Right now, my home is filled with beautiful, blooming Thanksgiving cacti. Wait a minute, you exclaim, I thought they were Christmas cacti?! Actually, there is a difference. True Christmas cacti bloom naturally in mid to late December. The time that they bud up and flower is determined by the photoperiod, a fancy term for the length of the night in relation to the length of the day. As we get later and later into the year, the days get very short. This triggers Christmas cactus plants to bud up and flower.
True Thanksgiving cacti also bud up depending on the photoperiod, but they do it earlier, when the days are a bit longer, late October and November. They come in all kinds of wonderful colors- reddish-coral, salmon, purple, white, and pink. We even have a peachy yellow variety this year. No plant is easier to grow. They can dry out between waterings and will tolerate full sun or dappled, filtered light. Dry household air? No problem. Going away for a week? They can handle it. Besides the photoperiod, cold temperatures (50-60 degrees) will trigger them to bud up. Some gardeners summer them outdoors and don’t bring them in until the very last minute, right before a hard frost to get them to set buds naturally without having the think about the day length.
Both are in the genus Schlumbergera and are native to Brazil. Besides their blooming time, the way you can tell them apart is that Thanksgiving cactus have jagged edges and Christmas cactus have smooth edges.
I can’t think of a better plant to give as a gift. It is a plant that will last for many years, even if the recipient doesn’t have a green thumb.