December 5, 2012

The New Christmas Cactus

Schlumbergera 'Thor Carmen' has purple bud which open brilliant carmine red, a new variety, it is beginning to show up for sale at some online retailers, and on Ebay.
 Behold the modern Christmas cactus. These are not your mothers' Christmas cactus nor your Grandmothers. New varieties and strains are being introduced every year, and even though these new varieties may take decades to reach us through traditional commercial growers, they are available from collectors and small, specialist growers. If you are seeking new yellow flowered forms, or fringed white types that look like snowflakes, or mutated green and magenta flowered ones with flowers that are deformed so much that they look like grasshoppers, then these new Christmas Cactus are for you.

My collection grows each year, as we introduce four or five new varieties each winter. I am partial to the yellow, brownish bronze and peach varieties, as well as pure white, but I am becoming more interested in bicolored forms, those which white petals, but edged in pink or purple.

Yellow Christmas Cactus are always a favorite, they balance out a windowsill collection, and today, there are many improved yellow forms.

Schlumbergera x 'Aspen', a new fringed white-flowered Christmas cactus that has petals which look like shredded snowflakes. It's hot, hot, hot right now, with cuttings selling for $25 on Ebay.Difficult to find as it sells out quickly, it is currently available via mailorder from Logee's.

Many of these Christmas cactus are difficult to find, as mass market growers are still growing older forms, but you can find them available from specialist nurseries online, and from collectors on Ebay. Like any newer introduction, it often takes time for many to catch on. If a new plant can be micro-propagated, as in a test tube, then new varieties can come to market quickly, but most of these newer varieties are still rather uncommon, and thus, their prices remain high. The variety 'Aspen' was selling for nearly $100 five years ago, and although last year it was available from a couple of growers, it quickly sold out. I purchased my plant for $25 dollars last spring, and Logee's Greenhouses in CT. is currently selling it for $19. They also have a newer red-form of this popular fringed variety, also on my wish list.

'Aspen'
Christmas cactus can form long-lived specimen plants, often becoming family heirlooms, being passed down from generation to generation ( I still have some plants that were my mothers from the 1940's). They root easily from cuttings, and are true gift and share plants. You may think that they are too old-fashioned, but that's the appeal - they are timeless, and special in the same way that an old Christmas ornament can be timeless. Their flowers visit us, nostalgically each year.

I am trying to collect as many cultivars as possible, so if any of you have a favorite, please let me know. I am aware of curious mutant forms, old species, bronze and brownish flowered forms and the new fringed types. Any suggestions are welcome. Most of these newer varieties are some you will never find at a supermarket or greenhouse, which makes them even more interesting, not unlike African Violets, where the finest varieties are available only from collectors and small, specialist nurseries and not from commercial growers. This is true with many plants, daylilies to orchids. Take note.

'Christmas Flame', a newer yellow form of Schlumbergera will achieve maximum yellowyness if not exposed to cold temperatures. If I kept this in the cold greenhouse, or too close to the window, it would have more magenta on the edge of each petal. If kept warm while in bud, the blossoms remain yellow-peach.
 One of the most common questions I get is "How can I get my Christmas cactus to bloom for Christmas?" The answer is simple, but not always easy to achieve. Christmas cactus respond to daylength, and they will set bud in October if kept dry and on a natural day-length schedule. This means that even if you keep your plants on a windowsill in a room which you do not use, you must be certain that a streetlight is not near by. My plants sit in the greenhouse, and they get natural daylight without any artificial light, and the plant set bud exactly at the same time with no effort.

While actively growing in the late spring and early summer, Schumbergera are active feeders, responding to water soluable fertilizer well, which keeps the plants a rich, bright green. The plants summer outdoors under a tree, where they do not get any direct sun, but in the winter, they live on a high bench in the greenhouse where they get full sun.


Schumbergera 'Christmas Fantasy', another new variety with those amazing yellow tints.

2 comments :

  1. Love the pale yellow one. My rather traditional orange-red one is just beginning to bud.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have a collection of schlumbergera's but I have never seen a yellow one like the Christmas flame! Incredible! Is there a possibility for a small cutting of that variant?

    ReplyDelete

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