Zygocactus is one plant that celebrates winter in style
PLANTS respond to the changing seasons in many different ways.
In autumn, the shorter days and cooler nights causes the leaves on deciduous trees to colour and eventually fall.
The shorter days also causes several plant species to flower.
One of these is zygocactus, a member of the cactus family that celebrates the shorter days in style.
In fact the name was changed a few years ago, and what we know as zygocactus should now be called schlumbergera truncates.
In Europe and America they are known as Holiday Cactus or Christmas Cactus because they flower at Christmas time.
But Australian gardeners still tend to call them zygocactus.
You might not recognise any of these names, but you will almost certainly recognise the plant when you see it, with its distinctive fleshy, flattened, segmented leaves that grow in an arching formation from the base of the plant.
The unusually shaped, very brightly coloured flowers emerge at the end of these leaves.
The blooms are often a bit shimmery, and range in colour from white through pinks, lavender, coral, orange and red. Although they are a member of the cactus family, they are not desert plants and they are not thorny.
They come from the jungles of Brazil, a humid area with high rainfall. Like many bromeliads, zygocactus are epiphytes, which means that they depend on other plants for support, but not for nutrition.
In the wild, Zygocactus grow in trees, where they enjoy sunlight filtered through the canopy. You could experiment with replicating those conditions in your garden.
They are especially well suited to tall pots and hanging baskets as they do tend to hang rather than grow upright. Zygocactus are incredibly hardy and easy to grow.
Like all epiphytes, they need excellent drainage. Some experts suggest a cymbidium orchid or bromeliad mix, but you could also use a premium potting mix, but not a cactus mix.
They are best in a partly shaded situation.
Use a slow release fertiliser in spring and again in mid to late summer.
The flower buds start to form in about March.
Because the flowering is triggered by shorter days, flowering can be impaired or stopped entirely if the plant receives artificial light at night in autumn.
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