The “Thanksgiving” Cactus

For those of you who have always called these “Christmas” cactuses, you’re not confused–that is actually one of the common names of this plant.

As it turns out, it is also often called the “Thanksgiving” cactus because it often blooms closer to Thanksgiving than to Christmas.  This photo was taken 4 days before Thanksgiving and you can see the buds on this plant are just starting to open.

Its botanical names are schlumbergera or zygocactus and the internet and gardening books have all sorts of instructions about how to get them to bloom.  Just as I do when I save poinsettias over from year to year, I do nothing special with this one and it blooms by itself.  Perhaps if I gave it a bit more light (it’s in a well-shaded west window) or kept it a wee bit warmer it might bloom a bit more abundantly.  But with the quantity of houseplants that I have, I just don’t have time to baby anything–and I’m perfectly happy with the blooms–and bloom time and length of bloom time–that I get from this plant.

I’m sorry to say that this is not one of those lovely specimens from a garden center–it is 2 plants combined in one pot.  I think the two originally came from the grocery store.  The third (they were 3/$10 and I can’t resist a houseplant bargain!) is in a separate pot because it’s a separate color.

I’ve had these so long–and in this same pot–that I can’t tell you how old they are.  I’m sure I bought them in the 1990s.

For those looking for some instruction, here’s what this plant would like: first, don’t be deceived by the “cactus” part of its name.  It is not a cactus.  Treat it more like a succulent.  I water mine every week because it’s fairly rootbound.  A smaller plant not so confined in its pot will need less water.

Next, it blooms both in relationship to day length and to temperature.  So if you’re not getting the blooms you’d like, keep it on the cool side–ideal night temperatures are 55-60 (that’s about the daytime temperature of mine so you can see why I’d say I’d need to warm mine up–that’s actually not the standard advice!)

Growers also suggest putting it in a room that gets no artificial light starting from about September until the blooms are about ready to open.  I don’t do that–mine gets a lot of light at night.  But if you’re having trouble, try moving the plant to a room that is unlit at night–or even a darker corner.

These are fabulous, trouble-free, long-lived plants.  A tiny investment pays off big rewards in blooms year after year.  I highly recommend them!

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