Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter Cactus?

These pretty flowering cacti are tropical cactus! They grow attached to trees in the jungles of Brazil, not in deserts on the ground! So keep pots small, short, and squat rather than deep to mimic their natural growing conditions. When it comes to watering, water thoroughly till the water runs out the bottom, and don’t water again until the soil is dry ½ way down the pot. African violet mix seems to work well, or potting soil mixed ½ with perlite. Re-pot every 3 years, but pot up in size only a tiny bit, if at all! This replenishes the soil and keeps fertilizer salts from building up on the roots. Place your plant in a bright window in the winter, and back from the hot window in the summer. Bright winter light and cool temperatures will initiate blooms. Buds can drop prematurely from warm blowing air from vents or cold drafts. Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer ( 5-5-5 or 10-10-10)  at  ¼ to  ½ of the recommended dose only in the spring and fall.    

So which kind do you have? 

Thanksgiving Cactus (S. truncate): Blooms only on new growth around Thanksgiving, hence the name. It’s also called a ‘Crab’ Cactus or a ‘Crab Claw’ Cactus, because the leaf segments (or phylloclades) will have four sharp points on the edges like teeth, or crab claws! The stems on these tend to grow straight up in the air first before gracefully swooping out into a horizontal position. These plants are cute, tidy, and adorable as babies, and are quickly taking over as the ‘go-to’ holiday cactus for sale in the stores. The flowers are shaped differently too.  You can “look them in the eye’ so to speak. The flowers are angled up, like they are trying to talk to you. Also (for your homeschooling kids) find the flower’s pollen-bearing anthers. These are always yellow. 

Christmas Cactus (S. bridgesii): Blooms from new growth closer to Christmas and is distinguished by its scalloped edged leaves vs. the pointed ones of the Thanksgiving cactus. The branches grow sideways out of the pot, so much so that large plants get an overall ‘cat-sat-on-me’ flattened look. The stems arch downwards towards the floor and so do the flowers. These flowers are ‘shy’, and don’t like to look you in the face. They are much happier hanging down like Christmas bells. Look at the color of these anthers too! Instead of yellow, they are red or purple! Easter Cactus (S. gaertneri): Blooms around Easter, so it’s also known as the Spring Cactus. These look SOOO much like Christmas cactus out of bloom, it’s very easy to mix these up. They also have scalloped leaves like the Christmas cactus, but these plants grow small pincushion bristles on the very end of the segments. The leaves themselves are also plumper because they grow in drier forests of Brazil and need extra water storage. When it blooms, the flowers are more star like with thin petals, and there’s twice as many because they can bloom off this year’s growth and last years. One of my favorites, but definitely the pickiest of the three, as it needs to be drier in the winter and has higher humidity requirements than Thanksgiving or Christmas Cactus do.

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