I have been asked many times if Schlumbergera or Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus are really cacti. Schlumbergera are but not l desert cacti but come from Brazil.
All the holiday cacti, including Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter are epiphytic jungle cacti and grow in trees or on cliff faces in Brazil and other tropical areas.
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.
Called the Flor-de-Maio in Brazil, it 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.
Frenchman Frederic Schlumberger is the person from whom the plant name origianted. 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 changed to Zygocactus. You may still find it on many plant tags. In the early 1950’s it changed to Schlumbergera truncata.
I think this name will remain, but who knows?
Schlumbergera Natural Habitat
In its natural habitat, schlumbergera 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 hummingbirds 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.
Schlumbergera 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. This will not hurt them and indicates a sun-stressed plant.
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. 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 grow as epiphytes in nature, they do not have an extensive root system. Choose a squatty container, such as an azalea pot, which would allow enough 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.
While rumoured that if a schlumbergera is moved after it has buds, they will fall off, it isn’t true. They may get knocked off, but will not drop on their own because of movement.
The reason the plant drops buds is because of the temperature changes. They have come from a warm greenhouse to a store, then outside to your car and home. A lot of temperature changes happening.
I found out about the old wives’ tale in these books. Yes, I REALLY love holiday cactus. These were Christmas presents from my daughters.
Schlumbergera x buckleyi vs. Schlumbergera truncata
Below are the true Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera x buckleyi. They only bloom the hot pink color shown. They have rounded stem edges compared to the pointed ones of the Thanksgiving cactus.
Care is the same. Thanksgiving cacti, Shlumbergera truncata have points on the stem edges. They have many colors of flowers in comparison to their Christmas counterpart.
As you can see below, the Thanksgiving cactus has points on the stem edges. Because of that trait, crab cactus is its common name.
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.
Love this magazine from 1949!
Do you have one of these cacti? Is it blooming? Tell me in the comments.
Happy Thanksgiving, my friends! I’m thankful for your support and comments.