They might not be as large and showy as poinsettias, but I'm very fond of Christmas cactus and kalanchoe. I know one gardener who has an enormous Christmas cactus, every bit as big as a large poinsettia. It's five or six years old now and every year she takes cuttings from it to give to friends. Still the plant thrives and blooms right on schedule for Christmas with large, showy, cerise flowers.

Kalanchoe and Christmas cactus are succulents: They store water in their tissues. The Christmas cactus grows on trees in tropical forests and stores water in its leaf- like stem. But kalanchoe stores water in its leaves. Any kalanchoe or Christmas cactus you buy now is likely to be in flower or just about to flower.

Maintenance is fairly simple. Kalanchoes, which produce deep orange or scarlet clusters of flowers, need plenty of light all year round. In winter they can tolerate temperatures around 40 or 50 degrees; in fact, they prefer cooler air and they're not likely to enjoy a heated corner. Let soil almost dry out before watering moderately. When the weather warms up, put your kalanchoe in a larger pot and move it outside. It will love that full light and take off, but it won't tolerate below-freezing temperatures.

The Christmas cactus is a little different. It likes an evenly moist soil and shouldn't be kept indoors in direct sunlight. It makes an ideal house plant because it doesn't need much light. If yours won't bloom, don't water it for a month. Then put it where it will get daylight only -- no artificial light at all; a guest bedroom is good. The plant should be near the window and the temperature should remain at about 50 degrees. After a month of this treatment, you should see some buds starting to form. When the plant is getting ready to bloom, reintroduce it to society and enjoy it in your living room.

Propagating the Christmas cactus is easy: Just cut a piece of the segmented stem at a joint, taking at least three segments. You shouldn't have much of a wound, so let it dry it out overnight. Get yourself a small pot, fill it with potting soil to within half an inch of the top and insert the base of the cutting just far enough that it won't fall over. Keep the soil barely moist. After a week, the plant will send out roots; within two or three weeks, you should see another pale-green stem segment begin to grow.