One is often marketed as the ‘holiday cactus’, and few plants seem to create as much confusion as this plant! In fact, ‘holiday cacti’ can be Christmas or Thanksgiving or even Easter cacti. They are closely related and are epiphytic - meaning they grow on other plants in their natural life - tropical cacti native to the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil, in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera ×buckleyi)

Christmas cacti normally begin to flower in mid to late December and continue flowering into January. The phylloclades (the fleshy jointed segments) of Christmas cactus are more rounded and do not have ‘teeth’. When young, it has an upright growth habit, and as they mature, they tend to arch downward, resulting in a very graceful appearance. With age, the base of the stem becomes thick and woody, helping to support the weight of the younger stems and flowers, and this might be time for propagation, more of that below. Blooms are bright magenta to pink in colour, and measure up to 7.5cm long. Each flower has 20-30 tepals, with the outer ones being short, unconnected and spread out or curve backwards. The inner ones - those towards the tip of the flower - are longer and usually become progressively more fused at the base to form a floral tube. The term ‘flower within a flower’ is a good description.

One for Thanksgiving too (Schlumbergera truncata)

Thanksgiving cacti normally begin flowering in mid to late November and continue into December. Other common names for Thanksgiving cactus are crab cactus and claw cactus. The names come from the pointed ‘teeth’ that exist on the flattened, jointed stem segments, the phylloclades. Its flowers are bigger, whose upper side is differently shaped from the lower side, a delicate flower in shades of pink, white, orange or red, and measure around 8cm long.

And one for Easter (a bit of a mouthful - Hatiora gaertneri, Schlumbergera gaertneri)

To add to the confusion, there is another one, the Easter Cactus. This cactus has very rounded edges which are centralized on the leaf, and the flowers are funnel-shaped, and large, ranging in colour from dark scarlet to orange to white.

All of these three cacti are known as short-day plants, and the flowers of all are somewhat similar in appearance.

All are tropical, epiphytic cacti and not the ‘desert types’ of cacti. Therefore, their needs are somewhat different from other cacti. Because they are epiphytes, in nature these cacti like to grow in tree crevices where branches develop, but equally well can be grown in soil in a pot.

Credits: Unsplash; Author: kostiantyn-vierkieiev;


As the original plant gets older, the lower segments start to look woody and a bit unsightly, but they are easy to propagate. Remove up to 4 segments of a half dozen or so leaf projections from the plant once flowering has finished, and literally just plant them in a pot in the same soil as the parent plant. You can then give the parent plant a decent burial on your compost heap if you wish to get rid of it, but just to be safe, keep it alive until you are sure the cuttings have successfully taken root. When you take your cutting-don’t cut! Pinch or twist off the stem at a joint instead for a good clean break. Do not cut or break across a leaf-just at a joint.

They don’t like the fierce summer sun but do like the warmth, so grow well in a shady spot if growing outside, but they also make handsome indoor plants.

Did you know that if you take care of your plants, they will take care of you? We've long known that plants are an easy way to make your home more pleasant. The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences found that plants are indeed beneficial for our well-being. Our green friends can help us be more creative and also reduce stress – care thrives in their green leaves.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan