Every so often you hear of one, an heirloom….a plant that has been around for years, maybe in the family for generations. One such Christmas Cactus sits in Dennis Jordan and Kay Flannagan’s living room in Osage County, blooming reliably every Christmas.
This plant pictured here is a piece off the Christmas Cactus grown by Dennis’ Aunt Wimpie (actually Winifred). Her plant actually came from her great aunt (Dennis’ great grandmother) and travelled here from Belfast, Ireland in 1870. She kept it in a wash tub and was about 4′ across before it died (coincidently weeks within the death of Aunt Wimpie).
Dennis and Kay keep their plant on the deck during the summer under the shade of a schefflera. In the winter they move the cactus to their heated garage, where it comes into bloom just a few days before Christmas….just like clockwork. They hope to take cuttings this summer and start new plants to pass along to other friends and family to keep this centenarian alive for another generation…or three.
I received an heirloom Christmas Cactus this year from my mother, but this line actually comes from my sister-in-law in New Jersey. It was her mothers, a birthday present from her best friend, which sat for years on the bookcase made by her dad, blooming just in time for Christmas. Carol and her twin sister, Cathy, always marveled at how their mother managed to get it to bloom every year. Though the original plant died three years ago, collectively we are keeping the line going, and I am pleased to be a part of that chain.
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A little bit about Christmas Cactus –
The interesting thing about Christmas Cactus is that they are usually passed along from friend to friend and are rarely sold in plant shops. The holiday cactus that have become so popular are sometimes called Zygocactus, more commonly known as Thanksgiving Cactus (because they bloom in November) or Lobster Cactus (the flower resembles a lobster claw). So as to not be confused with the above mentioned heirloom plant, we call these newbies on the plant scene “Holiday Cactus”.
Some basic differences:
Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) have rounded points on the leaves (also known as pads but are actually stems), come in only one color (magenta-pink), and bloom in December.
Holiday Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) have sharp points on the leaves, come in many colors (orange-red, magenta, lavender-pink, peach, gold, and white), and bloom late October and November.
-written by Alice Longfellow