The Alex Cactus


December 26, 2019

On November 3, 1984, when her son Alex was born, Deborah Solo received a Christmas cactus as a celebratory gift. For the next 30 years, the “Alex Cactus” bloomed every holiday season, and as the two of them grew, the plant’s health became a symbol of his own wellbeing. As long as the cactus was thriving, Deborah knew that her son would be doing well, too.

Then five years ago, the holidays came and went, but the cactus didn’t bloom. Another year went by, and again, nothing. By the next year, the limbs were deteriorating, and its fate was looking grim. At that point, most people would have cut their losses and thrown the plant away. But Deborah couldn’t do that.

She wouldn’t give up that easily. It carried too much of something too important. The Christmas cactus was an extension of Alex, and in her eyes, to neglect it would be no different than to neglect him.

So, she transplanted the cactus into newer, healthier soil, and patiently took care to try and revive it. Slowly, it took to the new dirt, and surely, its limbs came back to life. Then on Alex’s 35th birthday, a red flower appeared, then another, and another. 

The “Alex Cactus” was back in bloom, and Deborah felt a sense of relief as lush as its leaves. In the spirit of the holiday season in which the cactus blooms, it represented family, life and health, and served as a reminder to cherish and be grateful for those we love.

For answers to any and all questions about plants, check out the Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s “Ask PHS” resource.

The original Christmas cactus, seen here in Deborah and Angel’s home