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Cactus gets into the holiday spirit early

You’ve heard of Christmas cactus, and probably Thanksgiving and Easter cacti. But have you heard of Halloween cactus?

Probably not, because it doesn’t exist … but I had to look it up and double check when one of my holiday cacti started blooming a few weeks ago.

The dark pink blooms took me by surprise. I move house plants out to the porch for summer, and hadn’t brought them in yet because the nights were still warm.

Now I have brought the cactus in, and it continues to cheerfully bloom and set new buds.

I should not have been very surprised to see such early bloom. Six years ago at Christmas time I bought three cactuses (which I thought were Christmas cacti) from a local greenhouse. They were blooming or budding.

Since then, two bloom sporadically through winter and spring, and the other didn’t bloom at all again until just last year.

I don’t have a particularly green thumb, and my house lacks great light for plants. But the Christmas cacti seem happy enough, even though their schedules are all over the place, and some years they don’t bloom at all.

For several years the very pale pink flowered one — bloomed in spring. Then one year it bloomed once in the winter, and again in the spring. Currently that plant is budding.

The currently blooming cactus finally spurred me to learn about Christmas cactus.

I learned that the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) has smooth scalloped leaves, while Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) has points along it’s leaves like hooks or pincers. Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) has leaves more like Christmas cactus, but with trumpet shaped flowers that bloom in spring.

Another difference between Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus is that Christmas cactus branches droop in arches, with flowers always hanging down, and Thanksgiving cactus branches grow upward first, before drooping down.

Long nights trigger bloom (14 hours of darkness for a few weeks) and colder temperatures (between 50-60 degrees, although exposing to 45 degrees for a few consecutive nights will kick start the flowers).

After reading about the differences I examined my plants and determined that they are all Thanksgiving cactuses.

All three cacti come from rainforests of Brazil, where they grow in decomposing leaf and bark litter in forks of branches.

They prefer indirect sunlight — which is probably why they’ve survived as long as they have in my house. They also like more water than other succulents — I read that they should be watered regularly, although not over watered.

Holiday cacti like well draining soil, and watering when the top third of their soil feels dry (probably about every two weeks), and regular fertilizing during their growing season (every couples weeks in the spring and summer). Granted, I’ve never fertilized mine beyond occasionally watering with my leftover coffee.

They can also be long lived — up to 100 years, which makes them lovely heirloom plants. These cacti are also very easily propagated.

I’ve wondered if they’ve fallen out of fashion, as I haven’t seen many in nurseries since I bought my three plants all those years ago. I’ve keep my eye out for more colors (I only have the classic bright pink and pale pink), but haven’t seen them.

Now that I know more about the varieties, I also have my sights set on adding an Easter cactus to my home.

In the mean time, I will enjoy the very random bloom times of my Thanksgiving cacti.

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist, previously writing for The Dominion Post. She uses experience gained working on organic farms in Europe to help her explore possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County. Email