More Than You Wanted to Know About Thanksgiving Cactus

by | Dec 18, 2019 | 4 comments

We already discussed holiday cacti this month, but there are a couple more things I wanted to tell you about the Thanksgiving cactus. These are just tidbits of information that I think are interesting. I’m probably going to tell you more than you wanted to know about Thanksgiving Cactus. (Schlumbergera).

Zygomorphic flowers

Thanksgiving cacti are examples of plants with zygomorphic flowers. What the heck are zygomorphic flowers?

They are flowers that when cut in half lengthwise are mirror images of each other. Imagine cutting the flower above in half lengthwise. If cut in half any other way they would not be symmetrical and is bilateral symmetry.

An actinimorphic flower has radial symmetry and if cut in half in any direction it will still be symmetrical. An example of an actinimorphic flower is a daisy.

Holiday cactus

Cladodes

Did you know that Thanksgiving cacti do not actually have leaves? They have cladodes (also called phylloclades), or flattened leaflike stems.

This modified green branch where photosynthesis occurs feeds the plant. The cladodes are sessile, meaning they have no stalk and are attached to each other. Have you learned too much about Thanksgiving cacti yet?

Cladodes
Thanksgiving cactus cladodes or flattened stems

True Cacti?

I talk more about  Thanksgiving cacti here. One of the questions asked is if you knew they were true cactus plants. They are epiphytic Brazilian rainforest cacti and grow attached to trees in the rainforest.

Areoles

How do we know they are cacti? Because they have areoles. And what are those? Areoles are either a flat or raised area on a cactus from which arises spines or flowers. On the Thanksgiving cactus, like the Easter cactus below, they are on the ends of the cladodes. Flowers and spines emerge from these.

Aerole on Easter cactus
The areoles of an Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis)

Short day plants

Plants must have enough light to bloom, right? We also know there are plants that bloom when there are shorter days thus less light. It can become confusing.

Plants that react to day length are photoperiodic plants. The Thanksgiving cactus is a plant that reacts to short days and long nights. As the days get shorter in the fall, they react by flowering. Poinsettias exhibit the same characteristic.

White Thankgiving cactus flower
A white Thanksgiving cactus flower

Pollination

Because of the shape of the flower, the obvious pollinator is the hummingbird. Though the flowers have both female and male parts, it doesn’t self-pollinate well. As the hummingbird feeds on the nectar, pollen attaches to its head. It is then transferred to the next flower it visits. Now have you learned more about Thanksgiving cacti than you ever wanted to know?

White Thanksgiving cactus
The tubular flower form is perfect for hummingbirds

I hope you learned something new about the Thanksgiving cactus today. As I said above, it may have been more than you cared to know.

Have a great week, plant friends!

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4 Comments

  1. Betty

    I loved this post. Always interesting in learning new things. Thanks Lisa.

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Betty,
      Thanks for reading my blog! Have a great day! Lisa

      Reply
  2. Samantha

    Hi Lisa,

    Thank you for this post! My Thanksgiving cactus recently sprouted some beautiful, brand new, bright green cladodes but I don’t know a lot about plants and I’m not sure what it means! Do you have any insight into this?

    Thank you!
    Sam

    Reply
    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Sam,
      It sounds like your plant is growing new leaves. Are there any buds being sent out?
      Lisa

      Reply

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