The Century Cactus

Xmas cactus 3 12.03.14The plant in question probably isn’t a hundred years old, but I like the title, “The Century Cactus,” so I’m exercising a little poetic license. Besides that, the cactus might be a hundred years old. As far as I’m aware, nobody knows for sure.

The same might be said for the drapes in the window, but that’s another story.

When my dad moved in with us in 2004, my brother, sister and I had to decide what to do with the Christmas cactus. It had been in the house for many years, as it was my mother’s mother’s before it was hers. (This applies to both the house and the plant.)

After Mom passed away in 2003, my dad continued watering the resident cactus every Sunday (when he remembered), so it was still alive. But it wasn’t very perky, and no one remembered when it last bloomed.

My brother and his wife had a nice bay window in their apartment, so they took the cactus Xmas Cactus 2 12.03.14home, read up on the care and feeding of a Christmas cactus, treated it according to the instructions, and it thrived. And bloomed! But then they moved and didn’t have a place for it, and I ended up with it.

My horticultural skills end at the back door. That is, I garden, but I don’t do houseplants. (In the first picture above, see the stick in the pot next to the cactus? It’s a bay tree. Ha! It’s a bay stick. But there again, that’s another story.) I set it on my window ledge and watered it when I thought of it, but it didn’t do anything but sit there. That is to say, it didn’t bloom.

Then one summer, I noticed a weird fungus growing in the soil. I have no idea what it was, but I wasn’t wild about the idea of having it in my house, so I took the plant outside and set it in the sun. I didn’t know if the hot sun would kill the cactus, but I hoped it would kill the fungus, at least. To help aid the fungus’s demise, I quit watering the pot. I figured the cactus had lived a good life, and if it didn’t survive the treatment, it would be no great loss.

The fungus died, and all the branches dried up and fell off the cactus, leaving only a big woody stump. But that fall, I brought the pot in and started watering the plant to see if it would revive.

Xmas cactus 1 12.03.14As you can see, it did. Or at least, new branches grew in, but it didn’t bloom. Until now! A couple of weeks ago I was surprised to see a blossom, with a number of buds appearing. Now, there are several blossoms, and more buds. As far as I know, this is the first time it’s bloomed since 2005. Apparently it likes it here in Maryland.

Why am I wasting your time and mine with this post? Because it’s fun to think that this plant has been in the family for three generations.

I don’t know when or from where my mother’s mother acquired the cactus. Was it a cutting from one that had been in the family even longer? I’ll never know.

I have no memory of my grandmother, because she died before I was born. But when I think about her having cared for it, and now it’s blooming for me, it makes me smile. Whatever the story behind it might be, I call it the heirloom cactus.

Hmmm… maybe I should have used that as the title for this post. Nah. If I do that, I’ll have to rewrite the first two paragraphs.

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3 thoughts on “The Century Cactus

  1. I have one from my mother-in-law and one that Jim bought me. Both bloom regularly. In fact, the younger one (coral-pink) starts blooming just before Thanksgiving each year and often keeps going until almost Easter! I think it is one of the easier house plants to grow. Glad to see yours doing so beautifully. Merry Christmas!

  2. Thanks, friends, for leaving comments. I agree that a Christmas cactus is one of the easier house plants. The fact that this one’s survived so long is evidence of that, as it’s never been pampered.

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