The Whole Cactus - for Leah & Shirley

I posted a macro shot of a bloom from my 32 year old Christmas Cactus for the last Sunday Stills, and Leah & Shirley requested to see the whole plant. It's hard to show size. The plant is sitting on top of a 55 gallon fish tank, that is over 4 feet wide (50"). As you can see, the plant is almost as wide. Here is a photo of the whole cactus, along with it's story:

My Christmas Cactus
(approximately 47" long and 42" wide)

My mother gave me my first plant cutting when I was a teenager, it was an old fashion Christmas Cactus. She started it from a plant cutting that Eloisa, a long-time family friend, had given her. As the years passed, the cactus cuttings continued to grow as well as our friendship with Senora Eloisa. She was at our family gatherings, and we frequently picked her up to go Church on Sunday's. I remember visiting her as a young adult in Assisted Living, and seeing her original Christmas Cactus plant. I don't remember where she got it.

More years passed, and my mothers cactus plant eventually perished. Mine almost did too, when my husband tried to pan fry it! It's a standing family joke, that my two older kids clearly remember - even tho they were young. Back in the day, we heated our tiny farm house flat with a wood stove. When it was off season, that Blaze King was a sunny place for my ever-growing plant collection to catch some sun light. Apparently that Fall, when Brad stoked up the fire for the first time, he didn't see the big plant in a bright orange plastic container...I will never forget walking into the apartment to the smoky stench of smoldering plastic, and pan-fried cactus!! I was livid and grabbed the whole mess, threw it out in the lawn and said a few choice words, while trying to salvage what was left of my beloved Christmas Cactus. His name was mud, plant killer, you name it - for a while. Of course I forgave him, and we laugh about it now. My cactus was sad looking for many, many years. It slowly recovered and grew into a huge plant, but never bloomed. Years later when we moved to our new house, I did what I said I would never do - I faithfully carried that huge plant in and out of a dark closet daily, for months. I garden/grow plants based on tough love philosophy, but sometimes...Iet's just say I was trying to get my cactus back on a blooming cycle. It eventually bloomed, and continues to produce more flowers every year. I can only wonder what it would look like if it hadn't been pan fried??

I have fond memories of Eloisa, she had became a regular part of our family. When my children were young she was at every birthday, baptism, etc. until she could not attend anymore. Her only daughter lived out of town, and eventually moved her closer to where she lived. Our Eloisa was born in 1900, and reached the ripe old age of 99. I really wanted to do something special for her memorial. I so wanted to give her daughter a plant cutting from her mothers plant, but wondered how bad it would look among all the fancy florist memorial flowers and plants? The cutting was a good size, but as they typically are, it was wilted and not well established. My sister encouraged me to go through with my idea, and not care what others might think. I may never see her daughter again (and to date, I haven't) it was now, or never. I potted the cutting up in a new container, dressed it up with a bow, and stuck a handmade card held in a florist display prong, explaining where the plant originated from. I remember sheepishly setting it among the gorgeous plants, and my mother scolding me for bringing it. She recanted when she received a heartfelt thank you card to our family from Eloisa's daughter. Among other things, she mentioned the thoughtful cactus plant. She remembered her mothers plant, they had given it away when they moved her out of Assisted Living. She also mentioned they didn't keep the fancy florist plants from the memorial, but kept the cactus. The following Christmas I knew I had done the right thing, when the card she sent mentioned the cactus plant again. Eloisa's daughter said she keeps the plant in her sun porch, and when it bloomed it reminded her of her mother. 


Shirley said...

What a heart warming story. My husband has a cactus plant that is a cutting from a plant that was brought to |Alberta in a covered wagon from the Dakotas. He says the plant was kept in the basement of a farm house and filled the whole room. When his friend died, Ted asked for a cutting from the plant and was given a tiny sickly little slip that took us years to nurse into a viable plant- I even had to send it to a friend who has a terrific green thumb, and he got it established. It still has a way to go and doesn't bloom much. What is this about putting the plant in a dark closet to force it to bloom?

fernvalley01 said...

What a wonderful story and heritage.So glad you were able to salvage it after the cooking incedent! And a lovely gift to Eloisa's daughter! brought tears just reading it

aurora said...

Plants can be precious living heirlooms. I am not surprised it filled a farm basement. That is perfect conditions for overwintering an indoor cactus. They easily live for over 100 years when cared for properly, and depending on what type of cactus it is - they can get really, really large. I wonder if your cactus is some type of an Epi? They look somewhat similar, and those get enormous.

The closet darkness trick mimics nature, where plants go into a stage of dormancy. For a Christmas Cactus, it's something like 12 hours of dark and 12 of light mid-September through November-ish? It happens naturally, depending on plant placement. You may notice, Christmas Cactus bloom more on the back side where the light isn't always on them.

Years ago I found an awesome simple brochure online about Christmas Cactus care, and the different types. I'll look for it, if I still have it I'll send it your way - otherwise I would suggest trying google.

aurora said...

Thanks Fern. I am thankful I have a part of Eloisa's plant, and think about her when I take care of it.

Rising Rainbow said...

I've always been fond of the Christmas cactus although I'm really not sure why. Thanks for sharing your story about this one. I'm glad it survived being pan fried.

Jeni said...

laughing and tears.. great story Aurora. I have no plants.. I kill them all LOL !

aurora said...

You and me both Rising Rainbow. Glad you both enjoyed the heart-felt story. Thanks for letting me share it. Jeni, I bet I could help with the plant thing, it's really just a matter of timing.

CCC said...

I loved that story. It tells alot about you and the kind of heart you have to give a gift so special. My mom had a Christmas cactus too, same kind of story so I totally get it.