The Christmas Cactus

Given the right conditions, a Christmas cactus can bloom for eight weeks or more and will usually start flowering in November. Spread throughout the world by botanists in search of new plants, they originated in Brazil where they grow in the canopy of trees in the mountains and are quite hardy. Perhaps that helps explain how a cutting from my grandmother’s Christmas cactus has survived in my parent’s basement for fifty plus years.

Mom would water it every two weeks or so on her way past to do laundry. It perched unglamorously in its green plastic pot inside an ice-cream pail with only the dim light from a north facing window to communicate with the outside world. Yet, come November, it would burgeon with pink buds and she would pick off the dead parts, put it in a soup bowl and transport it upstairs to the coffee table in the living room. We had some little ceramic Christmas carol singing mice that Mom used to arrange beneath its canopy of pink blossoms.

When Mom left home to go into extended care, Dad took over the job of looking after the Christmas cactus. He too gave it a shot of water when he thought of it while passing by to do the laundry. Several years ago, on the dreary late November day that we gathered around the kitchen table to plan Mom’s funeral, Dad mentioned that he had some clothes in the dryer so I popped downstairs to gather the laundry and there was the Christmas cactus, blooming away in the dark basement. I brought it upstairs to its spot on the coffee table and Dad noted that it had started budding about the time Mom had gone into hospital.


The brilliant pink blossoms stayed with us for the week leading up to Mom’s funeral then the day before the service, Dave Walden asked if there was anything else we wanted to add.  I had played it safe till then, only revealing facts and some humorous stories but those blooms were insistent.  Tears flowed freely as  I revealed that we had all felt Mom guiding us through the week as the cactus flowered away.  How special it was to share this story with friends and family as we sat in a church adorned with Christmas cacti.

This November, the Christmas cactus came upstairs on the eighteenth of November and it’s still blooming, colouring our thoughts with beautiful memories of Mom.



4 thoughts on “The Christmas Cactus

  1. nicmacphee says:

    Your story brought tears to my eyes. My Grumper and Nana had a similar Christmas cactus that was over 50 years old. When my Nana passed its what I took. It was magnificent in size and when in bloom she budded in all her glory. I lived in Australia for a year and gave my Christmas cactus to a friend to look after and she forgot to water it during a very hot spell and it died. I miss it so much. I think its time I go buy one in hopes that one day my children can enjoy it the same way we have.

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