Schlumbergera truncata is a tropical cactus native to coastal forests in southeastern Brazil. Unlike desert-dwelling cacti, this species is adapted to grow in humid environments. It is an epiphyte that grows by attaching itself to trees.
The trailing stems are flat and segmented with serrated margins. Tubular flowers grow from the tips of the stems in pink, red, white, or yellow. Schlumbergera truncata, commonly known as Thanksgiving cactus or Christmas cactus, flowers in the fall and winter. It grows well as a houseplant, in containers, and in hanging baskets.
epiphyte: (botany) a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic.
|Scientific Name||Schlumbergera truncata|
|Common Names||Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, Holiday Cactus, Crab’s Claw Cactus|
|Plant Type||Epiphytic cactus, perennial|
|Size||Up to 12” tall, 12” wide|
|USDA Hardiness Zones||10-11|
|Propagation Methods||Stem cuttings, seed|
|Sun Exposure||Partial shade|
How to Take Care of Thanksgiving Cactus
Schlumbergera truncata prefers dappled light or partial shade. If exposed to prolonged or intense sunlight, the stems will turn yellow, reddish, or faded. Place close to a bright window and create filtered light with a sheer curtain. Insufficient light may inhibit flowering and cause the stems to become leggy.
The soil should be both well-draining and moisture-retentive. This cactus is tolerant to a range of soils but should not be grown in waterlogged conditions. Combine two parts cactus soil with one part leaf mold, one part perlite or coarse sand, and a handful of bark chips (optional).
Note: Leaf mold is a type of composted organic material made from decomposed leaves. It is slightly acidic and rich in organic matter, mimicking the natural habitat of Schlumbergera truncata.
The Thanksgiving cactus requires more moisture than desert cacti but is still sensitive to overwatering and poor drainage. Let the soil dry to at least 2 inches before watering well. This may be once or twice a week in the warmer months and flowering period. Allow excess water to drain out of the pot. Water less frequently during the 2 rest periods in mid-fall and late winter.
Place in an environment with moderate to high humidity, such as a bathroom or kitchen. Sit the pot on a tray of pebbles with a little water – this creates a humid microclimate. In low humidity, the plant may become limp or drop its flower buds.
Feed Schlumbergera truncata with a diluted, balanced fertilizer once a month from April to September. Avoid fertilizing from late fall until early spring.
Prune periodically to maintain health and appearance. In late winter or early spring, remove the tips (one or two segments) of the stems to encourage bushy growth. Trim back old or damaged stems.
Tip: Gently twist segments to remove them from the stem. If necessary, use sterilized, sharp scissors.
The Thanksgiving cactus typically flowers at the beginning of the holiday season in late fall. Flowers may last for several days to weeks. Schlumbergera truncata requires a period of partial rest to induce flowering.
- Before flowering: From mid-September to October, reduce watering, provide cooler temperatures (55 °F to 60 °F), and 12 hours of darkness a night.
- Flowering period: Once the buds appear, slightly increase the temperature (65 °F to 70 °F) and resume the watering schedule. Keep moist but not overly wet during the flowering period.
- After flowering: Once the flowers have died, provide a second period of partial rest from late January to March. Reduce temperatures and watering.
Note: Whilst flowering, this cactus is sensitive to changes in the environment. Once the buds have developed, avoid moving the plant to a new location until the flowering cycle is complete.
Thanksgiving vs. Christmas Cactus
Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus are Schlumbergera species that have slight differences in their flowering periods and stem shape. The common name Christmas cactus is often used to refer to both species.
- Schlumbergera truncata (Thanksgiving Cactus): Flowers in late fall. Stem segments are serrated. May also be referred to as the false Christmas cactus or Christmas cactus (particularly in Europe).
- Schlumbergera x buckleyi (Christmas Cactus): Flowers in late fall to early winter. Stem segments are scalloped. It is a hybrid of Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera russeliana.
Note: The former botanical name, Zygocactus, is also used to refer to Schlumbergera species.
The cultivars of Schlumbergera truncata offer different colored flowers. They are often sold simply as “White Christmas Cactus” or “Red Christmas Cactus” etc.
- Schlumbergera truncata ‘Red Flame’
- Schlumbergera truncata ‘White Christmas’
- Schlumbergera truncata ‘Orange Zest’
- Schlumbergera truncata ‘Gold Charm’
Propagating Thanksgiving Cactus
Schlumbergera truncata propagates easily from stem cuttings. It is possible to grow from seed but it is a slower process and less common. Propagate in late spring.
- Using sterilized, sharp scissors, cut a length of stem 3 to 4 segments long.
- Let the cutting dry for a few days to callous over.
- Plant the cutting at least half an inch deep in equal parts seedling mix and coarse sand. Water lightly.
- Place in a humid location that receives bright indirect light.
- Mist occasionally to maintain moisture but avoid overly wet conditions.
- Cuttings should root in 1 to 3 months.
Tip: It is also possible to propagate Thanksgiving cactus in water. Place the cut, calloused end of the cutting in a jar filled with 1 inch of water. Roots should develop in a few to several weeks. Plant rooted cuttings into individual pots with a well-draining substrate.
Repot once every 1 or 2 years at the beginning of the growing season in April. Plant into a pot one size larger – the Thanksgiving cactus likes to be slightly rootbound. Choose a container with good drainage.
In USDA zones 10-11, Schlumbergera truncata can be grown outside all year. In colder climates, cultivate as a houseplant. Provide slightly cooler temperatures from early fall until mid-fall to induce flowering. Provide a second rest period after flowering, from January to March. Water less frequently during the rest periods.
- Late or no flowering: Caused by inadequate environmental conditions. Provide the two cooling periods and ensure adequate light and humidity.
- Reddish, yellow, or discolored stems: Caused by too much sunlight. Move to a location that receives filtered light or partial shade.
- Shrivelled stems: May be caused by overwatering or underwatering. Check the soil moisture to diagnose before adjusting watering practices.
- Leggy growth: Caused by insufficient light. Ensure the plant receives bright indirect light. Trim tips of leggy stems to encourage bushy growth.
Schlumbergera truncata may be susceptible to pests that prefer moist or humid environments:
- Mealybugs: White, cotton-like masses. Remove with a Q-tip soaked in rubbing alcohol.
- Aphids: Cluster in the crevices of the stems. Spray with a mild insecticidal soap.
- Fungus gnats: Small flies living in the soil. Allow the soil to dry out. Control using sticky traps.
Although the Thanksgiving cactus prefers more moisture than most cacti, overly wet conditions and poor drainage can cause fungal problems such as root rot. Plant in a well-draining substrate and allow the soil to dry to 2 inches deep before watering.