Rootlike Growths On Christmas Cactus: Why Christmas Cactus Has Aerial Roots

By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

Christmas cactus is a striking plant with bright pink or red blooms that add festive color around the winter holidays. Unlike typical desert cactus, Christmas cactus is a tropical plant that grows in the Brazilian rainforest. The cactus is easy to grow and a cinch to propagate, but Christmas cactus has some unusual attributes that may cause you to wonder what’s going on with your plant. Let’s learn more about roots growing from Christmas cactus plants.

Why Christmas Cactus Has Aerial Roots

If you notice root-like growths on Christmas cactus, don’t be overly concerned. Christmas cactus is an epiphytic plant that grows on trees or rocks in its natural habitat. The roots growing from Christmas cactus are actually aerial roots that help the plant cling to its host.

The plant is not a parasite because it doesn’t depend on the tree for food and water. This is where the roots come in handy. Christmas cactus aerial roots help the plant reach sunlight and absorb necessary moisture and nutrients from leaves, humus and other plant debris that surround the plant.

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These natural survival mechanisms can give you clues why your potted Christmas cactus is developing aerial roots. For example, low light can cause the plant to send out aerial roots in an attempt to absorb more sunlight. If this is the case, moving the plant into brighter sunlight may diminish the growth of aerial roots.

Similarly, the plant may develop aerial roots because it is reaching out to find more water or nutrients. Water the plant deeply whenever the top 1 to 2 inches of potting soil feels dry to the touch. Water sparingly during fall and winter, providing just enough moisture to keep the plant from wilting.

Feed the plant once every month, beginning in late winter or early spring, using a regular houseplant fertilizer. Stop fertilizing in October when the plant is preparing to bloom.

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