Schlumbergera lutea

This delightful epiphytic cactus from eastern Brazil has had a number of different names over the years. Up to 2011 it was known as Hatiora epiphylloides, and certainly the shape of its regular flowers do appear very similar to those in the species then called H. rosea and H. gaertneri. Recent molecular analyses have now separated those two species from other Hatiora (and reinstated them as Rhipsalidopsis). They also showed however that H. epiphylloides appears to be more closely related to Schlumbergera, and so we should currently be calling this species by its new name, Schlumbergera lutea.

The plants have mid to dark green flattened stem sections. There are two recognised subspecies, one with larger, more ovate sections (subsp. lutea), and another with smaller, wedge-shaped sections (subsp. bradei). In subsp, lutea the sections may reach 3–4cm long, while in subsp. bradei they may be half that, or even less. However in reality the situation may not be so clear-cut, as in recent years a new clone has been circulating that appears to be more or less intermediate in shape and size. It may be that the recognised forms merely represent extreme variants within a continuous range.

Fig. 1 Branching pattern on S. lutea subsp. bradei

Fig. 1 Branching pattern on S. lutea subsp. bradei

The plants grow by sending out new stem sections from the tips of older sections. When growing well several new stems will be produced from each one and, in subsp. bradei in particular, this can quickly lead to a characteristic densely branched, spreading pattern of growth (see Fig. 1). Stems in subsp. lutea tend to branch less, and become more pendent (see Fig. 2). In both cases, once the plants become mature enough, after probably five years or so, they can then also produce starry, bright yellow flowers from the youngest sections. These should be at their best during the later part of May.

Fig. 2 S. lutea subsp. lutea

Fig. 2 S. lutea subsp. lutea

Subsp. bradei, in particular, can be quite vigorous, extending its shoots by several new sections each year (though of course that may only equate to a few cm!). Despite its smaller size, the flowers on subsp. bradei are actually larger, around 3cm across, compared with 2cm for subsp. lutea. Subsp. bradei can thus make a more showy, as well as more compact, plant (see Figs. 3 and 4).

Fig. 3 Flowers on S. lutea subsp. lutea

Fig. 3 Flowers on S. lutea subsp. lutea

Fig. 4   S. lutea subsp. bradei in flower

Fig. 4 S. lutea subsp. bradei in flower

Many people find these plants difficult to grow. I have not, so far, though I am very aware that just saying this may be enough to send my plants into a steep decline. I have experimented with growing them in a number of different ways. The substrate does not seem to matter much, and I have grown them successfully in, for example, organic composts (based on chopped coir and composted bark); in moss; and in perlite/vermiculite mixes. I have also seen plants growing well, simply attached to unglazed clay tiles that are sprayed regularly. Whichever way they are grown, plants seem to benefit from still air around the stems; probably they lose water too quickly otherwise. Plants should not be allowed to dry out, but equally waterlogging around the roots needs to be avoided. The plants prefer cold conditions, and are OK down to at least 0°C overnight; and definitely suffer in high temperatures. In practice high temperatures are often associated with brighter (sun)light, so it’s safer to avoid that too. In summary: you should be safe with still air, a moderately moist substrate, shady conditions, and temperatures below 25°C max. (I grow mine in pots, which I keep in seed trays with translucent plastic lids, in a shaded part of an unheated conservatory.) Of course, you may find other, better, ways to grow your plants. However you do it, though, getting your plants to flower well is always going to be a rewarding experience.

Fig. 5   Close up of a flower

Fig. 5 Close up of a flower

Propagation is normally by means of cuttings. Commercially, the plants are sometimes sold grafted: however, while that may cause them to grow quickly, the growth habit is rarely as elegant. So as soon as they are big enough, it will always be worth taking off parts to grow on their own roots, if you can.

Mark Preston

No part of this article may be reproduced without permission. Copyright BCSS & the Author 2020

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