If you went to the stores at the moment you might be forgiven for not knowing whether we were about to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas. After all we have been seeing Christmas trees and hearing carols for some time now. But it seems the nurseries might have it wrong too.
I picked up this plant the other day at my local nursery and it was labeled Christmas cactus. Didn't I remember reading somewhere recently that there were two species of this plant, the Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus? So I did a little research and came up with this enlightening information.
There are two kinds of this cactus; the Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera bridgessi, and the Thanksgiving cactus, Schlumbergera truncata. They come in a variety of colors such as red, peach, white and the pink seen here. But it is the Thanksgiving cactus which we normally see for sale around this time of the year as it comes into flower about a month before Christmas. There are two ways to tell the Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus apart. The first is by looking at the flattened stems, the phyllocades, which have 2-4 pointed projections on the Thanksgiving cactus, as opposed to more rounded projections on the Christmas cactus. But an easier way is to look at the anthers on the stamens which are yellow on the Thanksgiving cactus, seen above, and purplish on the Christmas cactus.
But there is yet another holiday cactus called the Easter cactus, Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri, which is named so because it blooms later in the year. It has the same flattened phyllocades but they are even more rounded. I have this one, seen above, picked up at a moving sale. Last year I noticed it start to bloom in June. I now know why.
The secret to good blooming around the holiday season is to give the plants increasing darkness from September on, and to keep the temperature as close to 68° as possible, with no more than 8-10 daylight hours. Only water when the well draining soil is dry.
So check out your cactus and see which one you have. I can almost guarantee that if you bought it at this time of the year it will be the Thanksgiving cactus. Mine is.