My Grandma Eldred’s Easter cactus

Since Easter season is here, (the Cadbury eggs are in the stores!) I thought I’d share a picture of my Easter cactus, which once belonged to my Grandma Eldred.

Easter cactus

My grandma’s Easter cactus 2011


This cactus, Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri, is native to Brazil and is a forest cactus, not a desert one, naturally growing as an epiphyte in the tops of jungle trees.
More familiar to most are the Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera), also epiphytic jungle cacti. The major difference is the time they bloom and the shape of the flowers.
The Easter cactus blooms in April and May and is a little more finicky than the other holiday cacti, I’ve found. It has been known to drop a lot of its stem segments when watered inconsistently, which in my house, occurs quite frequently. In nature, if there was a dry spell, this would be the plant’s reaction. If they drop their stem segments, they can conserve water.
Though they grow in the forks of trees in nature, in our homes they are almost always grown in soil in a container. I’ve had this for about 8 years (as of 2011) and is one of my most prized plants, just because it was Grandma’s.

Unfortunate news

P.S. I wrote this post in 2011 and it was my first blog post. After it was written, (I’m not sure which year) we had an abnormally hot summer. My sunroom was so hot, not only did this plant disintegrate but so did most of my Thanksgiving cactus. They survived, but barely. I am really trying to coax this one back, but not sure it is working and it is very sad. I am glad I took this picture and have it to remember Grandma’s cactus. (2014)  (Update: Unfortunately, they did not recover.)

Yes, it is a cactus

Most people don’t see the “cactus” in this plant. The difference between succulents and cactus is the areoles or areas the spines or flowers come out of. Here is a close-up of the areole on the end of the segment or cladode of the Rhipsalidopsis. As you can see in the picture below, these are where the flowers originate. Succulents do not have them.

aerole on Easter cactus

Aerole on Easter cactus


So why do I find this is finicky compared to the other holiday cacti? I’m not quite sure why I thought it was harder to grow as it pretty much needs the same care. Because they are epiphytic, they prefer to be in a well-drained potting medium, never drying out completely. Remember it is a rainforest jungle cactus. They like humidity and as they are growing in trees, they don’t need and would prefer not to be, in a full sun spot to flower. A bright light is needed though and I have mine in a west window, it is doing great, and I’m hoping for blooms soon. Make sure to turn your plant all year so that it flowers on all sides of the plant. I like to turn mine approximately a 1/4 turn every time I water the plant. Because they are naturally epiphytic, I pot mine in clay pots so they are more likely not to suffer from root rot, a common killer of these plants. I also keep mine snug in their pot, waiting to up-pot until it is extremely root bound.

Easter cactus

Orange Easter cactus-my favorite!

Find one

At this time of year, these are quite easy to find and you might find one on sale as Easter is over. I love these plants and they come in white, pink, fuchsia, and orange, my favorite.

Easter cactus flower

Easter cactus flower close-up

Have a great week, plant friends!