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How To Pollinate Thanksgiving Cactus

Schlumbergera, Zygocactus, Thanksgiving Cactus shape(notice the shape of Thanksgiving cactus flowers)

On a gardening forum I recently joined someone asked what gardeners do when there is no gardening to be done. The question seems strange to me because as a gardeners that also has plants indoors in what one could consider an "indoor garden" there really is no time during the year when there isn't any garden to be done. At the moment I am playing the part of pollinator to my Thanksgiving cacti and I'm planting a couple of Amaryllis bulbs and repotting plants and vegetatively propagating a few others.

If you have a Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus and would like to propagate it you have two options that you can easily do in yourself in your home. The first method of propagation that you have available to you is rooting cuttings from your cactus in what is called asexual plant propagation. Asexual plant propagation involves the vegetative parts of the plant and includes the roots, leaves or stems to make a plant reproduce itself. This is the method that is preferred if you would like to make an exact copy of your plant.

The second method you can use to propagating your Holiday cactus is called sexual reproduction. Simply put this involves transferring pollen from a flower onto the stigma. Schlumbergera (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter Cactus) are native to the tropical Americas where they grow in tree branches of the tropical rainforests. Take a second look at the Thanksgiving cactus flowers in the photo above. Where these plants grow, the shape and the way the flowers hang from the succulent stems, seem to indicate that the flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds. I've never seen a hummingbird in Chicago and I certainly don't have any in my house so I'll have to play the part of pollinator.

How to pollinate Thanksgiving cactus flower(Thanksgiving cactus flowers, pollen and stigma)
The two parts of the flower that you have to be able to recognize to sexually reproduce your plant is the stigma and the pollen. The stigma on a Schlumbergera is the crimson colored piece you see protruding from the flower. The pollen anther is the little yellow clump that hangs off of the end of the long white "tube" called a filament.

Once you can recognize the two parts, pollinating your flower is a simple process of coating the stigma (the crimson tip) with pollen (yellow clump) on a flower like in the image above. If everything goes well you should have a 1 inch long fruit develop that will remain on your plant for about a year. So next year you'll have the flowers developing alongside the colorful fruit which will make a nice display. Now that you know how to pollinate Thanksgiving cactus flowers you can try it with other plants around your home and garden.

DragonStone reports that the stigma opens after a few days. I didn't observe this in any of my Thanksgiving Cacti but he provides a link to a semi opened stigma in the comments section. Today I noticed that even though none of the stigmas on my flowers opened my pollination must have worked, I have fruits developing on some plants.

I realize that crossing the two Thanksgiving cacti above should result in flowers that are more or less similar to the flower on the right. I'm not really concerned about that or trying to create a different flower, for me the process is about being able to get the plant to fruit and seed.

Related posts:
Thanksgiving cactus red flower
Thanksgiving cactus pink flower
Real Christmas cactus or Thanksgiving cactus?
How to make your Christmas-Thanksgiving Cactus bloom


  1. You're supposed to wait for the 'thingie' to open up into a 'five pointed star'. .. know what I mean? hehe.

  2. I wondered if it would like like the stigma of my Epiphyllum but these guys never open like that. I'll add a new picture tommorrow showing the dead flowers with the stigma looking "unopened."

  3. Hm.. I looked through my pictures and the closest I can find is the yellow in the process of opening:

    I could've sworn I had pictures with it fully open. I can't even find one on google.

    I'm gonna have to keep a close eye on mine (assuming the heater doesn't make the blooms drop.) and get pictures when they open like a star.

  4. I see it on yours but that's the only pic on the net that shows it like that. I'll take pics of my spent blooms so you can see. I searched for the past two days and couldn't find any pic showing the stigma any more pronounced/produced than on mine that were already spent. So we'll see what happens if it works or not.

    The only thing on the net I could find about pollination of the flower was a thread on GW that you posted on Nov 26th and those stigmas don't look any more pronounced/produced than mine do.

    Keep me updated with yours and we'll see what happens with these.

  5. Who knows, I could be entirely wrong and yours will be successfully pollinated anyhow. I just recall having to wait for them to open into a 'star' before I could pollinate them all.

  6. That was an interesting post. I need to get some Christmas cactus. I killed off mine last year when it froze to death. I just hope it wasn't too painful. (we had a sudden & unexpected hard frost in 2006 and I lost a lot of succulents and cacti). This fall, I brought my plants in earlier to avoid the same thing happening. Slowly I'm building up my collection again.

  7. Hi Mr Brown Thumb,

    One of my Thanksgiving cactus has had one bright pink fruit attached to a leaf all summer - it just fell off when the new buds began to swell. The texture feels kind of "bouncy".

    How it got pollinated inside the house last winter is a mystery - there weren't any hummingbirds in the kitchen ;-]

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    1. Anonymous2:43 PM

      That's pretty cool!

  8. Anonymous3:47 PM

    As one of my cactus is beginning to bud, I decided to do some research, and came across your 2007 post explaining the differences between Thanksgiving cacti and Christmas cacti. I checked my plants, and realized I have one of each. My Thanksgiving cactus has the sharp pointy leaves and is more of an upright plant, whereas the Christmas cactus has noticeably rounded leaves with beautiful arched branches. I guess this is one of the true Christmas Cactus of our grandmothers time. Are these particular plants really that hard to come by?

    I've started my Christmas cactus nearly 20 years ago, from a two inch cutting received from the plant of an acquaintance. I received the Thanksgiving cactus 3-4 years ago as a 'thank you' gift. What I found unique about the Thanksgiving cactus is each leaf had a white border. Unfortunately, as the plant got older the border became more and more faint, and now is nonexistent.

    I glad I happend across your blog. It is really enjoyable, so keep up the good work!


  9. Nubian Rose,

    They really are hard to find.

  10. Anonymous10:13 PM

    i came home from work told my 15 year old son i knew we there had to be a way to make the christmas cacti(2) we have go to seed, he found this page in two minutes thank you so much. were also going to take one of ours to my mother in laws and pollinate hers. happy holidays

  11. I'm really late reading this post, but thanks so much for the cool info! I'm relegated to 99% indoor gardening these days, and this kind of project is right up my alley!

  12. Anonymous2:44 PM

    I'm trying to cross a couple of my Thanksgiving Cactus... no success yet but I'm hopeful. I'm also trying my hand at pollinating a few with the same color. Still no success but still very hopeful.

  13. Anonymous2:45 PM

    And yes.. apparently some breeds of CC/TC have the stigma open up. Others not.



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