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Holiday Cactus ID

Horticulture Hints

Did you know that there are actually three different types of holiday cactus? These three types can be distinguished by their different leaf forms, flower color and their different bloom times.

The most popular and widely grown holiday cacti is the Thanksgiving cactus, Schlumbergera truncata. This plant typically blooms from Thanksgiving through Christmas. This cacti can be found in greenhouses and retail stores in a wide variety of colors, including reds, white, lavender and salmon, in many shades of each. Thanksgiving cacti have sawtooth leaf edges. The actual horticulture name for the edge of a leaf is the term leaf margin. Also, holiday cacti do not have true leaves, as they are actually flattened stem segments.

A second type is the true Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera bridgesii. This plant generally blooms from late November thru February with 3-inch, rosy red flowers. The leaves of the Christmas cacti have rounded, scalloped margins.

And the third type is Hatiora gaertneri, or the Easter cactus, which usually blooms in March thru May, with pink or red flowers. Easter cacti leaves have smoother edges and bristled tips.

Although these holiday plants bear the name cactus, they need well-drained, moderately moist soil conditions, and bloom best when roots are slightly pot-bound. Keep soil a bit on the dry side until pinpoint buds begin to form, then water as usual. Locate plants in a cool room, around 65 degrees, with bright light, to avoid bud drop.

Did you know? Many holiday cacti have been handed down as family heirlooms for generations. For further information on care and propagation, see the ISU publication “Growing Holiday Cacti” at: https://store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/5714.

Horticulture Questions? Contact McCormick at yvonne@iastate.edu for information or advice.

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