Last week I dropped in to see one of my daughter’s former teachers. The teacher has a warm sunny classroom with an array of flourishing potted plants on the windowsills. It was a midwinter treat to see such luxuriant geraniums and aloes. I just missed the blooming period of a large jasmine, but from the size of it, I am sure that its fragrance improved the indoor air quality in the entire north end of the school building.
As I was looking at the aloes, the teacher pointed to a medium-size specimen on the same windowsill. I could tell from the fleshy, stem-like leaves that the plant was some kind of cactus, but it had no spines at all. The plant’s general configuration and its droopy leaves gave it something of the appearance of a Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii), but the leaves were not segmented like those of that popular holiday-season specimen. At a loss, I asked the teacher what the plant was.
“I don’t know,” she replied, “I got it from another teacher who got it from a relative who lived in France.” The teacher went on to say that the cactus had bloomed earlier in the year, though it had never bloomed for its donor. The cactus itself is interesting, but rather nondescript in appearance. Its real glory, said my daughter’s teacher, came when it was in bloom. The classroom specimen had sprouted twelve large blossoms from the leaves. Each blossom, said the teacher was “lily-like.”
My curiosity was piqued, and I offered to try and find out the identity of the mystery cactus. The teacher, in turn, offered me a cutting. I never turn down a free plant, so I accepted it eagerly, brought it home, potted it up in the same ordinary soil that supported the school plant, and awaited further developments. Then I sat down to do the research.
Checking my comprehensive horticultural encyclopedia, I looked up “Schlumbergera”, to see whether the plant was some exotic species of Christmas cactus. It appeared that all Christmas cacti are segmented, ruling out that theory. Next I turned to the Internet, accessing the best search engine for things horticultural. I put in many different word combinations, including “flowering cactus”, which was too broad by far, giving me information on everything from prickly pear cacti to giant saguaro. Then I tried “indoor” combined with “flowering cactus”. This gave me a number of hits, but I concentrated on ones with pictures, hoping to find a match for the mystery cactus. I found out that most of the websites with pictures contained photos of cactus blossoms rather than the leaves or plant configurations. Since I had never actually seen a blossom of the mystery cactus, this was very little help. Still, it was inspiring to see all those gorgeous blossoms. I put the pot with the cutting in it on top of the computer stand and continued my search.