I have a Christmas cactus on my windowsill that I am evidently trying to kill.
That's the only explanation I have because it's been at least two years since I dropped the cutting into a cup of water and first set it on a windowsill. Since then, it has grown roots that have rotted off and then grown again at least three times. Yet, just like a fish in a bowl, I keep changing its water and setting it back on the windowsill.
''That plant is trying desperately to bloom for us,'' my husband said. ''We should at least plant it.''
I honestly tried on at least two occasions. Once I couldn't find an available pot. It must have been spring when I was using every container in sight to start seeds for the vegetable garden. The second attempt was more recent, before Christmas when I was searching for potting soil. The only available potting soil I found were huge bags stacked against a wall hidden behind a huge display of poinsettias. Even if I wanted a giant bag of soil, I could see it but couldn't get to them.
In spite of its abusive treatment, the little two-segment cutting sends out a flower bud at least three times a year. We think it would be yellow if it ever lives long enough to open up. But due to its harsh conditions, the bud always drops off before it gets to that point.
Actually, I'm not sure it's a Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii). It could be a Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncatus), or even an Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerii). It's hard to say because I've never given it natural conditions to see when it actually is supposed to bloom, nor have I closely examined the leaves to see if I can tell that way. It's not that I don't care. I just haven't gotten to it.
I remember asking my friend for the cutting because I'd never seen a yellow flower on a holiday cactus. And yet there it sits in a cup of water on my windowsill, where I am optimistic it will continue to live until I take the time to give it some attention.
Native to South America, holiday cacti are members of the Cactaceae family. Some species grow primarily deserts while others are epiphytes that grow on tree branches in tropical regions. The holiday cacti are epiphytes, often called ''zygo-cactus,'' but like desert cacti, they are succulents.
It is to propagate this plant. Simply pinch off a section of a branch and stick it in water until it roots or better yet, plant it right away and keep it moist until you notice new growth.
Having no leaves makes it easier to retain water. The modified stems are made up of short segments called cladodes. Cladodes are flat like leaves, giving the plant more surface area for photosynthesis.
Christmas cactus, named because it blooms around that time, has lobed segments that are more round than its Thanksgiving-blooming cousin. You might have noticed from their botanical names mentioned above that both of these plants are from the same genus. Their flowers are similar, long and hooded, or segmented like the cladodes. Easter cactus, which blooms in the spring, have larger, wider segments and their flowers are star-shaped. All of these plants' flowers grow off the tips of the last segment on a stem.
The biggest complaint most people have is trying to get the plants to bloom. Changes in light or temperature can cause buds to drop once they are set, or in the case of my cutting, by leaving it in a cup of water its entire life. As an understory plant from mountainous regions, these plants are generally tucked beneath the shelter of host trees, where temperatures are cooler and they get filtered sunlight. At the end of summer they prefer at least 13 hours of darkness to set flower buds. Try placing your plant in a cool, spare room where there isn't much chance someone will be turning on the light once the sun goes down.
In summer, keep the plant out of direct sunlight but put it in a bright window in winter.
Now that I've told the story of my sad, little cutting, I'm beginning to feel guilty about its mistreatment. Since the holidays are over and there's no gardening to do outside, I just might get it potted-up after all.