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In the Magazine

Zygocactus

In the Garden > Flowering Plants & Shrubs

Zygocactus

These beautiful plants have a botanical name that is difficult to pronounce: schlumbergera. They are named after Frédéric Schlumberger, a collector of cacti who lived in a château near Rouen in France in the mid-nineteenth century. Although they are cacti, they are not desert plants. They are epiphytes (plants which depend on others for support, but not nutrition) from the jungles of southeast Brazil, a humid area with high rainfall. In days gone by, zygocactus were mostly seen with bright cerise pink flowers. However through the efforts of local as well as American and Japanese breeders, a stunning range of flower colours and shapes is now available.

Plant details

Common name: Zygocactus, Christmas cactus, and Crab's claw cactus

Botanic name: Schlumbergera truncata Hybrids

Description: Members of the Cactaceae family which have flattened, spineless, pendulous branches with prominent notches at the margins. The flowers are asymmetrical in shape and appear at the stem tips. Flower colours range from pink, lavenders and reds through to oranges, yellows and whites.

Best climate: Zygocactus will grow everywhere in Australia. In cooler areas they make good indoor plants.

Uses:

indoor, patio or conservatory plants hanging baskets tall pots flowers provide colour in autumn and winter

Good points:

stunning flowers in a wide range of colours easy to grow easy to propagate from cuttings

Downside:

Stems are brittle and break easily. Zygocactus can be difficult to use well in the garden. Don suggested filling a hollow log with potting mix, then planting the zygocactus, allowing the stems to spill over the sides of the log.

Care:

Like all epiphytes, schlumbergeras need excellent drainage and do not grow well in garden soil. For best results use a free draining mix such as an orchid mix. Water plants when they are dry, in active growth and in flower. When not in flower they don't require much water. Fertilise in spring with a complete slow release fertiliser. To keep plants looking their best, pinch them back after flowering, and occasionally during spring. This will encourage branching and more flowers. Zygocactus do not like direct sunlight. They flower in response to shortening daylength (actually lengthening nights). They are so sensitive that their normal flowering can be upset if they are grown in an area which is lit at night, for example on a balcony near a street or outside light.

Getting started:

To grow zygocactus from a cutting, break off a leaf segment and leave it lying around until it develops aerial roots (this can take a few days to several weeks). Plant the rooted pieces in a pot filled with well-drained propagating mix. Once the cuttings begin to grow they can be transplanted into pots or hanging baskets. Place several cuttings in the one pot for a quick effect. Most nurseries and some supermarkets stock zygocactus in flower during autumn and winter. Expect to pay around $16 for a small hanging basket (150-170mm or 6-7") and about $25-$30 for larger plants in flower.

Copyright CTC Productions 2000


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