Thanksgiving Cactus, Schlumbergera truncata – Details, Growing Tips

The Thanksgiving Cactus, Schlumbergera truncata is often mislabeled as the Christmas Cactus.

This is a Thanksgiving Cactus and NOT a Christmas Cactus as they are often sold.

Enjoy these details, facts and general tips for growing Thanksgiving Cactus, Schlumbergera truncata.

Common Names

Thanksgiving Cactus, Crab Claw Cactus, Claw Cactus, Lobster Cactus, False Christmas Cactus, Holiday Cactus, Linkleaf, Yoke Cactus

Scientific Binomial Name

Schlumbergera truncata,  Synonyms: Zygocactus truncates, Epiphyllum ruckeri, Cactus truncates, Epiphyllum ruckerianum, Epiphyllum truncatum

Description of Thanksgiving Cactus, Schlumbergera truncata

The Thanksgiving Cactus was given that name because it often begins flowering in November.  Along with the Christmas Cactus, Schlumbergera bridgesii and the Easter Cactus, Hatiora gaertneri, the Thanksgiving Cactus is one of the three loosely called ‘Holiday Cactus’.  Some older sources refer to the Thanksgiving Cactus as Zygocactus.

Unfortunately, the Thanksgiving Cactus is often mislabeled by retailers as the Christmas Cactus.  This, along with debate and classification changes among botanists over the years, means that all three of the ‘Holiday Cactus’ species can sometimes be misidentified.  The individual distinctions are described in our article here, Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus vs Easter Cactus.

Thanksgiving Cactus were first discovered in the rain forests of Brazil.  Being epiphytic, they grow on trees.  This is perfect for the frequent rainfall to quickly drain from its meager soil.  The roots grow in soil trapped in the crevices of the branches but will also grow in the bark of the tree.

The leaf-like pads (cladodes) of the Thanksgiving Cactus join together like a chain.  There are 2-3 ‘teeth’ along the edges of each segment.  The end of each stem looks cut off in a flat or concave shape instead of round or pointed.  Flowers will appear and bloom at the end of these branches and then close again at night.

The wild Thanksgiving Cactus will also rarely grow on rocks.  This demonstrates how little nutritious soil it needs to thrive.  As the Thanksgiving Cactus grows the older stems become stiffer and woody making the entire plant look bushy.

These plants are easy to care for and will still do well even when neglected.  Some of the worst looking plants will still produce amazing and beautiful flowers.

Mature Size:  Height 6-12 in. (15-30 cm), Width 9-12 in. (22-30 cm)

Uses:  The Thanksgiving Cactus looks great in a tall pot or a hanging basket.  They need to be in a container that allows the stems to droop down below the pot.

Video of Thanksgiving Cactus, Schlumbergera truncata

Hi everyone! This is the ubiquitous grocery store purchased tropical cactus and it goes by the common name Christmas Cactus. The botanical name is really Schlumbergera truncata which I think is really the Thanksgiving Cactus. The Christmas cactus is really called Schlumbergera bridgesii.

The Thanksgiving variety or the truncata has these little ridges on these leaves or filler claws which are really condensed or shortened stems and not really the leaves. These have three serrated edges and the bridgesii or the Christmas cactus doesn't have that. The anthers in truncate are also slightly different and these have the slight yellow color to it versus the other one the bridgesii which has more brown color to the anthers.

To complicate things further there is another variety called the Easter cactus which goes by another genus really called Rhipsalidopsis or something like that. [Now called Hatiora gaertneri]

The reason I want to show this particular plant is the fact that although I had these for many years I had a difficult time growing them. I am a chronic over-waterer and it would take a toll on the plant and the more the plant would wilt the more I would water. So I would get really large plants and then they would become really small plants and I had difficulty keeping them alive.

So last year I got this color and watered it only when needed really once a week or once in 10 days and left it and at least five six hours of Sun. And here it is blooming for me. It blooms during the shorter days and it needs a slight cold spell about 60s high, 60s during the daytime and high 50s during night. And here in Florida it doesn't get that until late December since it's not greenhouse grown it doesn't come blooming at the right time. So it's blooming with its own cycle here no matter what it's called.

So here it is really a no-nonsense plant if we get the growth patterns right. Because it's a tropical cactus and not a true cactus it does need water but not as much as I was doing leading to its demise in the past. There are very beautiful vibrant colors and every time I see them I just want to get another one but I've been resisting temptations really. And I have to say as my husband says, “God you cannot just get every plant that blooms.” So I will take his wise words and once in a while I stopped. So but here it is Schlumbergera truncate, Thanksgiving Cactus blooming in January.

Thank you for watching.

Growing Conditions for Thanksgiving Cactus, Schlumbergera truncata

Light:  Never place a Thanksgiving Cactus in direct sunlight for prolonged periods.  Indirect partial light mimics their natural habitat.  They do well with east or west facing windows.  In the summer they can be placed in a garden or patio with lots of shade.

Temperature:  They prefer cooler temperatures but will not survive if exposed to below freezing temperatures.

Humidity:  Higher humidity is not an issue for these succulents.  If it is too dry they will benefit from a daily light misting.

Soil:  Always use a potting soil that is well-draining.  The drainage is even more important than the soil ingredients.  A humus-rich potting soil that is slightly acidic is best for the Thanksgiving Cactus.

Growing Season:  Spring and summer.

Flowers:  Flowers will usually begin blooming in mid to late-fall.  The flowers are most often pastels of lavender, red, orange, peach, white, rose or pink.  The flowers are very distinctive forming two tubes about 2 inches long.  This unusual form produces a beautiful design that looks like one flower is growing within another flower.  It is not unusual for plants to take a couple years to mature before they start producing flowers.

The buds and flowers of this succulent plant are prone to easily drop off.  When buds begin appearing try to avoid turning or moving the plant at all.  Some plants will keep blooming for 7-8 weeks if the temperature is consistently around 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Thanksgiving Cactus has a reputation of buds dropping off before they can bloom.  To enjoy more flowers on your Thanksgiving Cactus there are a few necessary steps to take starting around June.

In June pinch back (prune) any stem segments that are dead, unhealthy, or smaller than ½ inch long.  Flowers will only grow from the ends of healthy mature stem segments.

Starting in mid-September, keep your plant in absolute darkness for 12-14 hours every night.  To accomplish this it may even be necessary to temporarily cover the plant at night.

To obtain the maximum amount of buds that will successfully set on a stem maintain the growing temperature consistently between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit.

Avoid turning or moving the Thanksgiving Cactus around until after all the buds set.

Hardiness Zones:  10, 11

General Care for Thanksgiving Cactus, Schlumbergera truncata

Water:  Since this is actually a tropical succulent it is not necessary to wait for the soil to completely dry out before watering.  It is still best not to overwater these succulents and it is crucial that the water drains away rapidly.

Fertilizer:  Fertilize if needed once a month in the spring and summer with a half strength NPK ratio of 20-10-20.  In between fertilizer applications some Thanksgiving Cactus plants benefit from some added magnesium.  This can be done with 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts per gallon of water.  For maximum flower production, stop all fertilizing in the late summer.

Care:  Keep your plant away from exterior doors, heat sources and drafty windows.  After they flower do not fertilize Thanksgiving Cactus for about a month.  Also water only sparingly during this rest period.

Pests and Diseases:  Watch for spider mites, aphids, mealybugs and fungus.

Pruning:  Pruning if needed or desired should be done in the spring.  Pruning will produce a fuller plant.  Cut the stem between the segments and this will not harm the plant.

Propagation:   It is easy to propagate Thanksgiving Cactus from stem cuttings.  In the late spring twist off 2-5 segments from a healthy stem.  Allow 2-7 days for the open surface of the stem to callous over.  After the end has dried you can lay the stem down on the potting soil or plant it upright.

Repotting:   You may need to repot the Thanksgiving Cactus every year after the flowering has stopped.  Repot your plant if the roots are filling its current container.

Signs of Stress and Poor Health

If the succulent stems start to shrivel you will need to give it more water.  Overwatering and poor soil drainage will eventually cause root rot.

Medicinal and Other Uses

None

Cautions

Not toxic to humans or pets.

Native Distribution

Brazil

Other Tips

The Thanksgiving Cactus will attract hummingbirds.

Patent

Not patented

Popular Hybrids

‘Alexis’ – Flowers are violet-lavender

‘Amanda’ – Flowers are violet-lavender

‘Aspen’ – Formerly called ‘Bridgeport’, Flowers are white

‘Barbara’ – Flowers are magenta (pink-purple)

‘Christmas Fantasy’ – Flowers are peach colored

‘Claudia’ – Flowers are scarlet (dark red)

‘Dark Red Marie’ – Flowers are scarlet (dark red)

‘Dark Sonja’ – Flowers are violet-lavender

‘Harmony’ – Flowers are reddish; known for losing fewer buds, grows more erect than other hybrids

‘Madisto’ – Flowers are light lavender

‘Majestic’ – Flowers are purple

‘Peach Parfait’ – Flowers are peach and orange

‘Red Radiance’ – Flowers are dark crimson

‘Twilight Tangerine’ – Flowers are peach and orange

Other References

TEMPERATURE EFFECTS SCHLUMBERGERA TRUNCATA ‘MADISTO’ FLOWER INITIATION

“Schlumbergera truncata ‘Madisto’ plants were grown under 19 different day/night temperature (DT/NT) environments ranging from 10°C to 30°C with a 9 hour photoperiod. Time from initiation of SD to anthesis varied from 50 days in the 20°C DT/ 25°C NT environment to 99 days in the 10°C DT/ 15°C NT environment. Flower initiation did not occur when plants were grown under the following DT/NT temperature environments, 10°/30°C, 30°/10°C, 25°/25°C, and 30°/30°C. Instead, only phylloclades developed. Plants grown in other environments had only flowers or both flowers and phylloclades. An optimal temperature for flower initiation, based on the ratio of flowers to phylloclades, existed at 20°C [68 degrees Fahrenheit]. Phylloclade number increased as DT increased and as DT increased relative to NT. Phylloclade number was greatest in the 30°C DT/10°C NT environment.”

The study quoted above determined that if you want more flowers you should try to keep your Thanksgiving Cactus at 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) for 1-2 months before it begins to bud.  If your goal is a bigger plant with longer stems you should keep your plant between 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) in the daytime and 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) at night.

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