Settling the seasonal cacti dilemma, how do you tell the difference between Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus? Both are species of schlumbergera, named after Frederick Schlumberger, a Belgian horticulturist. Thanksgiving cactus is Schlumbergera truncata (cut off) with leaf sections that have pointy edges or lobes. Christmas cactus is S. x buckleyi, a hybrid using all 6 species of schlumbergera (native to Brazil). Both produce flowers that resemble one another, the only difference is the color of the anthers, which are purplish on Christmas cactus and yellow on Thanksgiving cactus.

The triggers for flowering are the same, shortened days, cooler temperatures, and dryer conditions. Since most of these occur naturally in fall, buds often develop at the same time on both species. If your plant grows but does not flower, increase the light, keep the plant away from artificial light sources at night and let it go a little dry. The dryness imitates a dry season which occurs naturally in tropical regions where they grow.

Incredibly long lived, I remember repotting an old plant at the plant farm only to find a marble in the soil. When the customer came to pick it up, he remembered losing the marble as a young boy. The plant was on its third generation of owners.

Easy to propagate as well, every leaf section has the potential to root, which is best done in early spring or late winter. Simply break the sections where they join each other and place in a shallow container with a gritty potting soil. Sand and potting soil might be the simplest mix. Push the leaf sections into the soil and water initially and then leave it on the dry side. An east facing window is the best, not too much sun. Rooting occurs in a matter of weeks, each plant the perfect replica of its parent. Repot once it’s well rooted, keeping the new container small and preferably terra cotta for good drainage.

The main show for flowering in fall is prolonged with new flowers occurring randomly afterwards, often for months on end. Flowers tend to be pinkish, red or white. New colors are yellow, which are more like champagne and bi-colored hybrids that have two different colored petals on the same flower. Super easy to care for, I enjoy them in November and December.

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