Holiday Cacti—Thanksgiving and Christmas Cactus

Schlumbergera, Not bah humberera

Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti are plants of the genus Schlumbergera, a sub-classification of the family Cactaceae (which includes all cacti). These late bloomers are great to keep some color during the cooler seasons, as they generally bloom close to the holiday for which they are named.

These holiday cacti aren’t quite the same as typical ground-dwelling desert cacti. They are actually epiphytes—they grow symbiotically on other trees in tropical forests in south-eastern Brazil.

Holiday cacti are flowering plants that have flattened leaf-like stem pads, which grow from the tips of each other in a chain. The pads have areole notches along the sides and at the tips. They have been cultivated to produce white, pink, yellow, orange, red or purple flowers that sprout from the areoles.

People generally tend to refer to most holiday cacti as Christmas cacti, but there are actually two main cultivars with slight differences. The Thanksgiving cactus is actually the one more commonly sold in stores and garden centers, but may marketed as Christmas cactus.

Some differences between Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti

While both of these popular holiday cacti are from the genus Schlumbergera, they are hybrids coming mainly from two parent plants, S. russelliana and S. truncata.

Thanksgiving Cactus

Zygocactus Truncata or Schlumbergera Truncata

  • cultivars with mainlyS. truncatacharacteristics:
  • truncated stems with pointed tooth-like areole notches along the sides
  • in cultivation they generally flower October to November, earlier than members of the Buckleyi Group
  • yellow pollen
  • flowers held horizontally
  • also called crab cactus or claw cactus.

Christmas Cactus


  • inheritance from S. russelliana
  • rounded areole notches on stems
  • in cultivation the Christmas Cactus generally flowers in December, later than members of the Truncata Group
  • pink pollen
  • flowers which hang down

Caring for Holiday Cacti

As with most other succulents and cacti the drainage is an important factor in keeping these plants healthy. Use pots with drainage holes, and a fast draining soil.
Unlike their desert counterparts, these cacti from the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil are accustomed to humid climates, and will enjoy being watered regularly. You should water when top inch of soil feels dry, especially maintaining water while flowering,

Keep these cacti in bright indirect sunlight. Since they naturally grow amongst other trees, they’re used to getting some sun block from surrounding foliage.

The Christmas cactus flowers when temperatures get cool, into the low 50’s, and when days are short and nights are long. My mom kept a Christmas cactus for a few years. It never bloomed, probably because it stayed too warm in our kitchen.

Happy Holidays

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