buckleyi (true Christmas cactus)
- Schlumbergera x eprica
- Schlumbergera x exotica
- Schlumbergera x reginae
How to Care for Schlumbergera
As we have already discussed, Schlumbergera is originally from the tropical and semi-tropical rainforests of Brazil. In nature, these epiphytic succulents grow on trees and rocks and they prefer the semi-shade as opposed to direct sunlight preferred by the cacti growing in the arid desert region. The ideal conditions for the growth of the Schlumbergera are a well-lit, humid area away from direct sunlight.
Since the Schlumbergera are more prevalent in tropical and semi-tropical forests, they require regular watering. It does best when the soil is moist and the air is humid and does not do well in completely dry soil. In fact, watering the Schlumbergera is quite tricky and it does not tolerate both overwatering as well as underwatering.
When watering the Schlumbergera, you must consider the climate, environment and time of the year. If the plant is kept outdoors and the climate is hot and dry, then you should water the Schlumbergera once in 2-3 days and place it in the shade. If grown indoors, and the environment is humid and cool, then watering your Schlumbergera once a week is sufficient. During the fall and winter months, it is recommended to reduce the watering to stimulate blooming.
Overwatering the plant can cause fungal rot and the leaves will start falling off. To prevent this, yet ensure that the Schlumbergera plant gets sufficient moisture, mist the plant regularly using a spray bottle or place a tray close to the plant.
Typically, in nature, the Schlumbergera plant grows on tree trunks and its soil mainly comprises plant debris and fallen leaves. However, when you grow the Schlumbergera in a pot, it requires soil that drains well and well-aerated soil that lets the root breathe.
Heavy soil that retains plenty of water can cause the roots of the Schlumbergera to suffocate and prevent it from growing and flowering. It can also cause root rot and eventually cause the plant to die.
The best fertilizer for Schlumbergera is a blend of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in equal quantities. A good water-soluble fertilizer with a 20-20-20 mix is the best choice and helps to make the roots and leaves strong.
Fertilize the Schlumbergera once every 2 to 4 weeks from April to October when the new leaves begin to appear. You can also use coffee grounds or compost to fertilize your Schlumbergera. But you must add only 1-2 tablespoons and spread it in a very thin layer and then add water to the pot.
When you’re not fertilizing the plant, then mix 1 tsp of Epsom salt with 1 gallon of water and use it to water the plant. This helps the plant to get the magnesium it requires and grow and flower properly. You can stop fertilizing, as well as watering the Schlumbergera after October when the plant goes into hibernation and this also encourages it to bloom.
Seed cultivation of the Schlumbergera is quite difficult and needs a lot of patience and effort. The seeds need to be extracted and since the plants cannot fertilize themselves, you will require more than a single plant to extract seeds that will germinate. Also, pollination will require animal help and if this is not available, you will need to do it.
Cultivation of the Schlumbergera using cuttings is much easier.
Propagating the Schlumbergera using cuttings is extremely simple. Firstly, from the tip of the stem of the Schlumbergera plant, take a Y-shaped cutting. To ensure that the cutting is healthy, take one of 2 or 3 joint segments. Allow the cuttings to rest and dry for a few hours. This will prevent root rot due to excess moisture.
Place the cuttings in a pot when they’re dry that has soil that drains well i.e., a mix of cacti and succulent soil. Push the cutting into the soil so that it is around ½-inch deep or just upright. Avoid pushing the cutting too much into the soil as they will rot.
Place the potted cuttings in an area that is well lit but away from direct sunlight. Water the cuttings very sparingly or mist them until they have adjusted to the new environment, which you can see when there is fresh leaf growth at the tips. Typically, the cuttings can take around 3-12 weeks to develop roots.
The Schlumbergera is very easy to care for and does quite well in average home conditions. While the plant does quite well in low-light conditions, it flowers only in bright, but indirect light. The perfect temperature for the Schlumbergera plant is between 60°F and 70°F. Plant the Schlumbergera in soil that is well draining and make sure to apply fertilizer to it especially in the summer and spring seasons.
Reduce the amount of fertilizer and water during the period when the plant is dormant i.e., during later fall and early winter for around 6 weeks to encourage flowering. The plant needs a lot of humidity and to start flowering, it needs long periods of darkness. The flowers of the Schlumbergera are usually red, pink, yellow, purple, etc. and the flowers last for a few days, while the flowering period lasts for many weeks.
The Schlumbergera goes into hibernation usually at the end of the flowering season i.e., in fall or 6-8 weeks before the start of the next flowering season. During this time, the plant requires a cooler environment or around 50°F to 55°F, less light i.e., around 12 to 14 hours of darkness and less humidity.
The most common pest problems for the Schlumbergera are infestations caused by mealy bugs, aphids, spider mites, brown scale insects and fungus gnats.
- Mealybug: Mealybugs are around 1/8th to 1/4th of an inch and look like small white dots. As the mealybugs grow bigger, the cottony, white area spreads on the plant. Mealybug infestation causes distorted or stunted growth of the Schlumbergera plant.
- Aphids and Soft Brown Scale Insects: Commonly light green, aphids are 1/16th to 1/8th inch long, pear-shaped insects that can also be brown, pink, yellow or black. Aphids remove the sap from the plant, causing the leaves to turn yellow or distorted growth. Soft brown scale insects cause the leaves to wilt and prevent the plants from growing properly because they absorb the sap from the leaves. Aphids and soft brown scale insects can be scraped off or removed by hand from the Schlumbergera plant at the start of the infestation.
- Fungus Gnats and Spider Mites: Typically invisible to the eye, spider mites usually cause infestations in indoor Schlumbergera plants rather than when they are grown outdoors. The symptom of spider mites is a pale-colored, silken web on the leaves. Fungus gnats consume the fungi that are present in the potting soil. A spider mite or fungus gnat infestation causes the leaves of the plant to look unhealthy and also loss of leaves.
Using insecticidal soap can help to control aphid, mealybug and spider mite infestation. You can also remove the pests by using a cotton ball soaked in alcohol. You can dislodge spider mites, aphids and soft brown scale insects with a spray of water. If the potting soil is infested with fungus gnats, then you must change the soil.
You can use chemical methods such as insecticides containing permethrin, acetamiprid, pyrethrins, cyfluthrin or imidacloprid to control the pests and if the infestation is too heavy, then you may have to discard your Schlumbergera plant.
Is Schlumbergera an Indoor Plant?
The Schlumbergera with its gorgeous bell-shaped colorful blooms can be grown as an indoor ornamental plant. Typically, the holiday cactus is grown indoors; however, in the 9 to 11 USDA hardiness zones, it can be grown outdoors.
In conclusion, the Schlumbergera, also known as the holiday cactus, is a lovely ornamental plant with vividly hued blooms. When planted in a beautiful container, they make wonderful Christmas or Thanksgiving gifts. Overall, the Schlumbergera is a gorgeous houseplant that makes a fantastic addition to any indoor setting.