Learn about this beautiful blooming holiday houseplant and how to tell the difference between the Thanksgiving, Schlumbergera truncata, and the Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera x buckleyi.
This beauty is not a desert cactus but originates from Brazil in South America in the rain forest. It's an epiphyte which means it grows on other plants, in this case, trees. It's not a parasite but rather lives on the rainfall and air and other debris that accumulate near it.
I'm sure that is why this plant makes a great houseplant. It doesn't require strong light but prefers indirect lighting and it doesn't need much water.
What's the Difference Between a Christmas Cactus and Thanksgiving Cactus Plant?
The scientific name for the Christmas cactus is Schlumbergera x buckleyi or bridgesii. Here's the interesting news. When I was looking up the scientific name for this plant I realized that I did not have a Schlumbergera x buckleyi. Instead, I believe this plant is Schlumbergera truncata also known as the Thanksgiving cactus. Another common name is False Christmas Cactus.
Thanksgiving cacti normally bloom around Thanksgiving or the third week of November here in the US. In fact, the majority of plants sold as the Christmas cactus are actually the Thanksgiving cactus.
However, there is another key feature that distinguishes the two. The stem, or what looks like the leaf segments, on the Thanksgiving cactus has distinct pointed edges or teeth as shown above.
The true Christmas cactus is more scalloped and has round edges shown above.
To make matters even more complicated there is also an Easter cactus, Schlumbergera gaertneri aka Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri, whose leaves look similar to the Christmas cactus. In this case, the key to differentiating them is the blooms. The Easter cactus has star-like daisy blooms shown above. These blooms are said to last much longer than the other types of cacti.
Here's my DIY embroidery hoop basket with a Thanksgiving cactus in bloom and a Christmas cactus not in bloom on the right. I grew the Christmas cactus from a cutting last year and it has not bloomed yet. I can't wait to see what it looks like when it's in bloom.
Here's an update with the true Christmas cactus in bloom in January as shown above.
Schlumbergera Plant Care
- I find that this plant likes cool temps.
- It also enjoys being pot bound
- Needs bright indirect light.
- Also, like many houseplants and succulents, it needs a pot and potting soil that drains well. Let it dry out between watering. Otherwise, you may get root rot.
All are easy to propagate. Just take a cutting of 3 - 4 stem segments. Allow the cut to dry or callus before potting it in some well draining growing medium.
You will find that if it's happy it will bloom more than once a year. Most of the time I've seen this plant for sale in a pink or salmon color. However, there are many hybrids that come in shades of red, oranges, peach, white, cream, and purple.
Lastly, according to Birds and Blooms Magazine a properly cared for holiday cactus can live for over 145 years. That's quite a good bang for your buck.
If you have this plant you thought was a Christmas Cactus or know anyone who does and it always blooms too early, now you know why. Either way, it's a beautiful easy to grow plant.