H. gaertneri is found in southeastern Brazil, in Paraná and Santa Catarina, at altitudes of 350–1,300 m. As with other species of the genus, H. gaertneri grows on trees (epiphytic) or less often rocks (lithophytic) in tropical rain forests. With maturity, it develops into a branching pendant leafless shrub with a woody base. The stems are made up of segments, most of which are flattened and which are the photosynthetic organs (cladodes) of the plant. Younger segments are dullish green, 4–7 cm long and 2–2.5 cm wide, with small notches on the margins. Structures characteristic of cacti, called areoles, form in these notches.
Flowers form from areoles at the ends of the stems. These are scarlet in colour, 4–5 cm long, radially symmetrical (actinomorphic), opening to a funnel shape with a maximum diameter of about 4–7.5 cm. Red oblong fruits form after the flowers are fertilised.
The Easter Cactus is considered more difficult to grow than the Christmas or Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera). Recommendations for care include:
Temperature: Summer temperatures around 25 °C are suggested, with lower temperatures down to 7–13 °C in the winter (November to January in the Northern Hemisphere) to initiate good bud formation.
Light: As epiphytic forest plants, they are not exposed to strong sunlight. Half-shade is recommended; plants can be placed outside in the summer.
Watering: The Easter Cactus is said to respond badly to over- or under-watering, e.g. by losing stem segments; continuously moist soil is recommended.
Propagation: Stem segments may be removed in late Spring and the cut surface allowed to dry out before being placed in slightly moist soil.
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