Habitat: Tropical regions of America, especially Brazil.
Cultivation: Schlumbergera are epiphytic cati: put them in light shade, in a humid environment with mild temperatures and a standard soil for succulents.
Curiosity: Its name was chosen in honor of the botanist Schlumberger; it is a really unusual cactus, with flattened, succulent stems and an epiphytic habit.
Schlumbergera is a genus of plants belonging to the Cactaceae family, including only six species of epiphytic cacti, native mainly to Brazil. Its few species are rather popular among succulent lovers because they blossom all year round and are really easy to grow.
Schlumbergeras grow only in a restricted area in South-eastern Brazil, upon coastal mountains, at altitudes ranging from 700 to 2300 meters above the sea level. Their natural habitat are usually coastal moist forest, where they grow upon rocks or trees in shady, humid spots.
Despite being cacti, they have succulent, thornless, leafless stems, consisting in many flattened, elliptical articles following each other and forming elongated, falling structures. These articles are called “cladodes”, and usually have a central, more swollen core, equipped with two lateral “wings”. As it happens in every member of the family Cactaceae, the photosynthesis is carried out by the stems. The areoles, instead, are located at the joints and the tips of the stems, instead of being distributed all along the stems like in other Cactaceae. The areoles are the typical buds of the family Cactaceae: they usually have the aspect of white, more or less hairy, buttons, from which the spines grow. In the case of Schlumbergera, the areoles have the function to form new stems and flowers.
Their peculiar appearance is due to their epiphytic habit: Schlumbergeras, in fact, grow upon the trunks of big trees in tropical forests. Some species, instead, are epilithic: namely, they grow upon rocks. Both the epiphytic and the epilithic species form shrubs with a wooden base that can reach a remarkable size: around one meter in height! Of course, when grown outside their natural environment, won’t never become this tall.
Schlumbergeras have aerial roots: they absorb water from the air moisture and nutrients from rain droppings. Usually, they grow their roots into the fissures of the bark of the trees or the little crevices of the rocks.
A feature that makes them particularly sought after and appreciated in the world of succulent lovers is their blossoming, which occurs all year round. The most common species, however, blossoms mainly during the Christmas period and thus Schlumbergeras are often called “Christmas Cactus”.
The flowers are funnel-shaped, usually pink or whitish-pink (however the cultivars grown in nurseries can also have orange, yellow or red flowers), and have 20-30 petals. In most species there is a neat difference between the outer and the inner petals. The outer ones are usually short,separated from each others, curved outwards. The inner ones, instead, are longer and, in most species, fused together at the base to form a tube. This marked difference between the two kinds of petals creates the impression of a “flower within a flower” in some species. In their natural habitat, the pollinators are usually hummingbirds. Most species require crossed pollination to produce seeds: so you will need two plants to obtain seeds.
Fruits are usually pear-shaped, smooth and often red. In their natural habitat, they are eaten by birds, which are responsible of the dispersion of the seeds.
VARIETY AND TYPES
Here below are the six species of Schlumbergera recognised to date.
- S. bridgesii
- S. kautskyi
- S. obtusangula
- S. opuntioides
- S. russelianum
- S. truncata
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TIPS FOR GROWING
Here below are our cultivation tips to grow your Schlumbergera:
- It prefers areas with filtered light, i.e. a partial shade position is recommended, where sun rays are never direct.
- It likes mild temperatures, preferably about 18 °C, therefore in winter it is advisable to shelter it.
- Abundant watering is needed in summer, in order to keep the soil always slightly moist. In winter, the water supply can be reduced.
- A substrate consisting of soil for succulents, mixed with lapilli or sand is an optimal solution, in order to guarantee good drainage.
- They do not need frequent fertilizations, it is enough to dilute fertilizer with watering once a year.
The propagation is usually carried out through stem cuttings or grafting (plants are often grafted upon Acanthocereus sp.).
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