21 March 2013


Drawing of Schlumbergera russelliana (Epiphyllum russellianum) Bot. Mag. 66. 3717. 1839.  This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.
We have two different varieties of Schlumbergera growing in our communal garden.  It was a surprise for me to learn that this plant is a cactus when I had always thought that it was a succulent.   I asked the forum of The British Cactus & Succulent Society to kindly identify the plants in the photographs below and also to help me understand the distinguishing characteristics between cacti and succulent plants.  Three people responded to my enquiry saying the following;

Response number 1: Cacti have areoles (the felty patches from which spines, flowers and new shoots arise). In Schlumbergera, there's one large one at the end of each branch segment and tiny ones in the notches along the sides.

Response number 2: Your two plants are Schlumbergera truncata hybrids probably (but might be the species itself).

All cacti are in the same plant family - that's what makes them a cactus. The "other" succulents can be in any other plant family. While most cacti are succulent, a few (like Schlumbergera) are only somewhat succulent, and a few (like Pereskia) are more like thorny bushes.

Response number 3:  Those are stem sections not leaves, so think of it as a cactus with only two ribs and segmented stems. All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. As said the unique feature of the Cactaceae is the areole. You may find this article by Gordon Rowley helpful:-

There are some primitive cacti like Pereskia that look more like rose bushes and have leaves, but as they still have areoles where the spines come from they are cacti. There are some other succulents that have spines but not areoles, so are not cacti. It's a case of getting to know the plants, but eventually you learn to tell the difference:- ... Leaves.htm

This series of articles by Mauseth is very informative if you click on the links on the left for various topics:- ... /index.htm

Schlumbergera is a small genus of cacti with six species found in the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil.  Plants grow on trees or rocks in habitats which are generally shady with high humidity and can be quite different in appearance from their desert-dwelling cousins. Most species of Schlumbergera have stems which resemble leaf-like pads joined one to the other and flowers which appear from areoles at the joints and tips of the stems. Two species have cylindrical stems more similar to other cacti. In Brazil, the genus is referred to as Flor de Maio (May flower), reflecting the period in which they flower in the Southern Hemisphere.
The cultivars of Schlumbergera fall into two main groups:
  • The Truncata Group contains all cultivars with features derived mainly from the species S. truncata: stem segments with pointed teeth; flowers held more or less horizontally, usually above the horizontal, whose upper side is differently shaped from the lower side (zygomorphic); and pollen which is yellow.
  • The Buckleyi Group contains all cultivars with at least some features clearly showing inheritance from S. russelliana: stem segments with rounded, more symmetical teeth; more or less symmetrical (regular) flowers which hang down, below the horizontal; and pollen which is pink.

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