Christmas cactus, desert Christmas cactus and mistletoe cactus are different plant species; learn the differences between cacti with Christmas names.
The cactus family is a plant family which is not traditionally associated with Christmas, yet some cacti have Christmas names; the most commonly known Christmas cactus is Schlumbergera bridgessii, also related to other Holiday cacti, such as the Thanksgiving and Easter cacti. However, there are other cacti which have names associated with Christmas too.
The Traditional Christmas Cactus
The traditional Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) does actually have a significant connection to Christmas; in Australia and Latin America, the traditional Christmas cactus is decorated at Christmas time in much the same way as countries in the Northern hemisphere decorate Christmas trees, as the traditional fir tree is not native to hotter countries.
The traditional Christmas cactus has flat stems, cladodes, in place of traditional leaves; the traditional Christmas cactus has red flowers and is native to South America. However, many Christmas cactus hybrids can now be found with flowers of pink, cream, orange and purple. Many people in colder countries try to keep the traditional Christmas cactus as a houseplant but often have difficulties in achieving blooms because the cactus is not in its native environment.
Botanical Profile of the Desert Christmas Cactus
The desert Christmas cactus (Opuntia leptocaulis) is native to western Arizona, northern Mexico and Texas; it is found in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts at elevations between 1,000 and 4,000 feet. The desert Christmas cactus actually flowers in May and June, when it produces green-bronze flowers. However, it is the red fruits that the desert Christmas cactus produces throughout the winter months which gives the plant its name.
Botanical Profile of Mistletoe Cactus
Mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) should not be confused with traditional Christmas mistletoe. Mistletoe cactus is an ephiphyte which is native to the tropical climate of Florida, Africa, Peru, Brazil and Sri Lanka. Mistletoe cactus is a plant which has a number of synonyms which sometimes leads to further confusion; Mistletoe cactus is also known as Spaghetti cactus, Rhipsalis cassutha and Cassytha baccifera.
Mistletoe cactus resembles mistletoe in some ways in that it has small, white fruits; it has long, trailing green ‘vines’ and small green-white flowers. Mistletoe cactus blooms throughout the year; it is often found in hanging baskets in the U.S. if the growing conditions and temperature are right.
Differences between Christmas Cacti
Although several cacti have Christmas names, and may look similar, they are, in fact, different plants. The traditional Christmas cactus is the most commonly known Christmas cactus; Mistletoe cactus is a different plant to mistletoe and the desert Christmas cactus is found in the South Western deserts of the U.S.