Remember fake news? Or maybe you want to forget it! Well here's one of my favorite fake news stories. It's the story of Christmas cactus...
William Buckley was a horticulturist who performed an experiment of a cross between two species of Schlumbergera. He crossed S. truncata with S. russelliana and created the hybrid S. x buckleyi that was christened the "true" Christmas cactus. Some old literature references this cross erroneously as S. bridgesii, which is one more layer of deceit. You will, no doubt, find some older literature that uses Zygocactus as the genus. It is hard to weed out the imposters, and you need to know a little bit of botany to do so.
The "leaves" of the Schlumbergera are actually flattened stems called cladophyll (phylloclades by some botanists). The "false" Christmas cactus will have stems that have an open branch habit and the margins will have soft points or teeth. The "true" Christmas cactus will have stems that dramatically arch downwards with a closed habit. The margins of the stems will be rounded with small visible points or nubs. True Christmas cactus flowers will be more rounded than the imposter and will follow the direction of the stem and point down.
Here's the fake news. If you have a Christmas cactus that always blooms around Thanksgiving, it is probably because it is actually a Thanksgiving cactus (or it blooms early due to growing conditions). Thanksgiving cacti are often sold as "Christmas cacti" and these two holiday plants look very similar. Both fall under the genus Schlumbergera, have the same color scheme and require the same care. There are two main differences, though: the flowering season, which we have already discussed, and the segments of the leaves. To help determine whether your cactus is a Christmas or Thanksgiving variety will depend on the edges of the leaf segments. Christmas cacti have smooth, round edges while Thanksgiving cacti have pointy, jagged ones.
So, with the exposure of this fake Christmas cactus news, you have to ask yourself this question, 'What does it matter at the end of the day?' In regards to Christmas/Thanksgiving/Schlumbergera cactus or whatever you have, it really doesn't matter as long as you enjoy this late season blooming plant. It's quite beautiful. In fact, what's really interesting is how these plants can be passed down from generation to generation. Many times, I hear of plants that are decades old!
If you are picking up a 'Christmas' cactus (blooming now!), poinsettia, cyclamen, amaryllis, Norfolk pine or any other plant this season at the garden center, here are a couple of tips for keeping it healthy for the winter, or even for the next generation to enjoy.
1. Keep the plant out of cold or hot drafts.
2. Give the plant good indirect lighting.
3. Fertilize it every 2-3 weeks; at half strength with your favorite indoor plant food. I like ferti-lome All Purpose Water Soluble Plant Food or ferti-lome Houseplant Hero All Purpose Houseplant Food.
Thanks to GroBigRed.com for the information on William Buckley and his experiments.
Your friend in the garden,
Owner - Johnson's Garden Center