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Bring the Outdoors in with a Christmas Cactus—But Why Is It Called a Christmas Cactus?

The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) is a Brazilian succulent with flat, glossy branches that grow long flowers. It is often grown as a houseplant and can live up to 100 years. Like many other succulents, the Christmas cactus is a great plant for those who weren’t blessed with a green thumb, as they’re easy to take care of. But why in the world is it called a Christmas cactus?

The Origins of the Name

The simple answer to why this plant has the word “Christmas” in its name is because it blooms around Christmas. Depending on the subspecies, though, the exact time that it blooms will change. Schlumbergera truncata blooms in November and is sometimes called the Thanksgiving cactus. The Schlumbergera x buckleyi or S. bridgesii blooms later, in December or early January, according to the Real Dirt Blog. The flowers on a Christmas—or Thanksgiving—cactus are often a hot pink or red, making them a perfect addition to your holiday decorations.

Though this is the straightforward answer behind the name, there are stories surrounding the Christmas cactus as well, like that the plant brings the season’s joy in your home year-round, but especially around the holidays.

According to Simplemost, there are two main stories about how the Christmas cactus came to be—one about a little boy and one about a priest.

The Boy

It is said that a young boy in Brazil (the origin country of the Christmas cactus) prayed to God for a sign on Christmas. Living in the hot and humid jungle had left him feeling worn down and tired. When he woke up the next morning, on Christmas Day, he came outside to see that the jungle was overflowing with flowering cacti.

why-is-it-called-a-christmas-cactus
Image by Michael Pieracci

Father Jose

The other story is about a Jesuit Priest, Father Jose, who was trying to teach the people of Bolivia about the Bible. The natives did not trust Father Jose, and he prayed to God for guidance on Christmas Eve. After praying, he began to hear the natives singing the hymns he had taught them and they had arms full of flowers for the Christ Child.

How to Care for a Christmas Cactus?

The Christmas cactus, like many other succulent plants, are relatively easy to care for. They like warm temperatures from 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit from April to September. This is the cactus’s peak growing season. From September to March, however, the plant prefers cooler temperatures between 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep it in a place that is free from drafts, where you don’t have to worry about sudden temperature changes. Water the Christmas cactus when the soil is dry to the touch, and keep it in a pot that allows for excess water to drain. Do not let the plant sit in standing water. Make sure it is getting medium to bright indirect sunlight.

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