The Easter cactus, like the Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti, is native to Brazil. The plant has flat, green stems. The stems look like leaves and are called segments. The stems produce flowers, which bud between the segments. Flowers can be many different colors, including purple, but the most popular are red and pink. The Easter cactus has bristles on the edges of the segments and at the tip of the terminal segment, but the Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti do not.
Scales are small insects that attack ornamental plants. The scale damages the Easter cactus by sucking the fluids from the plant’s leaves and stems. If the infestation is bad, the scales might also suck fluids from the roots of the plant. If the infestation is heavy, the plant’s leaves turn yellow, it will have premature leaf drop, parts of the cactus dies back and eventually, the cactus dies.
Scale eggs hatch in one to three weeks, depending on the type of scale. The babies (nymphs) find a feeding site on the cactus to feed and grow. Once males molt, they are tiny and winged, and they make their way from the host cactus to other plants, spreading the infection. Scales can be controlled with pesticides.
The female mealybug grows up to 3mm long, and the males are small, about the size of a gnat. The eggs are covered by dense, fluffy wax. A mealybug generally lays 200 to 600 eggs per sac. They prefer cactus in warm, dry weather, or in a warm house. The mealybug inserts its thread-like mouth parts into the plant to suck the sap out of the plant. They also secrete honeydew, which causes the plant to turn black. You can usually find mealybugs near the base of the stems of plants, including the Easter cactus.
Because the mealybug’s ovisac is covered in wax, it is difficult to get pesticides into the egg sac. This makes it difficult to control mealybugs. Treatment with pesticides will most likely have to be repeated at least two more times to get rid of the pests. If you notice mealybugs before a full-blown infestation occurs, remove them with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.
The Easter cactus does not need a lot of water. Overwatering the plant kills it. Water the plant, then wait until the soil is dry before watering again.
Holiday cacti can be infested by scales or mealy bugs, but these insects rarely cause major problems. Wiping the leaves with alcohol can keep pests in check. Use a systemic insecticide for a serious infestation.