I knew it as a Christmas cactus, but our blooming cultivar is officially a member of the Schlumbergera genus, buckelyi group. Plant is thriving in muggy warmth of Shenzhen February. Of interest du jour, a brief search for instructions on how to keep said cactus happy also turned up the information that Schlumbergera is originally from eastern Brazil.
Apparently, Schlumbergera truncata was first cultivated in Europe by 1818 and S. russelliana was introduced in 1939. My S. buckleyi is a descendent of an 1852 deliberate cross of truncata and russelliana. Yes, the English plant crosser was surnamed Buckley. Schlumbergera had its 15 minutes and was cultivated in different colors for hothouse habitats, but by the early 20th century (a mere 50 years later!) it lost popularity and many of the breeds were lost. From the 1950s, breeding resumed in Europe and North America, which is also when S. buckleyi made recorded appearance in the Pacific colonies of Australia and New Zealand.
What I’m curious about is the history of South China traffic in houseplants. Clearly, schlumbergeras, which were named to commemorate Frédéric Schlumberger, a French cultivator of cacti didn’t jump across South America and then swim to Shenzhen on a pacific gyre. I’m assuming that an ancestor of my S. buckleyi came to Hong Kong through postwar British colonialism. But I’m not sure. After all, there were British concessions in Tianjin and Shanghai and I’m sure that one or two of the elites would have had hot houses. I’m thinking that if cacti survived a trip from Brazil to England, they could also have survived one from England to the Chinese coast. So, does anyone know interesting stories and / or books about household gardening practices that illuminate the tortured tracks of colonial homemaking abroad? If so, please let me know.