My Thanksgiving Cactus

An early blooming Christmas cactus is back in my life.

I’ve always been a plant lover. When I was a kid, the windowsills and shelves in my room were lined with plants. I even belonged to the Horticulture Club in my New Jersey high school.

My love of plants stuck with me throughout my life. I had plants in my various homes — especially in the early years of my life in Arizona. That house was so bright that there was plenty of light for plants — even the ones tucked up on top of shelves in my kitchen. I had a vegetable garden for a few years and did some minor landscaping work out in the yard.

The trouble with plants is that they need water. Watering the plants on the high shelves was a pain in the butt — too much of a pain in the butt for my wasband to deal with while I was away every summer in our later years together. So those plants died and I replaced them with silk plants that actually looked a lot better. (I have those plants now in my new home.)

Christmas Cactus Bloom
One of the blooms from my Christmas cactus.

One plant I always took care of, however, was my Christmas cactus. Started from a very small plant acquired not long after moving into my Arizona home, I repotted it multiple times, allowing it to grow into ever bigger pots. It lived on a handwoven Navajo mat in the middle of the kitchen table where it was handy enough to get water when it needed it. Christmas cacti are extremely drought tolerant and can take a lot of neglect. The plant survived my summers away — even my wasband didn’t find it too difficult to care for — and thrived.

In late October every year, the plant would produce buds. Then, by Thanksgiving, it would flower. It had two flower colors — likely because it was started from two different plants — fushia and pinkish white. Over a period of two or three weeks, the entire plant would be covered with flowers. It was spectacular.

In 2012, while I was away in Washington for the summer, things back home changed. For some reason, my wasband moved the Christmas cactus off the kitchen table — where it had always been — and put it in the much darker living room. He apparently wasn’t home very often so all the plants in the house left were neglected. When he did come home, he overwatered everything — which was quite apparent from the water damage on the living room floor near a tall potted tree there and water stains on the glass-topped living room tables.

Of course, I didn’t know any of this until I got home in September. That’s when I found the Christmas cactus looking half dead on the coffee table. I brought it back into the kitchen and began nursing it back to health.

As I said earlier, these plants can take a lot of neglect. Within a month or so, it was looking much better. But when late October rolled around, there wasn’t a single bud on it. There were no flowers that Thanksgiving.

All that autumn, I was under the mistaken impression that my future wasband would settle by Christmas and I’d have to leave the house, which he wanted to keep. (What an idiot; he could have saved at least $120K and kept the house if he had.) So not only did I spend much of my time at home packing up my belongings, but I also started giving away my things, including my plants.

For months, every time someone invited me to their house for dinner, I’d come with a potted plant. It became a bit of a joke.

A few weeks before Christmas, I decided to spend the holidays with my family in Florida. Although I wasn’t in any hurry to leave — I had nowhere else to go — I still clung to the hope that my future wasband would see the light and settle. That could mean I’d be out of the house soon, possibly by New Years Day. I might even spend the whole winter in Florida.

Budding Cactus
The first of many photos Rose Marie has sent me since I dropped my Christmas cactus off at her home.

At that point, the only plant left was my Christmas cactus. It had fully recovered and was just starting to show a few tiny buds. There was a good chance it would bloom, possibly soon. So I loaded it up into my car and took it to the home of two of my friends, Stan and Rose Marie. I was sort of sad to leave it there — it had become such a fixture in my everyday life.

I went to Florida and spent some quality time with my family. On December 17, Rose Marie sent me a text with a picture of the plant: “Starting to bud.”

A few weeks later, she sent another photo.

Christmas Cactus in Bloom
Fully recovered, my Christmas cactus bloomed right around Christmas time in its new home.

Since then, Rose Marie has sent me annual photos of the plant in bloom. It seems to bloom around Christmas time each year in her home. I’m not sure why it blooms a whole month later for her — it might have something to do with the amount of light it gets. But she seems to prefer it blooming around Christmas, so it’s all good.

Early this year I was back in Arizona for a few weeks and had dinner at Stan and Rose Marie’s house. It was February and the plant had finished blooming for the year. I got a sort of crazy idea: maybe I could take a few cuttings from it and try to root them at home? When I left that evening, I had three cuttings from various parts of the plant wrapped up in a piece of wet paper towel.

In the guest house I was staying in, I put the cuttings in a small glass of water. A week or two later, I packed them carefully in my carryon bag and took them home with me on the plane. They looked pretty ratty when I put them into water. Within a week, I’d moved them into some potting soil that I kept moist. I honestly didn’t have much hope for them — it was relatively dark back in my RV where I was living, parked inside my garage for the winter.

But they rooted. And they grew.

I repotted the cuttings into one of the nice painted terra-cotta pots I’d brought with me from Arizona. When I moved upstairs into my new home, which is even brighter during the summer than my Arizona home was, the plant thrived.

And on Thanksgiving day, the plant started to bloom.

New Christmas Cactus
Here’s the descendant, so to speak, of my old plant in its home on my new coffee table.

I just sent a photo to Stan and Rose Marie. Their response: “Good deal! You’re on a roll. Small but looks great. Obviously you have a green thumb.”

It’s a start. I hope to be able to share a much more impressive photo of my Thanksgiving cactus next year.

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