Cactus with a flower

The cactus flower, it can be difficult to get spiky desert cactus to bloom when you keep them as houseplants.

The reason is that cactus plants need desert-like conditions to stimulate good blooming.

In this article, we share tips to help you create the right environment to stimulate both desert and holiday cacti to bloom.

Soon you’ll be enjoying beautiful, interesting cactus blossoms all year round. Read on to learn more.

How Do You Know Your Flowering Cactus Plant Will Bloom?

As an all year round cactus, they need bright, hot desert sunlight in order to bloom properly.

They also need maturity and a regular period of dormancy in order to bloom.

One of the best ways to know your cactus with flowers will bloom is to buy one that is already in bloom.

This way you will know your cactus is mature enough to be flowering cacti. This also helps ensure that it is a variety that blooms fairly easily.

When shopping for easy blooming cactus look for some of these varieties:

  • Garnet or Dwarf Cacti from the Rebutia cactus genus
  • Pincushion cactus from the Mammillaria family
  • Spiny cacti from the Echinocactus plant family
  • Christmas cactus or Zygocactus
  • Easter cactus or Rhipsalidopsis
  • Prickly pear Opuntia cactus
  • Bolivian or Lobivia cacti
  • Hedgehog cactus varieties – Golden Barrel (Echinocereus)
  • Notocactus aka ball cactus

Once home with your cactus plant, you need to provide the plant with the right environment to ensure annual blooming.

Remember desert cactus needs bright, hot sunlight during the growing season and several months in a cooler, less bright spot during the winter.

From around September to April, keep desert cactus in bright, indirect sunlight at about 50° degrees Fahrenheit and water sparingly or not at all.

How Can You Simulate A Desert Environment For Cactus?

All through the growing season, follow these handy tips for good cactus care:

What Temperature Does Blooming Cactus Plants Need?

If you want your flower cactus to bloom, you must keep it at the right temperature.

Cacti grow actively and bloom during the hot summer months and take a break during the cool months of winter.

If you want your plant to bloom enthusiastically during the springtime, you must keep it at the right cool temperature (50° degrees Fahrenheit) during the winter.

While your plant rests, it will stop growing and devote its energies to creating flower buds.

In the springtime, you can gradually raise the temperature around your plant.

The majority of cacti like very hot temperatures and can be transitioned from a more sheltered indoor setting to full sun and full exposure in the spring and summer.

Keep your indoor cactus in a south-facing window where they will receive ample sunlight.

This can also be a good spot in wintertime because the sunlight will naturally not be quite as bright.

Furthermore, the temperature next to the window will probably be cooler than the temperature in the rest of your house.

Of course, you will have to be the judge of that.

How Much Light Does Your Cactus Need?

If you keep your cactus and succulents in your outdoor garden during the growing season, position it so that it can get the maximum in heat and light.

Plant or place it in direct sunlight, and be sure that it has good drainage to prevent root rot.

How Much Water Does Cactus Houseplants Need?

Even though cactus are extremely drought tolerant, they do need more water during the growing season (especially if you want them to bloom).

Keep an eye on the soil, and when the top couple of inches dry out, water your cactus thoroughly.

If it is in a container, let the water run through the pot and be sure to empty the drainage saucer to avoid having your plant sit in water.

Your goal is to simulate a desert rainstorm that drenches the earth and is followed by bright sun that dries the soil quickly.

Cactus at rest do not need to be watered. The soil should be allowed to dry thoroughly between scant waterings in the winter.

Generally speaking, the moisture that the plant has stored should be adequate through the winter months.

Misting is a good idea, though, as it discourages spider mites and provides good ambient moisture. A humidifier may be helpful.

When and What Kind Of Fertilizer Does Cactus Need?

Cactus do not need a lot of fertilizer. Only fertilize during the growing season, and only use a type of fertilizer especially designed for use with cactus.

For good blooming, it should be low in nitrogen and high in potassium and phosphorus.

What Is The Best Soil For Cactus?

When you repot your cactus, you should also use a product that is especially designed for use with cactus.

If you are unable to get a cactus potting mix, you can make your own by mixing equal parts potting soil, sand, and perlite.

After repotting, allow your plant to rest for a week before watering.

Cactus Flowers Provide Bright, Clear Color

Cactus flower plants seem to be a treasure, springing forth from their thorny, humble parents.

A comprehensive cactus collection can delight its caretaker with gorgeous blossoms in shades ranging from purest white, red, pink to the deepest purple.

Some cacti flout large, showy blossoms while others are covered with tiny, delicate blooms.

No matter which blooming cactus plants you choose, you are sure to be delighted by the scent and sight of the blossoms.

In addition to seasonal delight, these plants offer easy care for the casual gardener.

During the plant’s period of rest, you can rest too, and during it’s active period it needs little attention from you and rewards you greatly for the care you do provide.

How Do Cactus Bloom?

Most cacti produce flowers around the leaves or areoli. Some form flowers along the cactus ribs or warts.

The flowers of the Mammillaria cactus form along the leaf axils or in the nooks and crannies that develop between the warts.

Cactus flowers are like any others, consisting of petals, sepals, stigmas, stamens and anthers.

There are several types of cactus flowers and types of blooming cactus.

Some very showy types display large numbers of bright petals and sepals.

Some cactus flowers seem to grow from stalks, but this structure is actually an elongated ovary supporting the petals.

Most cactus flowers grow directly from the body of the plant.

How long do cactus flowers last?

Flowers last varying lengths of time. Some bloom and wither within a twenty-four hour period. Others linger for a week or two.

How Do You Get Christmas Cactus To Bloom?

Cacti flowers of the holiday cactus varieties (including Thanksgiving and Easter cactus) need different care than desert cactus.

Desert cacti need watering that emulates a desert rainstorm. Woodland cactus or epiphytic cactus should be kept very slightly moist to encourage blossoms and good growth.

After your holiday cactus flowers, you can let it rest thoroughly and withhold water unless the leaves start to wrinkle.

After a period of rest, you will see new sprouts begin to form on your seasonal cactus.

When you see this, you can start light watering. Increase the amount of water you provide when you see buds start to form.

When do cactus bloom?

For Christmas cactus, this will be between September and October. When the buds appear, you must handle the plant with care.

Don’t allow it to dry out, and don’t move it. Moving your plant around or allowing it to be exposed to drafts could cause the buds to fall.

When you keep your Christmas cactus successfully, you can expect to enjoy pretty blossoms throughout the holiday season and into the early spring.

What’s The Difference Between The Various Types Of Holiday Cacti?

The cactus you see offered for sale just before the holidays is really more likely to be Thanksgiving Cactus than Christmas Cactus.

The plants that bloom in late November are a species called Schlumbergera truncata.

This species features leaves that have pointed lobes. Additionally the anthers (pollen producing part) of Thanksgiving cactus blooms are yellow.

Genuine Christmas Cactus actually starts blooming in December. Its species is Schlumbergera x buckleyi.

This is a hybrid variety that was developed in England during the 1840s. The leaves of this type of cactus are smooth with no pointy edges.

The anthers of Christmas cactus flowers are purple.

Other than these small differences, these two types of holiday cactus are alike and can be cared for in much the same way.

There is another variation on this type of cactus, known as Easter or spring cactus. As the name implies, it blooms readily in the springtime.

You would manage all three of these types of cactus in the same manner, but you should schedule your manipulation of lighting and temperature to prompt blooming at the desired time.

All of these species are long-lived.

With good care, they can bloom year-after-year for decades. Sometimes families pass these holiday cacti down for several generations.

How Do You Manage Light And Temperature To Produce Holiday Cactus Blooms?

All of these plants can be spurred to bloom by shortening daylight hours and reducing the ambient temperature.

The best range of temperatures to spur the development of flower buds is between 55 and 60 degrees for about six weeks.

Keep the plants in this range, and you won’t have to worry too much about shortening the hours of daylight.

If you want to manipulate lighting to induce blooming, put your plants in a room that has no source of artificial light for plants.

Limit the amount of natural light the plants receive to 8-11 hours daily. If you must rely on artificial light, set timers to limit the amount to this period of time.

You may be able to stimulate your plants to bloom a second time by withholding water after the first bloom has passed.

Doing without water for a brief period of time after first bloom seems to be a mini-rest period that stimulates a second flush of blossoms.

With all types of holiday cactus, you can force blooming at any time of year by lowering the temperature and keeping the plant in complete darkness for a period of 13-16 hours daily for about a month prior to the time when you want blooms.

Once your buds start to form on your holiday cactus, take care to maintain a very stable environment and consistent stewardship.

Do not move the plant, and protect it carefully from temperature extremes and drafts. Sudden changes can cause bud drop.

Holiday Cactus Are Not Like Desert Cactus

Holiday cactus are very easy to grow and make great houseplants.

They resist most diseases, but you must remember that they need different care than desert cacti.

As tropical plants, they need more water and more humidity. Their soil should be high in nourishing organic matter.

You should water well when the surface of the soil starts to feel dry rather than waiting until the top two inches are dry.

With holiday cactus, you can use any good houseplant fertilizer in a half dose solution.

While your holiday cacti are forming buds, provide water, but do not fertilize. Resume fertilizing when blooming begins.

Holiday cactus do not need frequent repotting and actually bloom better when they are rootbound. If you need to repot, wait until the flower has quit blooming.

If you want your holiday cactus to branch out, prune it occasionally.

You can use the pruned or pinched off segments to grow new plants.

Do this by rooting the segments in fresh potting soil or even in water.

Enjoy Cactus Bloom All Year Long

If you build your cactus collection carefully and learn to manipulate light and temperature skillfully, you can always have something in bloom.

Naturally, you can enjoy your spiny desert cactus easily in the summertime.

Care for your holiday cactus carefully, and you can enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus throughout the holiday season and Easter cactus in the early springtime.

Among your desert cacti, some Mamillaria will begin blooming in February, and a variety known as the Mexican Snake Cactus (Aporocactus) blooms in April or May.

Recommended Cactus Reading:

  • Opuntia Prickly Pear Cactus Care
  • Caring For The Firestick Pencil Cactus
  • Growing And Caring For Orchid Cactus (Epiphyllum Oxypetalum)

Where Can You Find Cactus?

As your interest in cactus grows, you will surely want to round out your collection with more challenging varieties.

Join a gardening or cactus fanciers’ group so that you can trade cuttings with like-minded souls.

Take care to collect cactus responsibly. Don’t add to the problem of species loss in the wild by purchasing from sellers who collect specimens in the wild.

Always buy or trade with a responsible nursery or individuals who propagate their own cacti.

Likewise, be careful not to introduce cactus into outdoor areas where they are likely to grow with wild abandon and become invasive.

When this happens, non-native species of plants can pose a real threat to native species.

Cactus Collecting Can Be Addictive!

These easy-care plants come in such a vast array of varieties.

Cactus present so many different and beautiful blossoms, it is easy to fall in love with collecting them.

Cactus can be desert dwellers or tropical. They may thrive in bright sun or part shade.

Some like very hot locations and others will do well in a cooler setting. Some like drought conditions while others need moderate moisture.

When you collect cactus, there is a lot to learn and a lot to gain.

Once you’ve started your cactus and succulent collection, you’ll find it hard to stop, and luckily indulging yourself in cactus mania is an affordable and harmless addiction you can enjoy each day and for years to come.

Cacti are very unique plants, and they also flower! And even though cacti can survive heat and drought, some small mistakes can prevent them from blooming. You will need to care for your cactus properly to get it to flower every year. In this post, we will discuss cacti flowers, how long cacti flowers last, why the flowers might be dying, how to care for a flowering cactus and much more. This post can also answer your question on ‘why is my cactus not flowering?’

How to get your cactus to flower – basics and myths

Some people might think that not flowering is normal for cacti. The truth is, all healthy and mature cacti (some bloom from an early age) should flower every year. Many things can contribute to preventing a cactus from flowering.

If you cactus is not flowering – assess its health and if growing conditions are optimal (light, water, location, humidity). Often, your cactus won’t flower if it has problems with roots and is not growing properly. Many cacti don’t show any symptoms of poor care for long periods of time, such as 6 months or more.

One of the myths is that you can use fertilizers or other ‘treatments’ to encourage your cactus to blossom. There is nothing that can help a cactus with poor health to bloom. You need to take care of your cactus all year round for it to blossom. There is another myth that cacti blossom once in their lifetimes and die after that. That is not true – cacti can flower each year without any effect to their overall health.

Cacti flowers are very beautiful and different in each species. Cactus flowers don’t last too long – some only last a day and most will last for up to 5-7 days.

Which factors affect flowering of cacti?

  • Cacti must have a rest period to flower. In the natural habitat, most cacti rest during hot summers and often start growing and flowering in autumn. But if you live somewhere with cold winters, this it the time that you need to create conditions for you cactus to rest. Rest period is crucial, as during this time they develop buds for future flowering. These buds become visible around 30-55 days before flowering.
  • Your cactus must have a strong and healthy root system to flower. This is very important, as weak roots indicate poor health.
  • Its general health – it should be getting enough light, water and be free of any pests.
  • How much light and fresh air your cactus gets. Your cactus must get enough fresh air, especially during a growing period, or it won’t flower. A good tip is to leave your cactus outside in fresh air until end of October, because lower temperatures and night time temperature drops will harden off plants. If you keep your cactus in warm room temperatures straight after summer, your plant might become too sensitive.
  • Position of the cactus to the light. You should aim not to turn your cactus to change its position to the light. We will discuss it in a second.
  • The age of cactus. Some cacti start flowering from an early age, but some can take more years. If you don’t wish to wait, buy a cactus that has already flowered in the last season.

So what do you need to do to help your cacti flower?

To help your cacti flower, make sure that they are getting enough light, water. Make sure your cactus is getting maximum light (south-facing window if indoors) during the growth period and is moved into a cooler spot for dormancy. Cacti must be growing to flower, because if your cactus is not growing, that is a sign of poor health. Cacti that are not growing will not flower!

Make sure to transplant your plant into the pot with fresh soil mix every year for young plants and every 2 years for mature cacti. Cacti will not grow or flower in old soil. But what is also important is using the right soil mix – cacti have specific needs with soil. Cacti that are potted in wrong type of soil will not flower. Read about making soil for cacti here.

Impact of fertilizers on cactus flowering

Be careful when choosing a fertilizer for your cactus. Most fertilizers are not suitable for cacti – they will make them grow too fast or can cause bacterial accumulation in the soil. Avoid fertilizers high in nitrogen, or any manure.

The best fertilizer for a cactus is a high potash fertilizer, such as tomato and other vegetable fertilizer. Always search for a fertilizer that is high in potassium sulfate (potash). Avoid fertilizing freshly re-potted plants (wait for a month or two before fertilizing). What is more, you can add some diluted time-release fertilizer such as Osmocote in the soil that will feed your cactus for up to 6 months. If you have followed our advice to add egg shells into the soil mix for nutrition, you might choose to get a pure potash feed for your cactus. Mix 1 gram of pure potash feed in 1 liter (35 ounces) of water.

Fertilize your cactus only if there is no time-release fertilizer in the soil. To fertilize your cactus, add it when watering. When to fertilize your cactus will depend on its type – if it is growing in summer – fertilize 2-3 times during the growth season (April to beginning of October). Don’t overfeed your cactus, or it will interfere with its blooming.

How you position your cactus to the light is important for blooming

It might seem strange, but how your cactus is positioned towards the light or sun is very important for flowering. This especially applies to cacti that are indoors, for example on the windowsill. Generally speaking, moving and turning your cactus too often will prevent it from flowering. And you should not be scared about your cactus leaning to one side – it should not be major.

If you can see your cactus leaning, turn it to the other side for winter and spring. This way any leaning issues will be improved and fixed. If you have trouble remembering the right side – make a dot with sharpie on one side of the pot and keep your cactus in that position. Cacti don’t like being moved or turned – try to keep them in the same spot and position most of the time (unless when you move them to a cool spot for a rest period).

Don’t repot your cactus when it starts flowering and don’t take any cuttings

If you repot your cactus and transplant into a new pot with fresh soil, it is very likely to stop flowering. So it is always a better idea to wait with repotting flowering cacti, and do it at the end of rest period instead. What is more, don’t water your cactus for around 5 days after repotting.

What is more, it is important not to take any cuttings from a cactus when it is flowering or separate its pups.

All of these actions will interfere with natural processes and flowers are likely to wither.

Thank you for reading this article and please share if you enjoyed it! Hopefully these tips will help you achieve flowering cacti! Make sure to read more on cacti care in our next posts.

Desert cacti are a challenge to get to bloom indoors, simply because we can’t provide as much light as a sun-drenched desert. In addition to light, two other important factors for blooming are:

1. Age: Some plants take years to mature. The best way to check this is to buy one that’s already blooming.

2. Dormancy: Many desert cacti bloom in response to a cool, dry, dormant period. During the winter, you should reduce watering to only about once a month—just enough to keep the plant from shriveling up—and move your cactus to a cool spot, around 50°F (10°C), that has plenty of sunlight.

Also, keep in mind these 5 tips for year-round cactus care:

1. Indoor cacti do best in a sunroom or south-facing windowsill. They’ll receive the most sunlight, and the air around windows is generally cooler in winter than the interior of a room.

2. During the growing season, your cactus needs maximum light and heat. Put your plant in direct sunlight, and turn it occasionally for even light exposure.

Photo via

3. It will also need more water during the growing season. Allow the top 2 inch (5 cm) of soil to dry out before watering the plant thoroughly until it runs out the bottom (empty the drainage tray). Imagine a sudden desert rainstorm that soon dries in the sun, so never leave your plant in soggy soil.

4. Fertilize cacti only in the spring and early summer, using a cactus-specific fertilizer or a highly diluted fertilizer lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorus and potassium. Overfeeding will not make your cactus bloom!

5. Repot your cactus using a potting mix designed for cacti and succulents. Don’t water your cactus for a week after repotting.



  • Succulentopedia: Browse succulents by Scientific Name, Common Name, Genus, Family, USDA Hardiness Zone, Origin, or cacti by Genus

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Desert Cactus

Cactus Flowers

by David Williams

As far back as I can remember, I have always liked cacti. Sometime in my sixth year, my parents gave me a small cactus with a flower grafted on to it. I was quite thrilled that this strange, spiny specimen had a flower. It seemed so exotic. During the following year, I faithfully watered my plant and tried to keep it in what little sun I could find in my Seattle bedroom. It didn’t exactly thrive. It didn’t die either, but I don’t remember that it ever grew and the flower finally dried and fell off. I eventually lost interest in this particular plant, but I never lost my interest in cacti.

I am still fascinated by cactus flowers; they are one of the great surprises and paradoxes of nature. How can such apparently defensive plants produce these magnificent blooms? They go to great lengths to protect themselves from predators with their spines and yet, each spring they create a clarion call announcing themselves. The showy brilliance of the flowers, an adaptive strategy to attract pollinators, contrasts with the dull green stems and pads; the instinct for reproduction competes with the need for survival.

About a mile from where I grew up was a small conservatory that had a fabulous collection of cacti. When I first discovered the succulent room I reveled in the sizes and shapes. WOW! Cacti taller than I (not that this said much, as I was only 4 feet tall). I visited the cacti room numerous times over the years, but I never saw a cactus bloom.

You always remember the first time. For me, my first cactus bloom in the wild came on a trip to Utah in 1987, fifteen years after I had nurtured my little cactus. I was with a group of friends in Canyonlands National Park. We had hiked down to the Colorado River to swim. About 200 yards from the river I spied it, a yellow flower on a green pad. It was beautiful. I was ecstatic: another childhood myth had been proven wrong, cactus could naturally bloom. Coincidentally, the plant I was so happy to see, the plains prickly pear, Opuntia polyacantha, also grows in my home state of Washington.

Cacti bloom in a wide spectrum of colors but specialize in the hues of sunset. Rose. Salmon. Pink. Yellow. Each spring the flowers burst forth from the areole, an organ found only on cacti. It is usually a solitary bloom, which lasts only a few days or weeks. During that time period it may be pollinated by bees, hummingbirds, or moths, some species of which have co-evolved to pollinate only one particular species of cactus. The often edible fruit appear after pollination and remain on the plant far longer than the flower.

I have a couple of spots I return to each year to see the cactus bloom. I especially look forward to seeing the return of the claret cup cactus, whose flowers seem to glow with a unique intensity. As spring progresses I keep watch for the profusion of scarlet flowers that emerge from the cluster of hedgehog shaped cactus. Although I have seen hundreds of cactus bloom, I am still amazed that cactus produce such a wonderful flower; it is one of the great delights of the desert.

While the flowers are the cactus’ most impressive feature, its spines are probably the best known . They are an adaptation to desert living, where every drop of water is precious. Spines are modified leaves that release less moisture than normal leave.s They also prevent dessication by providing additional shade and restricting wind flow across the plant’s surface. And they are a superb defense mechanism against animals that want to eat a cactus’ fleshy pad or stem.

Most spines are short, sharp and hard, but they can grow in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some cacti have long, thin spines that cover the plant in a gray beard, while others look like red fish hooks or strange insects. The smallest hair-like spines (glochids) may not be noticed until one reaches out to probe a plant and discovers a finger full of tiny needles.

Spines also translate into a commonly encountered problem, poetically characterized as the “I don’t enjoy a cholla” scenario. I have had this happen more than once, when I was walking along and a link of cholla seemed to leap from the plant and impale itself into my arm or leg. After many additional skewerings, I finally was told that the best way to deal with removal was to use a comb, preferabally one with a handle, and to slide it into the spines and lift out the cholla. The same person who told me this also recommended a fine way to remove glochids. He suggested putting rubber cement or Elmer’s Glue on the minute spines, waiting for it to dry, and then peeling off the glue and the spines.

Sharp points, though, are not limited to cactus. Agave, yucca and ocotillo, all of which can skewer predators, are not in the cactus family. Another family of plants, Euphorbiacae, which is prevalent in Africa, has evolved along a similiar path and many of its species are practically impossible to tell apart from a cactus. Successful adaptations are usually widespread throughout the natural world.

I am not alone in my interest in cacti. The popularity of Santa Fe and the southwest has given rise to the use of saguaro as the symbol of this region. How many “Santa Fe” style restaurants use a saguaro in their logo and yet, saguaros neither grow near Santa Fe nor even in New Mexico. They are limited to the Sonoran desert of California, Arizona, and Mexico.

Unfortunately this interest in cacti has created a problem as collectors scour the deserts looking for exotic species. In many cases these cacti are then transported to an unsuitable habitat where they soon die. Numerous saguaro have been dug up to enhance suburban development projects, which contributes to a decline in the numbers of this unique plant in its natural environment. I understand the desire to have a cactus garden, but it is not necessary to destroy part of the desert to appreciate it.

One year ago a friend gave me a small cactus, which she had grown from a seed. I faithfully water it and it grows at a rapid pace. I have yet to see it flower, but spring is just around the corner and maybe I’ll get lucky with this plant. If not, I know where to go to see the cacti bloom in their native surroundings.

Editor’s Note: FOB (Friend of Bugs), freelance writer David B. Williams, author of A Naturalist’s Guide to Canyon Country.

Photo Tips

Most digital point-and-shoot cameras have a macro function – usually symbolized by the icon of a little flower. When you turn on that function, you allow your camera to get closer to the subject, looking into a flower for example. Or getting up close and personal with a bug. More on desert photography.


This is most impressive compilation of blooming cactus timelapses you will see today. Filmed by Greg Krehel, the cactus enthusiast and photographer explains:

Echinopsis cactus flowers bloom overnight and the flowers last for only a day. Actually, the flowers are at their peak beauty for an hour or two at the most… The cacti shown in this video come from my collection… Most of the clips in this montage show approximately 8 hours of change as the flowers open and bloom…
The question I’m asked most often about my cactus flower still images and timelapses is whether I’ve “Photoshopped” them, that is, have I used editing software to juice things up and create the flowers’ intense colors. I do, of course, use Photoshop and Lightroom and other editing software. But not in the way most suspect. Rather than using these tools to overstate reality, I actually use them to reduce the intensity of the colors my camera captures. I have reduced the color saturation in every timelapse clip in this video by a minimum of 10% and some by 30% or more in order to have something that wasn’t just completely blown out.

To see more incredible timelapses and photos by Krehel aka the “Echinopsis Freak”, check him out on Instagram and Vimeo.

Tags: · compilation, montage, plants, rare, timelapse, top

I help gardeners grow& beginners blossom.

It’s December and I am thinking about my mother. Not because it is anywhere near her birthday (August) or the month she passed (April) or even Mother’s day (May.) I am thinking of her because a holiday cactus she gave me is in full bloom – again.

If you want a simple easy-care plant to bring joy into your life every fall without fail you want a Christmas cactus, or something similar. Here is the story of my cactus with notes on making more to share with your family.

My mother was a farm kid with a grade three education and she was illiterate until my Dad, with his grade 8 education, taught her to read. I am embarrassed to say I told my mom she had a Canadian accent when she spoke French. I am not bragging about that. I am just saying kids can be mean. She was raised French Canadian but spoke English to us at home and even learned some German, so mom was the smartest uneducated person I ever knew. She was short and feisty and she often told us stories of hardship from the dirty thirties. One day, she gave me her old Christmas cactus but for once the plant came with no story, no anchor point because she was on a one-way trip to the hospital.

Della was always sharing her stories with her family and was so proud when her first great-grandchild Mali was born in 2004. From left me, my mom Della, my daughter Chelsie and my grand-daughter Mali when she was a baby.

How I wish I could hear Della* tell her stories now, especially the story of the nearly-dead and obviously overwatered holiday cactus she gifted me. But one thing I know for sure is she didn’t pay for it. She probably got it as a cutting from a friend because all it takes is a three to four segment piece snipped off and directly stuck into soil. Each piece roots quickly and seems to live forever. Mom’s plant is still in the same hard garden soil and original pot she gave me so it is possible she moved it from the farm and it could be forty years old.

Cutting a stem into pieces with 3-4 segments each allows for easy multiplication of a holiday cactus

I clumsily broke off more than half the plant when I moved it home because I just wasn’t careful with my mom or her big brittle plant. The cactus gradually regrew and continues blooming every November and December even when I forget to water it for weeks on end. And this makes me think about Mom and how she kept this plant going because she was a child of hardship and she just couldn’t let a plant or even a part of a plant die. We just weren’t the kind of family who bought disposable plants like Poinsettias or amaryllis every year for Christmas so all we had for seasonal colour was Mom’s colourful cactus.

Segments with three to four stem pieces are pushed into soft potting soil where they root in about a month. If you place the pots over a heat mat they will root faster. Keep them barely moist while they root.

This year as my cactus blooms I take a closer look at the plant Mom called a Christmas cactus. And I suddenly realize it is not a Christmas cactus at all. It is the more common Thanksgiving cactus normally found at grocery stores and garden centres. Like other cactus there are no true leaves, only flattened green stems. And the stems have pointy parts signifying it is the fall blooming variety commonly call Thanksgiving cactus.

Although Cactus usually don’t have leaves, they do have variation in their flattened green stems. The Thanksgiving cactus has distinctive pointy bits on the leaf-like green stems while the true Christmas cactus has rounded stem edges.

After a trip to the store to buy a Christmas cactus to compare with the one I have from my mom I see what is sold as Christmas cactus (or sometimes “Holiday cactus” or Zygocactus) is definitely the same as my plant with pointy leaf-like stems. But further research tells me the plant I have is not a Christmas cactus because those have scalloped or rounded leaf-like stem edges, not pointy ones. True Christmas cactus are rarely sold, I read, because Christmas cactus bloom later than Thanksgiving cactus so it is too late to sell them once they come into bloom. And whether or not this is true, I can’t find a Christmas cactus to buy but I think I know someone who has one so I give her a call to confirm how she cares for it.

Anita Schill tells me the plant I have seen forever in her living room is a Christmas cactus and it is now over 100 years old and fully a meter across. I have just discovered that my mom’s old cactus is actually a Thanksgiving cactus (thanks a lot facebook and internet) but both plants are originally native to Brazil where they grow on trees, never in the soil. Kind of boring I guess until you really think about it. Imagine growing up in a tree where your roots can’t reach the ground to root and where you depend on occasional bird droppings for food and moisture from the air and seasonal rain. That is the life a Holiday cactus lives in the wild.

I am grilling Anita. “Does your plant have rounded edges on the flat green stems?” Yes, she confirms, they are rounded. Okay, Anita definitely has the real Christmas cactus. When does it bloom? “Usually in November and again in February.” How do you look after it? “Very little water and no fertilizer. I just top up the soil when the soil level drops.”

Anita’s true Christmas Cactus sitting on the stand her grandfather built is over 100 years old and reliably blooms twice every year with no special care.

Schill is animated as we talk by phone about her ancient house plant and it’s history. She got it from her mother who got it from her own mother who got it on her wedding day in the last century – some time around World War 1. Yes, this plant is over 100 years old right now and 20 years ago, when it was still in its original coffee tin planter, Anita transplanted it. Let me repeat: Occasionally water, never fertilize and transplant every eighty years.

Enthusiastic about the plant her grandmother Marie Antoinette Blackburn received as a wedding gift, Anita has recently taken cuttings for her own kids so they can share the plant with their kids who will be fifth generation growers of the mother plant. Oh and just to clarify: Anita doesn’t have a piece of the original plant. She has the plant. And the plant lives in a dim north facing window and Anita only waters the ancient plant “Once in a while when it is crusty dry.”

Anita’s grandfather built an oak stand for the wedding present plant and the plant still sits on the oak stand. Every year it blooms in both November and February, defying the published information that these plants bloom too late to be marketed for Christmas.

This season, when you are looking for meaningful gifts to share with family and friends start with your own story. Find out if there are any houseplants passed down for generations in your family. Talk about them and take cuttings. If you can’t afford a trip to Brazil, you too can enjoy tropical colour in the dullest months of the year with a holday cactus. It seems from my mom’s experience you can’t kill these plants with drowning and from Anita’s experience they won’t die from old age or lack of water. Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus are easily passed along through generations like silverware or fine bone china.

Mom knew I liked plants so when she presented her cactus to me like the world’s best-gift-ever, I accepted it gratefully. And every year when it blooms I think of her and hope wherever she is she has forgiven me for being such a selfish brat. I have grown up now and try to be humble and helpful and I know mom would like that. Have you got a houseplant passed down through the generations? Let me know by responding in the comment section below.

For more than half a century, a plant at Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory has been growing slowly and imperceptibly.

Until last fall.

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It’s called the century plant. A member of the agave family, the plant is more accustomed to the sunny deserts of Northern Mexico and the Southwestern U.S. than the overcast skies of a Chicago winter. But the plant is showing no signs of the winter blues. In fact, it’s exploding as if it were in its hot and arid natural habitat.

“It started growing a little bit in October,” said Ray Jorgensen, a Garfield Park Conservatory floriculturist. “But then in January, the tip of the inflorescence, or in Spanish, the ‘quiote’ , was like 7 feet, 2 inches. And by Feb. 1 it was 10 feet. So it grew by 3 feet in that month.”

The rapidly ascending century plant got its name from a once-held belief that it bloomed only once every 100 years. But in its natural habitat, the century plant usually blooms and dies off by age 30. The specimen at the Garfield Park Conservatory, however, defied the odds long ago.

“We don’t know exactly when it arrived,” Jorgensen said. “But from talking with past employees – some of which worked here for 40 years – it was here 50 years ago when they started.”

The century plant at Garfield Park Conservatory stands about 17 feet, 6 inches tall on Monday, March 4, 2019.

Toward the end of the plant’s life, its inflorescence shoots up to heights of 25 to 30 feet. It then sprouts panicles (branches) at the top that bloom. Over the past five months, the growth of this plant’s inflorescence has been dramatic.

“It’s not unusual for it to grow this quickly,” Jorgensen said. “In habit it can often grow 6 inches a day. What is unusual is that it’s doing it in the middle of winter.”

Jorgensen has a hypothesis about why the century plant he tends is growing so quickly this winter. Jorgensen says he took a leave of absence last year and his colleagues were told to go easy on watering the plant. But when Jorgensen returned, he started giving the plant a lot of water again. It was after that period that the sudden and dramatic growth spurt started.

But now the keepers of the conservatory’s Desert House have a major concern: The century plant’s inflorescence is nearly 20 feet tall. The glass panes comprising the ceiling above the plant are only 25-feet high. If and when the stalk hits the ceiling, the staff is preparing to remove one of the hothouse glass panels to let the inflorescence through. That would be the first time in memory that’s been done. But if it happens while Chicago temperatures are still below freezing, it could damage the inflorescence and possibly prevent the plant’s flowering branches from emerging. So for the time being, the floriculturists have lowered the temperature in the cactus room to try to slow down the inflorescence’s growth until more springlike temperatures arrive.

Jorgensen is hoping for a warm-up very soon. “ shows no sign of panicles yet which are at the top third,” he said. “So it’s probably got a bunch more growth in it and that could take weeks, possibly even a month, before the panicles show up.”

When the panicles sprout, the blossoms from the century plant will yield seeds and then the plant will gradually die over the course of several months. It’s succulent leaves at the base are already showing signs of its approaching demise: their tips have turned brown and frayed. But the century plant has already produced an offspring through it roots. The little pup, as its caretakers call it, sits next to its parent and is heir to the throne. But the reigning monarch will remain the star of the desert house as it continues climbing toward the sky.

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Cactus blooms forecast rain for central Queensland properties

By Chloe MacKenzie

Posted October 21, 2018 08:52:58

Emerald resident Bill Lane believes his cactus lets him know when and how much rain is coming.

His parents, Bill and Mary Lane, had a rain-predicting cactus on their property in Springsure for approximately 20 years.

“Theirs was growing for many years and they claimed when it budded and flowered, rain was on its way,” Mr Lane said.

“Mum always called it the rain cactus — it was her forecaster.”

Four years ago, when Mr Lane’s mother passed away and his father moved into town, they had to cut down the five-metre cactus as it was in the way of powerlines.

Mr Lane took a clipping from what was left of his parents’ cactus and planted it on his property in Emerald.

A recent example of this phenomena was during a spring thunderstorm that rolled around Emerald in mid-October.

“About three weeks ago we only had a little rain and we only got one bud on it. Next time we got 75mm and there were four or five buds on it,” Mr Lane said.

He posted the flowering cactus on the Facebook page Who Got the Rain? and commenters agreed the more buds, the more rain.

“The bigger the bloom, the bigger the rain event,” Owen Lowien from Kilcoy commented.

Mr Lane believed the cactus was especially responsive to the weather because it was living like a true cactus in regional Queensland.

“It sits out there and gets no maintenance whatsoever, only gets something when it rains,” he said.

The trusty cactus has been a great addition to Mr Lane’s property, however he has never stopped to ask what kind of cactus it is.

What kind cactus blooms for the rain?

Horticulturist Tom Wyatt said Mr Lane’s plant looked like a cereus cactus.

“This is a true cactus. It doesn’t grow a leaf anywhere, just those big beautiful flowers that the native honey bees love,” Mr Wyatt said.

While Mr Wyatt was sceptical that this cactus would be able to accurately predict when rain was coming and how much, he did conclude that cacti in dry regions were more responsive to weather events because they relied on these circumstances to germinate.

“It’s probably not uncommon when drought breaks that the plant comes into bloom,” Mr Wyatt said.

“It makes the most of catching all the soil moisture with the new fresh seeds.”

The cereus cactus throws its flowers to germinate and spreads its seed by attracting bees, ants and night-crawling bugs like the hawk moth.

“That cereus cactus will only open at night, so there’s the chance to pollenate at night with the hawk moths, ants or beetles,” he said.

Mr Wyatt said buds developed from damaged areas on the cactus base.

“If that was to get injured by an insect and it forms a dormant bud, all of those are injuries from the base of that plant,” he said.

Bill Lane was hopeful this wet season will deliver good falls of rain and the presence of wildlife in his backyard was keeping that hope alive.

“We’ve got the snakes, cacti and dollar birds so, despite the El Nino, it seems like we’ll get a bit of a season.”

Topics: rainfall, succulent-cactus, rural, weather, emerald-4720, springsure-4722

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