The Real Thing

by | Jan 3, 2013 | 5 comments

Flower of a Christmas cactus

Most people aren’t aware there is a difference between Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus. I had only seen the latter, until last December.  I saw one at the Winn, MI antique store and then the same week, at my Aunt Gloria’s home. Of course, usually, everyone just calls both Christmas cactus, but that isn’t correct. How can you tell the difference, you ask? The true Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) blooms later in the year than the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata). The easiest way to tell them apart, though, is the shape of their stem segments or phylloclades (cladodes). The Latin for leaf is phyllo- and for branch is -clade. They both have these flattened stem segments, but the Thanksgiving cactus has segments with small pointed appendages, whereas the Christmas cactus has rounded edges. By the way, they really are cacti- epiphytic cacti, as they grow in Brazilian rainforests in trees, but cacti none the less. 

Aunt Gloria’s Christmas cactus

Thanksgiving cactus segments

Thanksgiving Cactus

I immediately asked for cuttings from my Aunt and received them. I let them dry for a few days and potted them up in well-drained soil. Of course, December isn’t the best time to start cuttings, but I have them under lights and dipped them in rooting gel. If they don’t take, I know where to get more. It is best to trim your cactus after blooming, in the Spring and propagate the cuttings at that time. Every time you take a cutting, two segments will grow from that point, thus ensuring twice the amount of flowers next year. So, even if you don’t want to propagate your plant, trim your plant lightly to stimulate more segments to grow.
  I discovered the cactus came from my Grandma Elnore Eldred, who received her plant from my Great-Grandma Alice Eldred, so this cactus has been in our family for a very long time. I wish I could find out where it came from before that, but no one is still alive who would know.  I am so excited to have a plant that has been in my family for so long. 

Christmas cactus basking in the western sun


 I have a picture of my Great Grandma Christina Baldwin on my Mom’s side, who is photographed in front of a huge cactus,  but alas, no one has a piece of it left. The picture was taken in March of 1949. Quite often, these plants will bloom more than once and this one definitely has buds and blooms.

Great-grandma Baldwin and her Christmas cactus 1949

The owner of the Winn antique shop said his cactus was very old, and very big until last year, when he noticed it was dropping a lot of its stems. When he investigated the container, he found that the drainage hole had become blocked and the plant was waterlogged. This was a hard lesson to learn. This can happen because the roots fill the hole, or because the salt buildup from fertilizer can accumulate and block it. It is always a good idea, especially with very old plants, to check the drainage hole occasionally and make sure it is free of roots and salt build up.  Luckily, after letting it dry out and re-potting, he saved his plant.

Christmas cactus at a small antique store

Whether you have a Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus, keeping it growing and passing it down through the generations is a great family tradition and one your kids and grandkids will appreciate.

Thanksgiving cactus

Old Thanksgiving cactus

Thanksgiving cactus

More From My Blog

Leave a Comment


  1. Penny Wetzel

    Thank you for this information!!! I’ve always called them all Christmas cactus, that’s when we see them in the stores! I too like the “jungle look”, much to the dismay of my son…lol, but I think he has given up! I tell him they are my therapy since I am confined to the house now due to health conditions. I’m in the process of rebuilding my collection due to losing all my plants a couple years ago when we had a blizzard that knocked out our power for 10 days & temps went below 0, lost over 60 of my babies. Love your postings!!!!

  2. Lisa

    Thanks, Penny! I’m so sorry you lost your plants…. you’ll just have to replace them! lol. I’m also so happy that you have plants to take care of now that you are confined to your home. They do make all the difference. Have a great day!

  3. Bren Haas

    Love this … thank you for sharing. I had no ideas there were two different types!~

  4. Wallace Bentley

    I too had no idea there were two varieties. I picked the hobby up from my Dad and have several oldies I took over when he passed 1 years ago. For some reason all have bloomed spectacularly this year. He would sometimes walk through Walmart and see a single leaf on the floor, pick it up, take it home and make it flourish. Also so glad about trimming them back and getting the bonus of 2 new leaves plus a new plant to start. Saw something unusual this year called a Summer Cactus. Leaves are similar not more rounded and the flowers are star shaped and bright yellow. Any ideas? It is growing well and am watching to see if it will bloom for me. Also any advise on fertilizer? Thanks for the informative post.

    • Lisa Steinkopf

      I’m sorry about your dad. Do you think the summer cactus is an Easter cactus? They come in orange, white, and pink, too. I would fertilize it every 4th watering with an almost full-strength fertilizer or 1/4 strength every time you water, but only from spring through fall. Good luck! Send pictures to my Facebook page when it blooms.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest