Christmas Cactus or Thanksgiving cactus, many times they are confused or mis-labeled. Come see how you can tell which one is which.
Do you know the difference? I see folks all the time wondering why their so called ‘Christmas cactus’ is setting buds and blooming much earlier than late December. The easy answer is they are most likely calling their Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) a Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi). Do you have a Christmas Cactus or a Thanksgiving Cactus? I will show you how to tell the difference.
How Can You Tell?
It is true that conditions where the plant is located can also have a bearing but 9 times out of 10 it is just a different plant. What makes it even more confusing is garden centers and grocery stores sell the Thanksgiving Cactus as a Christmas Cactus, so if it is listed on the plant, always go by the botanical name to avoid confusion.
(note: all of the cactus I spotted in stores this season were Thanksgiving Cactus but they were selling them as Christmas Cactus.)
One way you can tell is to look at the leaves. The leaves of the Thanksgiving Cactus have sharp points on them whereas the Christmas Cactus has more rounded edges. Here is a photo of mine. Can you tell the difference?
The plant on the right definitely has spikes on the edges while the left one has more rounded lobes.
They both are lovely and will reward you well in late autumn and winter when you crave a bit of bloom happiness.
Since that never happens I must take what I can get. I have several colors of Thanksgiving Cactus. This white one below is such a gorgeous color and it has a shimmer to it that just sparkles. It is one of my favorites. This photo is from last Fall and the plant is twice as big today so I am hopeful to get a ton of blooms this season.
The orangey one is called Exotic Dancer and it just bloomed in abundance last year, it too is twice as large this year. It has a lot of fuchsia pink mixed in with the orange for a truly exotic appearance.
I bought 3 of my plants as cuttings online and rooted them. My one and only Christmas Cactus is a cutting from my mothers plant. And I have another cutting from someone else.
How to Propagate Christmas Cactus (including Thanksgiving)
To start my cuttings I take a healthy piece about 3 to 4 inches long from the parent plant, with 3 or 4 leaves…
from a juncture point..I just pinch it off with a thumbnail and that is usually not even needed, you can bend it back from the juncture point and it will usually release.
Now most will tell you to put them in a potting soil mix to root but that just has not worked for me. All of mine I have rooted by putting the cutting into a small, clear jar with a tiny bit of water in it, 1/4 inch or less. I keep it in a spot I can keep track of the water evaporating. You don’t want much of the cutting to sit in the water or it will rot. I have actually had some root when the cutting was sitting above the water, the humidity alone in the jar had it rooting.
Before you know it you will get roots. Mind you these are a poor example because they have had roots for a long time and I have yet to pot them up. My bad. They will still work, they just don’t look like the fresh roots do. Fresh roots are white and less tangled. I will definitely update this photo as soon as I have a new one rooted.
You can see the jar I had them in while rooting. It is on the short side. And looky there, one of my cuttings has set a bud! It wants to bloom.
Most likely it will drop the bloom if I transplant it now so I will just stick it back into the jar with a touch of water until it does bloom. Losing one bud is not a big deal but I forgot what color this one is so once it blooms I will know and can mark the pot I put it in.
Once the cutting has some healthy roots I pot it up in a good potting soil mix. Nothing really special, just a very good brand, if the one I am using does not seem to have enough perlite in it for good drainage I add some.
Force to Bloom?
Many folks have all sorts of tips and tricks to get the Holiday Cactus’ to bloom (I lump all 3 varieties in this group, including the Easter Cactus), I have tried none of them. I just have them outside in Summer in a well lit but not direct sunlight area, then bring them into my studio cottage or house on a windowsill and let them do their thing. I do place them in a room that gets little artificial light in the evening. Supposedly that helps them to set blooms if the light is restricted to a certain amount of hours. There is a link at the bottom of this post by a gal that has some tips and tricks. I cannot attest to their efficacy as I have not had to use them but for those that want to try some different methods she has some worth trying.
My plants totally took me by surprise this year and bloomed again in June! They had been moved to the greenhouse and set bud, then bloomed. The light amount was way more than they were supposed to get if you listen to all the experts. So who knows!
General Care of holiday cactus
Here is what I do to take care of them. I water them when I water all my plants, once a week. I water them and then let them dry out then water again. Many try to treat these like you would a true cactus and underwater them but they do better with more water than that.
I feed my plants in Summer and stop when Fall approaches, as I do all my house plants.
Mine are way overgrown now and are top heavy, I have had them in plastic starter pots and they really need to be moved to a bit larger and heavy pots, I am thinking ceramic. I will wait until after their bloom this Fall and Winter. Transplanting them now would most likely assure I would not get any blooms this season. They are a bit finicky once they start to set buds. Moving them after buds start will almost guarantee they will drop the buds and you will get limited flowering if any. From all accounts they like being root bound and bloom more profusely when they are. Mine started blooming the first year but I have them in small pots and may well have gotten root bound fast.
Another big bonus, these things can last forever! Well, maybe not forever but taken care of properly then can last decades. I have a friend who has one that is over 50 years old and it is still going strong. Now that is a house plant!
How do your Holiday Cactus get along? Do you try to force the blooms and what works for you?
Happy Holiday Cactus Growing!