Ashleigh Smith + photo

Ashleigh Smith

Dec 23
3 min read
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Close up of a Christmas cactus in bloom

You've probably at least heard of the Christmas cactus, but did you know there are actually three popular Holiday Cacti? They are named after the holidays they bloom during. We have the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter cactus. However, the Thanksgiving cactus is often mistaken for Christmas because their bloom times overlap.

Thanksgiving cactus - Schlumbergera truncata

Christmas cactus - Schlumbergera x buckleyi

Easter cactus - Schlumbergera gaertneri

Their blooms come in pink or lilac tubular flowers that are attached to their succulent type stems. While these plants are called cacti, they appear much more like succulents. This is because their native climate is nothing like the traditional cactus you may be thinking of.

The traditional cactus thrives in warm, dry, desert-like conditions. The Holiday cactus on the other hand loves a warm, humid climate like a tropical rainforest. This is because they originate from southern Brazil and are considered epiphytic succulents.

Their natural growing habit is to grow on tree branches, soaking up the humidity found in the dappled sunlight under the trees canopy. This environment provides the optimal amount of humidity while keeping the temperatures warm and preventing sun scorch.

With all this talk of tropical environments you may be wondering if there is any other connection to Christmas other than the bloom time. Well there is, are you ready for a short story?

The story goes back to a young boy living in Brazil. This young boy living in a hut amid the jungle prayed for a sign of Christmas as relief from the extreme heat and humidity of the jungle. When Christmas came the boy came out of his hut to find the jungle was filled with these beautiful flowering cacti overnight. After that day the Christmas cactus became associated as being a sign of the arrival of the special Christmas day.

Yes I know, this story still came back to being named for the time of year that it blooms. But that is how many stories of the significance plants play in our world are. We are all surrounded by plants and other wildlife that have been used for generations to mark important seasons and milestones.

When you take a moment to observe how nature has affected your life, I suspect you will find instances like this that ground you to memories and feelings of importance in your life. After all, our great symbolic plants of Christmas like the Christmas tree, holly, ivy, and mistletoe all have origins back to our ancestors celebrating the natural seasons.

If you have or are wanting a Holiday cactus it is important to understand how to properly care for it to make it live for years to come. Here we have included some helpful information to get you started.


Select a pot that has a drainage hole and a tray to collect excess water

Pot your cactus using a succulent potting mix


Place your plant in indirect, bright light

An east facing window provides a good balance of light as well as a bright bathroom.


70° F daytime

60-65°F night


Water every 2-3 weeks

Keep well watered during flowering

Only water if the top 1/3 of the soil is dry


Spring to early fall - every 2 weeks with a succulent fertilizer

Fall to winter - monthly


Late Spring

Cut between the segments, this will cause a new branching point at each pruning location


To encourage blooming during the appropriate natural bloom time follow a light cycle of 14 hour nights and 8-10 hour days for 6 weeks.

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Where is a good place to buy cactus seeds to try growing my own… I live in rural Missouri. All we have is Home Depot and a few other local shops but none ever have the holiday cacti for sale. Thank you

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