Confusmas Cactus

I still haven’t gotten used to having all my plants inside for the winter which is good because it means I actually remember to water them. As I watered them this weekend, I noticed that two of my succulents have buds on them, which is exciting.

I don’t want to name the ones that have blooms showing up, but they often begin forming buds this time of year to bloom in a month or two. If you’re a plant person, you probably know the cactus I’m talking about. Or do you?

Here’s the thing: I follow a gardening group on Facebook that is occasionally educational, sometimes inspiring, and often annoying (which is really pretty representative of Facebook on the whole, isn’t it?). I have seen far too many posts of people sharing pictures to this group of a cactus with buds and tubular blooms and the caption “My Christmas Cactus is confused! Getting ready to bloom in [any time that isn’t Christmas time] 😅” and then seven million comments of “WeLl AcTuAlLy….” and a picture of amorphous leaf shapes trying and failing to distinguish between Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, and Easter Cactus.

I understand and appreciate that there are different varieties of these plants and learning to identify similar but distinct things can be interesting and enlightening. Sometimes it can save you a lot of pain and suffering. Being able to tell the difference between poison ivy and strawberry plants could prevent you from planting the world’s worst garden. Knowing that the kissy stuff at Christmastime is mistletoe and isn’t the one with spiky leaves and red berries will keep you from making inane and nonsensical comments to women named Holly who might throttle you for being neither funny nor original.

But the care for Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus is virtually the same and it’s not like plants use the Gregorian calendar anyway, so two holidays a month apart are really pretty close when it comes to blooming season, especially when you account for environmental differences from being in different people’s homes in different places around the country.

Case in point: my confused little cacti. The internet would have me believe that this one, with the spikiest leaves is actually a Thanksgiving cactus. It still has the garden center tag that says it is a Christmas cactus but it also says “zygocactus” which the internet again says is Thanksgiving. Either way, it has a few buds on it, and I’m just glad I noticed the buds before Halloween so it didn’t feel like my cactus was in cahoots with major retailers across the country who start pushing Christmas at 11:59 on October 31.

My other cactus has no tag (it used to and I lost it, which is entirely unsurprising), but it, too, was purchased around Christmas and marketed as a Christmas cactus. I’ve had it for a few years and even successfully propagated a piece of it into a new plant in reckless defiance of the tag’s warning that such actions were “prohibited by law.”

Both of these plants have little spikes on the leaves, which suggests turkeys over reindeer, but the spikes are certainly less conspicuous than the on other cactus. And what’s more, the propagated plant has buds while the original has none. This is probably down to the fact that they are in different rooms and receive different levels of light and water and such, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are genetically identical but behaving differently.

I think what’s really going on here is the cacti are the original protestors of “made up holidays.” It’s lovely to have a day to give thanks for what we have, but the date was fairly arbitrarily picked and isn’t even the same day every year. Canada and the US don’t even agree on which month Thanksgiving should be. (I am unfortunately entirely ignorant on Thanksgiving celebrations in any other culture and welcome you to educate me in the comments.)

And Christmas? I’m a fan of Jesus and I do think He’s worth celebrating (and if you have other beliefs, that’s fine with me too), but historical accounts pretty well agree Jesus almost certainly wasn’t born in December. Christmas was scheduled for the end of the year to make conversion easier for the various pagans who really enjoyed and didn’t want to give up their winter solstice celebrations.

So my choose-your-own-holiday cacti have buds on Halloween and who knows when they’ll bloom (if they even do; I’m a much better dog mom than plant mom to be sure). How much simpler would the differentiation of these plants be if we hadn’t named them after arbitrary holidays? Either way, they’re pretty. But I’m not going to share them on the gardening group. I’ll just share them with you instead.

One response to “Confusmas Cactus”

  1. My EastThanksChrist cactus has buds, too! I am happy it chooses to bloom any time it wants! A rose by any other name….. Call it what you will, people. It’s beautiful!

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