Christmas Flowers - History of the Christmas Cactus

Christmas flowers come in various forms such as the poinsettia, holly, Christmas rose, ivy, mistletoe, amaryllis, and of course the Christmas cactus. These are all beautiful Christmas flowers but I want to touch on the history of the Christmas cactus in this article.

The Christmas cactus is a common sight in many homes during the holidays throughout Europe and North America. The history and origin of the Schlumbergera Christmas cactus however, is of more tropical and exotic climates. The cactus received its name because it would always bloom during the Christmas season.

The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgessii) is closely related to two other holiday cacti such as the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncatus) and Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerii). The Christmas cactus houseplant is often the hybrid of Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera russelliana. This particular hybrid of the cactus evolved in England approximately 150 years ago, but its native origins are in Brazil, South America.

These cacti were originally epiphyte forest cacti, which mean they are plants that grow nonparasitically upon another but derive its nutrients and water from the rain, air, and dust around it, not from the other living plant. The tropical cacti grow between 3,281 and 5577 feet above sea level in the Organ Mountains, a region north of Rio de Janeiro. The Christmas cactus is nothing like the traditional desert cactus; it does not have prickly spines of regular cacti. It is most often found in the trees of Brazil and is called May Flower (Flor de maio).

The Christmas cactus is of the botanical plant family called Cactaceae. It has flat stems, which are called cladodes, which resemble leaves, even though they are not actual leaves. Traditionally the colors of Christmas cactus are deep red flowers, although it also blooms in various colors of purple, pink, orange, and cream. The joints of the plant are sensitive and will break easy.  

The history of the Christmas cactus sheds a little knowledge on how the plant became such a large part of some Christmas festivities. Fir and pine trees are evergreen trees and are found in colder climates. The warmer climate countries at Christmas time such as Africa, Latin America, and Australia do not have these fir trees. The tradition of decorating a Christmas cactus as the colder climate countries decorate a fir tree came into existence. The cold and harsh winter conditions of the Northern Hemisphere sometimes dampen the spirit of many people and decorating an evergreen tree will put the mind in a more cheerful state.  

The Christmas cacti we see today in garden nurseries and grocery markets during the holidays are actually a hybrid of the two different species - truncata and russelliana, which was first bred in England. It became popular in nineteenth century Victorian England to give these plants as holiday gifts. We still today prefer to give Christmas flowers, such as the Christmas cactus, poinsettia, Christmas rose and amaryllis as beautiful Christmas gifts.

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Published on November 23, 2009 at 03:53 AM | Comments (0)

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