Another Holiday Bloomer: The Christmas Cactus

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Christmas Cactus

While shopping the other day I came across this beautiful plant about to bloom with the brightest pink flowers which really made me smile on an otherwise dreary winter day. I recognized this plant as the Christmas Cactus. Though not a desert cactus at all, this plant originates from 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.

Christmas Cactus


The scientific name for the Christmas cactus is Schlumbergera x buckleyi. Here’s the interesting news. When I was looking up the scientific name for this plant I realized that I did not buy Schlumbergera x buckleyi. Instead, I bought Schlumbergera truncata also known at the Thanksgiving cactus. Upon further research I found that the majority of plants sold as the Christmas cactus are actually the Thanksgiving cactus. Outside of the fact that the Thanksgiving cactus normally blooms around Thanksgiving, and my is just starting to bloom, there is another key feature that distinguishes the two. The stem or what looks like the leaf segments on the Thanksgiving cactus have distinct pointed edges while the true Christmas cactus is more scalloped and round as shown below.

Christmas cactus leaf

pointed teeth of S. truncata – Thanksgiving cactus

True Christmas Cactus

True Christmas cactus – by AllieKF on Flickr

So, if you know anyone who has had a “Christmas cactus” and it always blooms too early, you may now know the reason why. I’ll have to see what happens next year. In the meantime I found that this plant likes cool temps, enjoys being pot bound and indirect light. Also, it should be allowed to dry out between watering but will thrive with a daily misting. If you are a traditional red lover no worries. This plant comes in red, peach, white, cream and purple. Lastly according the The Old Farmer’s Almanac a properly cared for cactus can life for 20-30 years. That quite a good bang for your buck.

Christmas Cactus tall


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About Patti Estep

Patti is the creator of Garden Matter, a home and garden blog filled with projects to inspire your creative side. She loves crafting, gardening, decorating and entertaining at her home in Pennsylvania. When she is not working on a project at home or searching for treasures at nurseries and thrift stores with her girlfriends, you’ll probably find her with family and friends, at a restaurant, or home party enjoying new and different food adventures.

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  1. I did’t realize there was a Thanksgiving cactus! Mine always bloomed early. Thanks for sharing. This is such a petty winter blooming plant!

    • Thank you Susan. Some people suggest that the true Christmas Cactus is somewhat rare but I think you can coax it to bloom a little later if you give it the cold treatment at the right time. We’ll see how I fare next year but really I wouldn’t mind having it bloom at Thanksgiving either. Have a great holiday!

  2. I have both Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus, the leaves are distinctly different. I have a friend who has one that is over 50 years old. It was her Grandmothers. It is huge and gorgeous! I have started some cuttings from it.

  3. Hi Patti,
    Really great information!
    They can last a very long time, I inherited a Christamas Cactus from a friends Grandmother, it was already 30 years old when I received it, I had it for 20 years. If you take really good care ot it, you might have to put it in your will:-)

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