Scarlet Easter Cactus – Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri

The Scarlet Easter Cactus is one of two varieties in the genus Rhipsalidopsis. Both originate in the forests of Brazil.

The plant has smooth, jointed stems that are usually flat, but are sometimes slightly angular. They may be entirely green or tinged with purple at the margins. Areoles (small modified side shoots) on the tips of the stems have short bristles; it is also from the areoles that new stem joints and flowers are produced.

Although it is an epiphyte, the Scarlet Easter Cactus will grow very well in a pot. However, as it has a shallow root system, the potting compost should be light and porous.

It will adapt to most indoor conditions, but it must have high humidity in warm weather. Cool conditions are necessary in the winter if it is to flower.Scarlet Easter Cactus - Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri

The expanded symmetrical flowers are scarlet or bright red with yellowish undertones, unlike the Christmas Cactus, which has bluish undertones. The flower centre is yellow.

Plants grow upright at first, but as they develop the stems begin to hang, and if necessary the plants should be replanted in more suitable pots or containers. The height of a mature plant can be up to 45cm (18in), with a spread of 90cm (3ft).

Colours and varieties The only close relative of Easter Cactus is Rhipsalidopsis rosea, which is a dwarf plant that grows to a height of 15cm (6in). The flowers are rose or pink, and are slightly scented. The two varieties of Easter Cactus have been crossed to produce R. x graeseri, which often produces more flowers than the varieties.

Display ideas

Older plants with stems that hang can be planted in hanging baskets.

Grafting your cactus

Graft your cactus on to rooted stem cuttings of Seleneicereus. The cuttings can be used when their roots are well established. Grafting is best done in June or July. Cut off the top of the rootstock and make 2 incisions 2.5cm (1 in) deep on either side of the cut surface. Break off 2 thick joints from the Easter Cactus, trim the ends to fit and place each in an incision. Hold with toothpicks.

Pests And Diseases

If the stems shrink and wither as if the plant were suffering from lack of water, rot may be the cause. Examine the base of the stems and the roots. Brown mushy areas on the roots and black at the base of the stems are signs of root and stem rot.

Treatment: Unfortunately, a plant with rot cannot be saved, and you will have to discard it. However, the outer stems are rarely affected, and these can be used as cuttings.

Bud drop can result from variations in temperature or from keeping the plant at temperatures that are too high.

Prevention: The best way to prevent bud drop is to keep the plant in cool temperatures at night and to avoid moving the plant from a cool to a warm position. In fact, the Easter Cactus generally does best when it is left in one spot. Never move when buds have developed.

PLANT CARE

Easy to grow, but care in providing the right conditions is necessary to produce good flowers. Bud production can be encouraged by feeding with a high potash fertilizer in summer and inducing a short, cool winter rest.

  • Potting: Repot in mid-September as necessary. Use a porous, soil-based compost to which you have added Perlite and coarse peat.
  • Water moderately in spring and summer and mist spray daily in warm weather. Water sparingly in winter. The compost should not dry out completely, but beware of overwatering in winter.
  • Feeding: Feed regularly during the summer with a standard liquid fertilizer or a tomato-type fertilizer. Reduce feeding in September and stop altogether in October.

BEST GROWTH ENVIRONMENT

  • Light: Keep in partial shade, as the plant will become scorched if given too much sun.
  • Temperature: Easter Cactus will tolerate normal summer temperatures. A minimum temperature of 13°C (55°F) is necessary in winter to encourage buds to form.

Buying Tips

  • Available mainly during the Easter period, when the plant is in flower, from florists, garden centres and nurseries.
  • Choose a plant with lots of flower buds yet to open and healthy, firm stems. Avoid plants with wrinkled sections on some of the stems.
  • The Easter Cactus will live for many years and should provide you with an abundance of flowers.

The flowers are carried at the tips of mature stems and develop after 8-10 weeks if the plant is kept in cool conditions during the winter.

Although rather similar to the Christmas Cactus, the Scarlet, Easter Cactus is a separate species. The lovely flowers are usually produced in profusion in March or April.

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