The Easter cactus, unlike other so-called holiday cacti, flowers in spring and that’s why it’s called an Easter cactus or spring cactus.
There appears to be general confusion about the correct botanical name for this particular plant. Scientific references refer to it as Hatiora gaertneri, Schlumbergera gaertneri or Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri. No wonder people get confused about botanical names!
According to one reference we came across, the plant was initially called Epiphyllum gaertneri. It was then changed to Schlumbergera gaertneri, and then to Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri. Finally, according to the most recent change, the correct name should be Hatiora gaertneri.
Nevertheless, this is a lovely cactus plant that you should consider adding to your collection. It has fleshy but flat stems that are segmented and have notched edges. These stems can get quite long and the flowers grow on the ends of the stems.
This lovely cactus produces flowers in spring and these are quite showy and can be profuse on a well-looked after plant. Some stems will even produce more than one flower at its tip.
These flowers are funnel-shaped and are traditionally dark scarlet, however, many hybrids have been produced in cultivation with a variety of different flower colors.
The Easter cactus grows naturally in Brazil and is an epiphyte. This means that it grows on trees but is not parasitic. It mainly uses the trees that it grows on as a support structure.
The hybridization of the Easter cactus goes back to 1932. This was when cacti producer, Alfred Graser, decided to cross the Easter cactus with the dwarf Easter cactus. From this experiment came several hybrid species and these were named Rhipsalidopsis X graeseri.
Since then, many other forms of hybrids have been produced both in the United Kingdom and in California and Florida as well as in Australia, Japan, and numerous European countries.
An interesting fact these days is that many commercial growers don’t actually give names to the different hybrids that they create. This is due to the cost of labeling and also the fact that most home gardeners don’t really care about the name.
For this reason, it’s quite difficult to find named hybrids for those people that would like to experiment with their own hybridization.
|Scientific name||Hatiora gaertneri, Schlumbergera gaertneri|
|Common names||Easter cactus, spring cactus|
|Height||Up to 1 foot|
|Width||Up to 2 feet|
|USDA Plant Hardiness Zone||10b to 12a|
|Flower colors||Scarlet, white, red, orange, peach, lavender|
|Plant/Flower special features||Will produce masses of blooms if given the right conditions|
How to Plant and Grow Easter Cactus
Ideally, you’ll want to plant your Easter cactus in a hanging pot so that the stem sections can trail down over the edges of the pot.
Use a succulent mix that is free-draining but remember to not let the mix remain dry for any length of time. This plant is rather finicky when it comes to watering so you might need to experiment a little before you get it right.
How to Propagate Easter Cactus
The Easter cactus is fairly easy to propagate using stem sections that you’ve cut off when you’re pruning your plant. Here’s what to do:
- Choose healthy stem sections that have from 3 to 5 segments.
- Allow these to sit in a dry, shady spot for a few days until the cut ends have formed a callous.
- Make a propagation mix by combining 2 parts potting mix with 1 part perlite and fill a seedling tray or some small pots with this mix.
- Put the cuttings into the mix making sure that they’re planted 1 inch deep. For a 4 inch pot, you can plant three cuttings evenly spaced.
- Water well and encase the pot in a plastic bag or make a cloche from an empty soft drink bottle that you’ve cut the top off. This will create good humidity for root production.
- Put your cuttings in a brightly lit spot out of direct sunlight.
- Your cuttings should produce roots within 3 to 8 weeks.
Easter Cactus Care and Maintenance
This plant does require a little extra care than some other succulents, especially if you want to be rewarded with masses of spectacular blooms.
Here’s how to care for easter cactus:
Being epiphytic plants, you can grow your easter cactus plant either in a succulent mix or one that is specially made for orchids or bromeliads. The mix should be well-draining but still have the ability to hold just a little moisture.
This succulent likes moist soil that is allowed to dry out in between watering. However, the soil should not be dry for any length of time. Therefore, it’s important to monitor the moisture level in the soil on a regular basis.
Using a moisture meter is ideal because you’ll instantly be able to tell when your plant requires water rather than guessing or just poking your finger into the potting mix.
Ultimately, the plant should not be allowed to sit with its roots in water as this can promote root rot which spells the end for your plant.
If your plant is dropping stem segments, it usually means that you’re either overwatering or underwatering. If this happens, check the moisture level in the soil. If it’s damp, let it dry out but if it’s dry, then it’s time to water.
A diluted liquid fertilizer should be applied monthly once the plant has finished blooming. This will provide enough nutrients for strong growth and will aid in the next season’s flowers. You should be aware that the flowers will only appear on new growth so this should be encouraged.
This plant needs to be exposed to bright light but not direct sunlight. Remember, that it grows naturally in Brazilian forests, so it is happiest under the dappled shade of tall trees.
Temperature and Humidity
Being a forest dweller, the spring cactus likes slightly cooler temperatures than other desert-growing cacti. To get an abundance of blooms, ideal night-time temperatures should be around 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (13 to 16 degrees Celsius).
Some additional humidity is also of benefit to this plant. If you live in an area with quite dry air, you can easily create some humidity by placing your pot on some pebbles in a shallow dish that you’ve filled with water.
The pebbles will keep the pot out of direct contact with the water but as the water evaporates, it will create some additional humidity around your plant.
To encourage branching of the stems and, therefore, the likelihood of more flowers, you should prune your easter cactus around June or early summer. Depending on how long each stem has become, prune back a number of segments on each one. This will cause each stem to branch into two.
Don’t discard the stem sections that you’ve cut off because these can be used to propagate new plants.
The Easter cactus does like to be pot-bound but to ensure that your plant will bloom year after year, you should repot it every 2 years just after it’s finished flowering. This just involves removing the potting mix from around the roots of the plant and replacing it with fresh mix.
How To Get Your Easter Cactus To Bloom
For your plant to produce an abundance of blooms, it requires certain conditions beforehand. Here’s what you should do:
- Stop feeding your plant around October or around mid-fall.
- At the same time, move your plant to a spot where it will be in the dark for around 12 to 14 hours at a temperature of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). The colder temperature will promote a good flower bud set.
- Water very sparingly at this time.
- In December or at the start of winter, you can move the plant to a warmer spot with temperatures around 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (16 to 18 degrees Celsius).
- Continue to water when dry and you should be rewarded with blooms from February to April.
- Take note though, that once you see flower buds start to form, don’t move the plant as sudden changes in temperature or sudden drafts might make the buds drop off.
In summary, the Easter cactus needs short days and cool temperatures in the fall and then longer days and warmer temperatures in late winter to early spring. If you get this right, you should have plenty of colorful blooms.
Pest and diseases
The Easter cactus is not prone to attacks from pests or diseases. However, there are a few things to look out for.
- If your plant looks wilted even though the soil is damp, it may be a case of overwatering. Let the soil dry out completely before adding more water. Also, ensure that your plant is not sitting in water and that excess water can drain away freely.
- If you notice black, slimy lesions on the base of the plant that are progressing upward, this could be bacterial soft rot. Remove the infected sections and dispose of them. It’s also a good idea to repot the healthy part of the plant and remove any soft, mushy roots that you find.
Uses of Easter Cactus
The Easter cactus flower is mainly grown for its visual appeal and is great for growing in a hanging pot either indoors or on a nice, bright patio or veranda.
Common Varieties and Cultivars
Due to years of hybridization and commercial cultivation, the Easter cactus now comes in a variety of different flower colors that you can choose from.
These various hybrids are all called Hatiora X graeseri and are only distinguishable from each other by their flower colors.
There are also a small number of related holiday cacti that you might want to consider adding to your collection. These are:
- Hatiora rosea (Dwarf easter cactus)
- Schlumbergera bridgesii (Christmas cactus)
- Schlumbergera truncata (Thanksgiving cactus)
The Easter cactus is a lovely flowering succulent that will add some gorgeous color to your indoor plantscape. It’s not that difficult to take care of as long as you get its water requirements right and take a few extra steps to encourage blooming.
*image by KHBlack/depositphotos