I have been asked many times if Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus are really cacti. Yes, they are but not the usual desert cactus varieties. All the holiday cacti, including Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter are jungle cacti and are usually epiphytes, growing in trees or on cliff faces in Brazil and other tropical areas. Did you know Thanksgiving cacti are from Brazil and are true cacti?

Thanksgiving cactus bloom

Thanksgiving cactus bloom today

Thanksgiving cactus almost in bloom

Almost blooming

Schlumbergera truncata

Thanksgiving cactus, Schlumbergera truncata grows in the Organo mountains in Brazil. In its natural habitat, it blooms in May, which is the beginning of Brazil’s winter season. It is called the Flor-de-Maio in Brazil, which means May flowerer.  Of course, that is in the southern hemisphere. Here in the northern hemisphere, it blooms 6 months later, usually October -December, thus the Thanksgiving cactus. These plants were named after Frenchman Frederic Schlumberger. I recently wrote a blog post about plant name changes and this plant has seen its share of name changes. It started out as Epiphyllum truncata in 1819 and then in the late 1800’s was changed to Zygocactus, which you may still find on many plant tags. Int the early 1950’s it was changed to Schlumbergera truncata. I think this name will remain, but who really knows?

Three colors of Thanksgiving cacti

Three different colors of Thanksgiving cacti blooming

Natural Habitat

In its natural habitat, it grows on trees and cliffs in the jungle as epiphytes. The flowers are usually red or orange because they seem to be the best colors to attract birds which are their pollinators. Just like we plant red and orange flowers to attract our hummingbirds here in the north, these colors are hummingbird magnets in the jungle, as well.  Schlumbergera plants are used to growing in tight spaces, but the “medium” they are growing in is rich in humus and usually acidic. So when choosing a potting medium, it needs to be fast draining, with plenty of peat moss for the humusy, acidic factor, but with plenty of perlite to assist with drainage.

Care in the Home

Thanksgiving cacti are easy to care for. They do not want to be in full sun and the stems will turn a reddish color in too much sun. An east or west window is perfect and will be enough light to bring the plant into bloom. As stated above, use a well-drained, but acidic potting medium made up of a lot of peat moss. If you buy a cacti soil, add some peat moss and if you buy a regular potting medium, add perlite to make the drainage better. Keep your plant evenly moist. Remember, these are jungle cacti and so do not want to dry out completely and prefer high humidity, so use a pebble tray under them. (Read more about those here.) Because they naturally grow as epiphytes, they do not have an extensive root system, so a shorter container, such as an azalea pot would be sufficient room for the roots. It is important to turn your plant every time you water it all year long. If you don’t, your plant may not have blooms on all sides. The side that gets the most light will be the side that blooms.

Thanksgiving cactus

Thanksgiving cactus

Old Wives Tale

Whereas it has been stated, even by me, that after a plant has set buds, it is best not to turn or move the plant, as it will drop buds. The actual reason the plant drops buds is because of changes in temperature. They have come from a warm greenhouse to a store then outside to your car and then into your house. Definitely a lot of temperature changes going on there.

Thanksgiving cactus

Love the color of this Thanksgiving cactus

Cacti books

I found out about the old wives’ tale in these books. Yes, I REALLY love holiday cactus. These were Christmas presents from my daughters.

Christmas cactus

Below are the true Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera x buckleyi. They only bloom the color shown and have rounded leaves compared to the pointed ones of the Thanksgiving cactus. Care is the same. (In case you were wondering.) Thanksgiving cacti have been extensively hybridized to have many colors in comparison to the Christmas counterpart.

As you can see below, the Thanksgiving cactus has pointed edges on the leaves and because of that trait, it is called by the common name crab cactus.

Leaf of Thanksgiving cactus

Leaf of Thanksgiving cactus

You can find these plants everywhere right now. Independent garden centers, big box stores, grocery stores, and even hardware stores. You can also order them from Logee’s in Connecticut. If you already have one, is it blooming?

Love this magazine from 1949!

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends! I’m thankful for your support and comments.

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