My son is more interested in frogs, crabs and bugs under rocks than he is houseplants, so I was surprised when he sought out the holiday display in the supermarket florist department. He circled around the tiered table, examining the mini cypress sporting red bows and Norfolk Island pines sprayed with silver glitter.
He picked up a large burgundy poinsettia, wrapped his arms around the pot and promptly lost his balance. Over he and the poinsettia went. Luckily, he landed softly—the poinsettia never touching the ground. Touchdown! Nary a leaf or bract fell off.
"Can I get it since I saved it?" he asked. "How about these baby Christmas trees?"
"No," I said. Still, he was showing interest in plants, and I wanted to encourage that.
Poinsettias are fine for the holidays, I explained, as are the potted evergreens, the rosemary trees, amaryllis, paperwhites, cyclamen and florist azaleas, but these are either short-lived, not to my taste, or hard to take care of indoors.
A few pots of Christmas cactus stood on the top tier, all loaded with pink buds and just at the beginning of their show. Easy to care for, long-lived and beautiful. Perfect candidates.
We picked out the best one and I discovered my son had an eye for that. Some of the buds were just short of opening and others were the size of poppy seeds, barely showing along the leaf edges. The plant was so top-heavy it kept falling over, but somehow we got it safely home, where it now sits on the kitchen table.
Christmas cacti like ours are actually Thanksgiving cactus. The true Christmas cactus, is rarely available—if you know someone who owns one, ask for a cutting. Ebay occasionally has a listing. Since these plants have been said to live 100 years, your odds are good.
There is also an Easter cactus. All three types are known botanically as Schlumbergera and originate in Brazil, where they grow on trees.
Care of Schlumbergera is basically benign neglect. If the soil looks dry, water it. A bright location is best. Bring the plant outside in the summer, placing it in a shady area. Leave it outside as the days grow colder and shorter in the fall. The temperature can approach 40 degrees without harm. The light-darkness ratio required for blooming seems to be satisfied naturally outdoors. Plants can fill large pots and prefer being potbound.
My new cactus has a long way to go. I say "my" because my son has lost interest. Now he wants a Chia Pet. I think I'll go to the pet store instead and set him up with a hermit crab.