by Christine Maccabee 

The Facts About   Christmas Cactus

I always wondered why my two “Christmas Cacti” plants bloomed way before Christmas. The mystery was cleared up when I went on Google and discovered that mine are of another species, commonly known as the Thanksgiving Cactus. They do indeed bloom before and during Thanksgiving. Perhaps, you have one, too.

There is a slight difference between the two species, just two of the six species in the genus Schlumbergera. Mine, the Thanksgiving or crab cacti, have small flattened serrated stem segments. These are not leaves, though many of us thought they were. These cacti are leafless, which is a common feature of all the genus Schlumbergera (okay, now let’s all repeat that name seven times, then you’ll never forget it, right?! )

Christmas Cati bloom around Christmas in the Northern hemisphere, but the blooms are just like the other species. Its stem segments are roundish, not flat. It is also a hybrid. How do I know all this? Well, I went to an expert, Melissa Petruzello (another name to memorize). She is the assistant editor on plants and environmental science for the Encyclopedia Britannica, so I am indebted to her and Britanicca for clearing up this mystery!

Christmas cacti mostly grow in the Brazilian rainforest on trees, shrubs, or shady places (just one of a million reasons we have to save the rainforest…hear that, Brazil?). Over many years, my habit has been to put my tropical house plants outside in the shade of an arbor that my father made before he died. That way, they get the benefit of rain and weather, which is their natural habitat. Of course, I water them during dry periods, but pretty much all my plants are independent and take next to no care once outside.

Of course, the ceremony of bringing my potted rainforest into the house for the winter is always a wonderful challenge as I work to find appropriate places for them all. Some need repotting, and this summer, my avacoda tree grew way over my head!

Yes, life with house plants is always interesting. The diversity is astounding. They are fun to care for during the winter, and they have the extra benefit of purifying my air, much like the rainforest is needed to purify and replenish Earth’s air—all the more reason to control the destruction of rainforests by beef, palm oil, lumber, and other consumeristic interests. I can pretty much live without all of that, and I definitely do not purchase foods with palm oil ingredients—just one small contribution on my part.

To end, I will say that you are very fortunate if you have one or two beautiful Shlumbergera in your home. I am always astounded by their colorful blooms, which add so much beauty to my world, to our world.

May your world, our world, Earth’s forests, continue to be so blessed for centuries to come.  

Christine’s Thanksgiving Cacti

Thanksgiving Cactus come in a range of colors, mostly pastels, including red, pink, peach, purple, orange, or white, and typically bloom at Thanksgiving.

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