Schlumbergera - The Good Old Christmas Tree, Or Decembrist

The appearance of one of the most famous and widespread flowering cacti,  the Slumbergera, is familiar to everyone. The legendary "Decembrist" is captivating not only because of its brightness, but also because of its abundance of flowers and predictable flowering times, which compensate even for its often unsightly greenery. Despite its very different character from cacti, this succulent plant does not go out of style. It is more suitable for experienced lovers of exotics than for beginners, although the temptation is hard to resist. After all, the chance to indulge yourself with bright blossoms just for the holidays attracts many people. © Alexey Yakovlev

Chlumbergera - a flowering classic with nostalgic charm

Chlumbergera (Schlumbergera) has been classified in various cactus genera in different years, staying longest in the company of zigocacti. But today the species name of the plant has finally been determined. Slumbergers got their name after a French collector and keen botanist. The botanical "schlumbergera" is inferior to the cute and eloquent folk nicknames. "Christmas tree", "Christmas cactus", "Decembrist", "Varvar's flower" - so call the slumberberry by true admirers of its beauty.

The slumberberries belong to the family Cactaceae. In nature, they can be admired in the tropical forests of South America, where they are fixed not only on the trunks but also on the roots of giant trees. Schlumbergers are naturally winter-flowering plants, because their peak of blooming occurs during the summer in the southern hemisphere, corresponding to our winter. Blooming in December-February is natural for them.

Schlumbergers belong to the epiphytic cacti. The height of slumberbergers is limited to 15-50 cm, depending on the containers, formation strategy or lack thereof. The shoots can stretch out more, but only when neglected. Flat, articulate, stiff, fleshy shoots with rather dark coloration are beautifully shaped, thanks to their coarsely serrated or festooned edges.

They hang down, bending in arcs, not thickly, but beautifully divided, reminiscent of other ampelous cacti. Stem segments 3 to 10 cm long look ornate. The dark, rich coloration is accentuated by the shiny surface. The halos are located between the tines and at the tips, and most often they are pubescent.

The abundant flowering of slumberberries is not accidentally compared to rhododendrons. At the peak of flowering, the plant is studded with so many bright flowers that the greenery is almost ignored. The flowers bloom at the ends of the shoots and develop surprisingly fast. They look like stars and are in many ways typical of all cacti.

Multiple and long-trunked, asymmetrical, the flowers of a slumberberry are adorned not only with lanceolate, pointed perianth lobes, intricately curving backwards, but also with long "bundles" of graceful, dangling stamens. Slumberbergera has "daytime" flowers that open during daylight hours.

The color palette of Slumberbergera is associated with scarlet and bright pink. It is a brightly colored plant and often looks very attractive in winter interiors. But today this plant also comes in white, purple, and mottled bicolor, although the palette remains mostly within the white-red spectrum. New hybrids have expanded the set of familiar pastel and bright tones with interesting fruity yellow shades as well.

The flowering period of Schlumberger traditionally coincides with the beloved Christmas holidays, starting in December and lasting for several weeks. Schlumbergera releases flower after flower almost relentlessly. With proper care, you can admire the blooms until the end of January.

You can change the timing of flowering, often Christmas trees bloom at other times and on their own, because the beginning of flowering depends directly not only on temperature, but also on light. Some varieties have been bred with initially "set," different timing or longer, but not winter blooms. This is why it is advisable to buy the Schlumbergera x bucklei in bloom, so that one can appreciate the plant's usual rhythms.

Schlumbergera - the good old Christmas tree, or Decembrist
Schlumbergera buckley (Schlumbergera x bucklei). © Sean Benham
Schlumbergera - the good old Christmas tree, or Decembrist
Schlumbergera gaertneri. © Rare Seeds and Plants
Schlumbergera - the good old Christmas tree, or Decembrist
Schlumbergera russelliana. ©

Species of indoor Schlumbergera

The old, prone to loss of shoot decoration, not so densely branching and not as varied in color, Slumberbergera "Soviet times" are long in the past. They have been superseded by new hybrid varieties which have made the common plant fashionable and modern.

Of course, slumberberries are still most often seen as an obsolete, retro-culture - but they do not look like a nostalgic relic in interiors. Species are less and less common today as indoor plants, or the plant species is not specified at all, replaced by the simple Latin plant name Schlumbergera and the name of the variety.

The most decorative species of Schlumbergera used in hybridization include:

Schlumbergera buckley (Schlumbergera x bucklei) is an epiphytic cactus with branching flat shoots of dark emerald-colored tint. With a maximum height of 50 cm it has cylindrical, fleshy stems, flat segments with weakly pronounced denticles and fluffy areoles. The flowers are large, up to 8 cm long with a very unusual yellowish tube. The varieties differ not only in shades of color - white, yellow, pink, purple - but even in the size and shape of the segments, allowing you to choose classic or more original plants to your liking.

Schlumbergera gaertneri (Schlumbergera gaertneri) is a spectacular red-blooming species with less neat stems. Segments grow up to 8 cm, the bushes are not as dense as those of other species. The orange-red flowers with a wider tube appear to be blazing stars due to the strongly elongated petals.

Schlumbergera russelliana (Schlumbergera russelliana) is a more modest-sized but not in appearance species with a maximum height of 30 cm. The flat, bright green, warm-colored shoots are capable of stretching to 1 m in length. The festooned edge makes the flat segments very beautiful, as do the pubescent areoles from which the drooping flowers develop. With a length of only up to 4 cm, the stem segments appear almost translucent because of the darker central vein. The flowers are large, showy, with a lettuce tube and a large number of petals. Colors of this species of Schlumbergera are limited to pink-red variations.

Schlumbergera truncata (Schlumbergera truncata) is a powerful succulent with drooping, articulate shoots, gaining power with age and growing to 50 cm in height. This species of slumberberry looks very ornate due to the fact that the shoot segments rarely exceed 5 cm at half the width, they are as close as possible to the leaves in shape. The pronounced denticles alternate with areolae accentuated by fine bristles, repeated also on the shoot tips. The flat shoots curve in arcs and are colored in a rich bright green, swampy tone on the young twigs. The flowers emphasize the neatness of the structure. At up to 5 cm in diameter, they are more symmetrical than other slumberers, with a very long, curved tube and wide-open corolla. Varieties of this species offer a choice between white-pink-red-purple shades.

Schlumbergera - the good old Christmas tree, or Decembrist
Schlumbergera truncata.

Conditions for growing Schlumbergera

The Schlumbergera, in spite of its status as a gold classic, has never been a "plant for everybody". Only florists with some experience in tropical cultivation should dare to grow Dekaberry, and then only if it is possible to provide the necessary coolness for overwintering. But the strict requirements for the resting period are compensated by the possibility to choose differently lighted places and a wide temperature range for the period of active growth.

The resting period of the slumberberry at traditional flowering times lasts from September to the end of November. The plant cannot bloom without cool conditions during the dormancy period.

Lighting and placement

Despite its status as a beautiful flowering plant, Slumberbergera is not as light loving as most competitors. It develops best in diffused light, and with careful care can settle even in penumbra. Of course, in strong shade the plant will not bloom. But also only on the windowsill slumbergera not necessarily.

Direct sun the plant does not like, the rays leave burns on the shoots and lead to a rapid loss of ornamentality. The seasonal reduction of light in winter, coinciding with the flowering period, should preferably be compensated by moving to a brighter place. Schlumbergeras prefer to bloom on the brightest windowsill in the house - southern.

The Schlumbergera can be grown both as a pot plant and as an ampel plant, using the drooping shoots to create beautiful cascades. But it should always be placed below the vantage point so that the view of the cactus bushes falls down from above. Schlumbergers are good in group plantings, cactus collections and tropical plants.

Temperature regime and ventilation

Despite belonging to the tropical cacti, the slumberberry is not at all as heat-loving as it seems. There is no need to select the temperature strictly, because the plant is able to cope both with heat and with coolness. During a period of active growth, it is quite comfortable at any temperature between 18 and 30 degrees.

At resting time, the slumberberry should enjoy a comfortable coolness. Adherence to temperature regimes plays a key role in encouraging flowering. The air temperature should remain between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius for the Slumberbergera. The slumberberry is kept in a cool environment for 2 to 3 months, then returned to the warmth to stimulate active growth. If the plant is grown with regular December blooms, it is worth bringing it back into the warmth in early December.

Schlumbergera can be taken out into the garden or onto balconies in the summer. The plant loves fresh air, but is afraid of too bright light, and in the garden for the cactus you should choose semi-shady or shady locations.

Schlumbergera - the good old Christmas tree, or Decembrist
Schlumbergera is not as light-loving as most competitors. © Joey Martoni

Home Care of the Schlumbergera

Compared to other cacti, the Schlumbergera is hard to call an easy plant. You have to adjust watering according to its stage of development, ensure constant monitoring for signs of emerging problems and do not forget about shaping. A love of high humidity also does not make growing this crop easy.

Watering and humidity

Unlike most cacti, the slumbergera is quite moisture-loving. It likes abundant watering during the period of active growth, requires more frequent watering and tolerates drying out of the soil and incorrect watering much worse than common succulents. But it remains a true succulent by its fear of wetness and dampness.

Water the slumberberries carefully, with small portions of water, evenly soaking the soil and immediately draining the excess water from the trays, in no case soaking the shoots. Before the next watering make sure that the upper part of the substrate dried up.

Watering during the resting period is reduced to a minimum, starting in September, gradually reducing these procedures, high humidity substrate at this time is critically dangerous. Resume abundant watering with the appearance of buds. After flowering, regardless of whether or not the plant is transplanted, it can be kept in a slightly lower humidity for a month or a month and a half giving the soil a better drying out, and then the usual plentiful watering can be resumed. The soil in the containers should be left almost dry.

Water quality must also be controlled for the slumberberry. It must be soft, standing water, a couple of degrees warmer than the soil during the period of active development.

Humidity of air for this succulent must be high. Dry air has a negative effect on the greens. The usual method of increasing humidity for this plant is spraying, but they can be carried out only outside the period of budding and flowering, so in the season of heating systems for Slumbergera humidity must be maintained by installing special devices or trays with moist moss, expanded clay, stones.

Fertilizers and fertilizer composition

Fertilizers can be made only outside the dormant period for Slumberbera. From September, fertilization is interrupted, resuming only when the cactus is growing again. Too generous feeding will not do the plant any good: Either reduce the dosage by half or make it twice as little as for normal indoor plants.

For slumberberries you need to use special fertilizers for succulents and cacti. They do not tolerate high nitrogen levels and need a higher dose of potassium.

Schlumbergera - the good old Christmas tree, or Decembrist
Feeding can only be done outside the dormancy period for Slumberbergera. © Cheryl Wright

Trimming and shaping Slumberberries

Without special thickening measures, Slumberberries will never develop into lush, ornate bushes. This plant is usually prone not only to elongation, but also to loss of ability to produce side shoots as the number of segments builds up.

A very simple shaping measure is needed for the slumberberry - plucking or breaking off extreme segments to stimulate the growth of new offshoots. Cutting segments is not necessary, but a simple rotating motion with a flat segment clasped in the hand is the best option. The places of breakage are not treated.

The shaping procedure on Slumbergeras is best performed immediately after flowering.

With time, the lower part of the shoots will become woody, but with regular shaping, the plant retains its ornamentality for decades.

Transplanting Slumbergeras, containers and substrate

The Slumbergeras are transplanted only when it has mastered the previous container. For large and adult Slumberbergeras, transplanting every five years may be limited. It is better to transplant shortly after the end of flowering, before the rapid growth of greenery, at the very least - at the beginning or middle of spring, during March or April.

When choosing containers for growing slumber berries it is better to stop at the classic pots for epiphytes with a minimum height, in extreme cases - not exceeding the diameter. The brighter the container, the better this plant looks.

Unlike many other brethren, the Slumbergera cannot grow in poor and too light soil. This plant needs good quality soil with a good nutritional index. You can use special soil for epiphytes or substrates for succulents. The pH values should remain within the range of 5.5-6.5.

If you mix the substrate yourself, it is better to stop at a simple earth mixture of sand, leaf and turf soil in a ratio of 1:2:1 or a mixture of sand and leaf soil. Even a purchased substrate is better to add charcoal as a preventive measure.

When transplanting the plant it is worth to handle both the many shoots and the roots of the plant as carefully as possible, trying to avoid contacts and carefully turning over the cactus.

Diseases, pests and problems in growing Slumberbergera

Fusarium and rotting are the most dangerous diseases for the Slumberbergera, and that is if not taken care of properly. With light damage, correcting the care will have time to stop the process, but with serious damage it is necessary to cut out the damaged parts and make urgent transplanting with treatment with fungicides.

Pests threaten Slumberbergera when kept in dry air. The beautiful-flowering cactus is very fond of scabs and feltworms, against which it is better to fight immediately with insecticidal preparations.

Prevalent problems in growing Slumbergera:

  • stopping growth when the substrate dries out in summer or when overwatering during the dormancy period;
  • dropping buds when exposed to water and sudden spikes in temperature;
  • wilting or shriveling with improper watering;
  • redding of shoots with too bright a light;
  • no flowering when the dormancy period is not maintained.
Schlumbergera - the good old Christmas tree, or Decembrist
The Christmas tree can be obtained at home from simple cuttings

Propagation of Slumberbergera

The slumberberry has never been on the list of elite, expensive plants - primarily because it is very easy to propagate. The plant can be taken at home from simple cuttings.

The pruning cuttings of a schlumbergera are not very fast but there is nothing complicated about raising new plants. The best time for cuttings is similar to the formation period - immediately after the end of flowering. But for rooting, not separate segments, but apex fragments of the stem with 2-3 segments are used.

The place of breaking up is treated with charcoal and dried. Root the slumberberry cuttings in light soil or simple sandy-peat substrate, under a hood with or without regular ventilation, with frequent light watering. Plants develop quickly enough.

Grafting is a method of obtaining and preserving luxurious variety plants without unnecessary expense for those who have a large collection of cacti. The rootstock used is not other slumberers, but rather opuntia or peresquia spiny if you want a boulder or tree-shaped form. Grafting is carried out in summer, on bare, split stems at the top, grafting shoots with 2-3 segments.

Grafting is carried out without a hood, at a moderate temperature of about 20 degrees. As it grows, any leaves and shoots are removed from the rootstock.

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