Posts Tagged With: Thanksgiving cactus

A Tale of Two Cacti

It’s a classic tale: the poor, abandoned orphan who perseveres, eventually overcoming hardship and heartache to become successful, happy, and universally admired. Charles Dickens might have written it. Oh, wait, Charles Dickens did write it. Several times, in fact.

But this particular story has unfolded right here in my very own home. Here is the uplifting (I think) tale of the Christmas cactus and the Thanksgiving cactus.

The Christmas cactus, a valued member of the family, can trace its ancestry back some 40 years to my grandmother’s plant, and back another 30 or 40 years to her cousin Minnie’s plant.

The Thanksgiving cactus was a gift to my daughter several years ago from someone who turned out to be a false friend. My daughter didn’t want the reminder of an unpleasant experience, so she left the cactus at my house.

I didn’t exactly welcome it with enthusiasm, but I took it in. I watered it. I kept it in the south window with the other plants. But I never talked to it, admired it, or even bothered to transplant it out of its original cheap plastic pot. It was just there, dutifully cared for but never loved. Sort of a step-cactus. A second-best cactus.

In response to this neglect, it did its best to thrive. It worked hard, blooming faithfully every year—even when my heirloom Christmas cactus did not. This outshining of my favorite, as Dickens could have predicted, did not make me love it. Over time, though, its quiet, uncomplaining dependability did generate a certain grudging respect and acceptance.

Last fall, I decided it was time to cut back the original plant. I snipped off several cuttings and plunked them into some water to take root—which, of course, they promptly did. Eventually I planted them in a new pot. Meanwhile, I kept watering the original plant, not wanting to throw it out until the new one was established.

Toward the end of November, I noticed buds on both plants. Obviously, the new one was thriving. But I certainly couldn’t dump out the old one while it was blooming. Even in Dickens’s time, condemned female criminals who were pregnant were reprieved long enough to bear their children.

So I waited and watered. All three cacti bloomed beautifully throughout the Christmas season, in an abundance and harmony that would have made Dickens proud.

We were out of town for much of January, and by the time we got home all the lovely pink-orange blossoms had dried up. Still, I didn’t quite get around to throwing out the original orphan plant.

And now, both Thanksgiving cacti are covered with an unheard-of second round of delicate pink buds. I don’t want two of them. But I can’t condemn a blooming cactus to the compost pile. They’ve done it again. When my back is turned, I swear I can hear them snickering.

Does anybody out there want a Thanksgiving cactus? Please, please, let me do the “far, far better thing” and give you one. Charles Dickens and I would both be grateful.

Categories: Odds and Ends | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Pot Problems

It's almost time to commit cacticide again.

Among the plants on the old library table in my kitchen are a Christmas cactus and a Thanksgiving cactus. Well, supposedly it's a Thanksgiving cactus, but this past year it bloomed around Halloween and then again at Easter, so it appears to be a bit conflicted in its religious beliefs.

Both plants are thriving, to the point of getting too big for their pots. It's time to either repot them, trim them back severely, or consider even more drastic measures.

I've gone the repotting route before, and I know where it leads. First the plant outgrows a nice middle-sized pot, then a big one, and the next thing you know it's firmly established in a container the size of a coffee table that is too heavy to move. It's having illicit pot parties in the living room and you're too intimidated to say anything.

The last time that happened with the Christmas cactus, I finally took drastic action. I clipped off eight or ten substantial cuttings, started a new plant in a medium-sized pot, and after it was well established I lugged the old plant out onto the deck.

In January. A couple of days later we had a blizzard, and there the poor thing sat, the wind making its frozen fingers scratch against the glass door as if it were pleading to be taken back in. I felt like a murderer. It reminded me of the stories about Eskimos leaving old people out on the ice to die.

Especially because that plant was so old. It had been part of my life for nearly 40 years, and part of the family for much longer. My plant was a gift from my mother when I moved into my first house. It started from cuttings from my grandmother's Christmas cactus. Hers bloomed magnificently every year and had grown into a majestic presence, its gnarled thick stalks growing out of a square wooden pot custom-made for it by my uncle. Grandma's plant, in turn, had come from one belonging to her cousin Minnie, which might well have begun with a gift of cuttings to her mother as early as about 1900.

So cutting back my Christmas cactus or restarting it isn't something to be done lightly. It has a venerable and honorable heritage. Of course, it has a promising future as well. The one I started from it for my daughter is flourishing in her living room.

If I do start a new plant and discard the older part of mine, it really wouldn't be cacticide. It's more like reincarnation.

No wonder the Thanksgiving cactus is so confused.

Categories: Family | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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