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What is an Easter Cactus?

J.M. Densing
J.M. Densing

An Easter cactus is a unique, jointed cactus plant that blooms with brilliantly colored flowers once a year in the Easter season. It is a type of succulent cactus known as an epiphyte, which has adapted for survival in the jungle. The Easter cactus is indigenous to Brazil, and is commonly grown as a houseplant in cultivation. It is relatively easy to maintain as long as it is planted properly in the appropriate environment.

The Easter cactus is a jointed cactus with numerous stems made of flattened oval shaped segments that are approximately 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.6 cm) long. The stems can exceed 1 foot (30.5 cm) in length and often grow in a trailing manner as they get longer. The cactus has no sharp spines; instead, it has brownish bristles between segments and around the edges of them instead.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

When the Easter cactus blooms, the flowers are often red or dark pink, and one plant can have more than 50 blossoms. They are approximately 2 inches (5 cm) across, with 12 to 15 pointed, spear shaped petals arranged around a delicate white center stamen. The blossoms close at night and reopen in daylight for a period of about 10 to 14 days during the early spring months.

Unlike a desert cactus, the Easter cactus is a type called an epiphyte. This variety needs more moisture and stores less water than desert cacti and can thrive in shadier environments. These cacti are adapted to live in the more humid environment of the rain forest in their native Brazil, where they tend to grow in trees, and do well as houseplants in warm indoor air temperatures. Similar cacti include the Christmas cactus and the Thanksgiving cactus which bloom around those holidays, but the flowers of these varieties have shorter life spans than those on the Easter cactus.

Since good drainage is essential, an Easter cactus needs to be planted in a specialized cactus soil mixture rather than standard potting soil, and a pot with drain holes should always be used. It should be watered with warm water, enough to keep the soil slightly moist but never saturated. Ideal temperatures are between 50 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 24 degrees Celsius) and the cactus should thrive in bright indirect sunlight. To ensure healthy blossoms in the spring, the plant should be kept in a cool dry spot to rest during the winter. Once buds begin to develop in February, it should be moved to a warmer place, and the buds should open in late March or early April.

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