Plant Sheet: Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata)

* Image sources: All images used in this post are from the author

This plant is not like the typical desert cactus we have in mind when hearing the word cactus. It is a tropical cactus with many specific traits that make it unique.

Schlumbergera truncata is endemic to Southern Brazil where it grows as an epiphytic cactus on tropical forest trees. As a tropical cactus, it prefers moist, well-draining soil and half-shade with indirect light. Schlumbergeras are specifically known for their tubular flowers blooming in the winter months.

Find out more about this common houseplant type by reading this plant sheet!

Origin and Natural Habitat of Schlumbergera truncata

Schlumbergera truncata, also known as Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, or Crab Cactus, is endemic to the coastal regions of South-Eastern Brazil where it grows as an epiphyte or lithophyte in the cool and moist tropical forests. It was introduced as an indoor plant in Europe in the early 19th century which makes it an indoor plant with a rather long history.

It has oval-shaped green leaves and its flowers can be of white, pink, or red color depending on the variety. As it grows on trees, its branches are made for hanging. As an indoor plant, you can either have it standing on a shelf or put it in a hanging basket. Both will look great as it grows.

Brighten Up Schlumbergera’s Day: Light and Water Requirements

Being an epiphytic tropical cactus makes this species quite special and unlike typical desert cacti. It survives on rainfall and moisture that gathers on the three bark it is living on. Hence, the Schlumbergera is used to a humid environment and to well-draining soil.

Make sure you water this cactus more regularly than you would other cacti but do never let it sit in water or soggy soil. In summer, watering about once a week is usually fine, in winter less often. Using well-draining soil is essential and always wait with watering until the top layer of soil is dry to prevent overwatering it.

Tip: Make your own well-draining indoor soil mix with humus and draining matter. It is not much effort and will make a big difference to your houseplants. In my post linked here, I explain how to mix your own soil and what ingredients and materials you can use for it!

Living under the canopy of the jungle, it does not tolerate full sunlight as the desert cacti do. It prefers a half-shade spot with only indirect light as well as a little cooler temperature.

A Schlumbergera’s Guide to Happiness: Care Tips

If placed in an appropriate spot, this cactus will last forever as an indoor plant. Here are a few tips you should know about concerning watering and its winter phase:

  • Do not overwater: Even though it likes its soil more moist than most cacti, it is quite susceptible to overwatering and gets root rot and fungal diseases quite fast. Hence, only water it once the top layer of the soil has dried.
  • Reduce watering in early winter to encourage bloom: If you reduce watering a little in the fall or early winter months, it will encourage the plant to bloom before it goes into its resting phase.
  • Respect its dormant phase in winter: Do not fertilize it during winter at all as it goes into a dormant phase. Boosting growth by fertilizing it will contradict its natural urge to remain dormant.
  • Cooler temperatures in winter: Schlumbergeras like to have it a little cooler in the winter months. Try to place them away from radiators and generally in a cooler room such as the bedroom during winter. This will also stimulate flower production.
  • Do not move or touch it when blooming: As soon as the flower buds appear on the tips of its leaf stems, try not to move or touch it anymore. The tubular flower buds are very delicate and often fall off if you brush past them or touch them. During the flowering phase, it is best to just let them be and watch.

Reading tip: Do plants like to be touched? Some plant aficionados love touching their plants regularly like a pet but do the plants really appreciate that? Not all plants do! Read more about if plants like to be touched and how to touch them adequately in my post about that topic!

How to Propagate Schlumbergera truncata

Schlumbergera is best propagated by cutting off sections of about 2-4 segments from their youngest branches. Each single leaf segment can potentially grow roots but sections with several segments have more energy to do so. Propagation works best with segments of young branches.

Cut the segments off with a clean knife or scissor and let them dry overnight before potting them into well-draining soil to take root. It usually takes about 4 weeks for Schlumbergera segments to take root. You know it has rooted well once it starts growing new leaves.

Schlumbergera Superpowers

One superpower of Schlumbergera is the elusive beauty of their flowers. This cactus tends to bloom in the middle of the cold, dark winter months such as around the end of December, hence its name Christmas cactus.

Once open, the flowers only last for 1-2 days before they die off again. These fragile, half-transparent flowers create a beautiful atmosphere, and depending on how the light shines on them they even seem to glow.

Tip: Do you love houseplants that bloom indoors? Another houseplant type that often blooms indoors is the Hoya plant such as the Hoya carnosa. If given a bright spot with indirect light, Hoyas will amaze you regularly with their beautiful inflorescences. Find out more about the characteristics of the Hoya carnosa in my brief and informative plant sheet on this plant type!

Another special skill this plant brings along is its capacity for “delayed” photosynthesis, a skill typical for cacti and succulents called Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) or CAM photosynthesis. CAM has evolved in plant types living in arid, hot regions to avoid water loss during the day and is the perfect adaptation for fighting drought.

How does CAM work? Plants photosynthesize during the day which normally requires them to open their stomata (cells on lower leaf surface). Open stomata exchange gases but also let the water evaporate too quickly in hot climates. With the CAM pathway, the plants open their stomata during cooler nighttime hours, storing carbon dioxide as a type of acid which they then photosynthesize during the day without having to open their stomata.

Hence, CAM plants like Schlumbergeras release oxygen at night. In nature, that makes them survivalist heroes. At home, it also makes them the perfect plants for your bedroom.

More About Plant Care

Is It OK to Have Plants In Your Bedroom?

Having plants in your bedroom is perfectly fine, though there are certain things you want to look out for in a bedroom plant. Most importantly, choose plant types that release oxygen at night instead of carbon dioxide. Check out my six favorite plant types suitable for bedrooms and more tips on what a bedroom plant should bring along through this link!

What Houseplants Are Good for Beginners?

Today, any garden center or plant store offers a wide range of houseplants. It is not always easy to know which plant to choose, especially if you are a plant beginner. Luckily, a lot of the common houseplants are suitable for beginners.

In my post linked here, I present 9 common houseplants, each with its own look and traits, that will do great under a beginner’s care. I am sure you will find just the right one for you. Enjoy reading!

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