Blooming Thanksgiving Cactus- Schlumbergera Truncata in plastic pot container

Types of Holiday Cactus: Easily Tell Them Apart Once and For All

If you love the holidays, you can invoke the cheer of them all year long by growing and caring for your own holiday cacti. I’ll go over the three types of holiday cactus in this article and help you differentiate between them.

What are the three types of holiday cactus? The holiday cacti include the Easter cactus, Christmas cactus, and Thanksgiving cactus. The cacti differ in interesting ways, including when they bloom, their flower shapes, their stem shapes, and whether they dangle and how.

If you want to learn even more fascinating facts about holiday cacti, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will explore each species in depth and then compare them so you can tell which holiday cactus you have or choose the right cactus for you! 

An Overview of the Three Types of Holiday Cactus

Easter Cactus

The first holiday cactus is the Easter cactus. Once known as Schlumbergera gaertneri, today, the proper scientific categorization is Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri or R. gaertneri.

Native to Brazil, the Easter cactus originates in Santa Catarina and Parana, growing at altitudes of up to 1,300 meters or 4,300 feet. The plant can grow on rocks or trees and prefers a subtropical rainforest environment. 

What attracts so many people to the Easter cactus is undoubtedly its floral color variety. The flowers bloom in hues like pink, lavender, peach, orange, red, and white. 

The flowers will open daily, close at night, and only stick around for a few weeks before disappearing. 

So why call it the Easter cactus? This cactus variety blooms as spring gets underway between March and May. Easter always falls somewhere on the calendar then. 

The Easter cactus prefers somewhat moist soil that can dry between watering sessions. The plant needs bright, indirect light to encourage floral blooming.

Well-draining, aerated soil suits this epiphyte. You can augment the condition of the soil with orchid bark, perlite, peat moss, and coco coir. 

Standard household humidity doesn’t faze the Easter cactus, and it can withstand cooler temps than you might expect, around 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The succulent requires a balanced houseplant fertilizer with an equal macronutrient mix (like 10-10-10) applied every 30 days for two months ahead of blooming.  

Christmas Cactus

Of the three types of holiday cactus, everyone most knows the Christmas cactus or Schlumbergera bridgesii. It’s part of the Schlumbergera x buckleyi genus with a handful of other species. 

Like the Easter cactus, the Christmas cactus comes from tropical rainforest regions, primarily growing on trees. 

In this kind of environment, the Christmas cactus has a natural abundance of warmth, dappled sunlight, and humidity.

The Christmas cactus stands out due to the way it dramatically drapes. Giving it an initial look, you might mistake this cactus for a fern instead, as that’s the foliar style it displays. But trust me, it’s a cactus!

A happy Christmas cactus will develop blooms, and they too will hang downward. 

Like the Easter cactus, the Christmas cactus can produce flowers in a variety of fun hues, from white to cream, gold, orange, red, and pink. 

If you’re really lucky, you might even see bicolors, which include multiple hues in one flower. 

If an Easter cactus earned that nickname because it grows in the spring, you’d be correct to guess the Christmas cactus comes alive in the winter. 

The blooming season begins as winter does and lasts until the middle of the season.

What’s fun about that is that the wintertime is traditionally a slow time for indoor gardeners. Lots of houseplants go dormant, leaving you with little to do. The Christmas cactus will liven up the scene with its bright colors.

The Christmas cactus needs water when a third of its soil dries out. Then, water generously until water collects in the drainage tray underneath the pot. 

Provide bright, indirect light for the Christmas cactus and keep temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees. 

You’ll need more than average humidity for this plant, so either move it to your bathroom or use a humidifier. 

When spring begins and until autumn, apply a balanced plant fertilizer every two weeks. Then prune the Christmas cactus later in spring. 

Thanksgiving Cactus 

The third type of holiday cactus is the Thanksgiving cactus or Schlumbergera truncata

Referred to by some as the false Christmas cactus, the Thanksgiving cactus and Christmas cactus look a lot alike but aren’t the same.

This cactus species grows natively in southeastern Brazil, favoring tropical and subtropical forests. 

It too has dangling stems, but with square-shaped segments with pincer-like hooks on one of the two sides.

That’s why you might hear of the Thanksgiving cactus called by yet a third nickname, the crab cactus! 

The flowers that bloom from the Thanksgiving cactus have a soft, luxurious texture and measure up to three inches long. In its native Brazil, hummingbirds will pollinate the Thanksgiving cactus’s flowers.

As you would expect, you can see an intense variety of hues from the Thanksgiving cactus’s blooms, including white, cream, orange, peach, lavender, purple, and red.

The Thanksgiving cactus begins blooming in the middle of November, which coincides with the American Thanksgiving holiday. 

The cactus will bloom through December, typically stopping that month but sometimes continuing until January. 

To care for a Thanksgiving cactus, provide moist yet well-draining soil. Let an inch or two of soil drain before replenishing the cactus with water, and then pour water in until it comes out of the pot’s drainage holes. 

Bright, indirect light better encourages blooming. The right temperature for the Thanksgiving cactus is between 60 and 65 degrees. 

This plant also prefers humidity over 50 percent, so put it in a bathroom or use a humidifier. 

Fertilize it from the spring until the fall. Use a balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer but dilute it according to product instructions. Apply the fertilizer once every two weeks.

When the Thanksgiving cactus begins its growing season, stop fertilizing until the spring. 

How to Tell Them Apart 

While a holiday cactus will make your indoor garden a more beautiful place no matter which of the three types you choose, for the sake of plant care, you must know the difference. 

Here are some pointers that will help you tell these three cacti species apart.

Thanksgiving Cactus Is More Common Than Christmas Cactus

The Thanksgiving cactus, being known as the false Christmas cactus, often masquerades around as that species. 

Since both cactus types bloom in the winter, the average plant lover might not easily be able to tell them apart. 

Most gardening supply stores that say they’re selling Christmas cactus have the Thanksgiving cactus for sale. This could be done deliberately or perhaps they don’t know the differences either.

I would say it definitely happens deliberately though, so be careful. Why do I say that? 

Well, the Thanksgiving cactus blooms right around the American holidays, so it would generate greater interest than a cactus like the Christmas cactus.

The Christmas cactus doesn’t ship easily due to its more fragile parts, so this species is tougher to come by than the somewhat hardier Thanksgiving cactus. 

Christmas Cactus Stems Always Hang

An Easter cactus stands upright, but the Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti both dangle. That’s another reason differentiating them becomes so hard. 

It helps if you have the plant in your care before it reaches maturity. That will let you study the way the stems arch. 

The Thanksgiving cactus starts moderately upright. As it matures, its stems will then begin to dangle. 

The Christmas cactus’s stems never sit upright.

They Have Different Stem Shapes

Each species of holiday cactus displays unique stem shapes. 

The Thanksgiving cactus features flat stems with points or teeth on the ends, two to four. The Easter cactus has rounder, squatter stems without any teeth.

The Christmas cactus has stems more akin to the Easter cactus than the Thanksgiving cactus. The edges are scalloped yet smooth. Again, you won’t see any teeth here.

They Have Different Flower Shapes

The floral shapes can also help you in your quest to confirm which holiday cactus you own. 

For instance, the Thanksgiving cactus has outward-facing flowers with rounded edges. 

The Easter cactus grows flowers with star-shaped petals that have pointed edges. You can’t confuse those flowers with the flowers from a Thanksgiving cactus.

The Christmas cactus grows flowers in almost a bell shape. The flowers have narrow petals and pointed edges.

The Flowers Bloom at Different Times

Keep an eye on when the flowers bloom to also help you. Thanksgiving cacti will produce flowers sometimes as early as late October around Halloween, and if not, then in November. 

The Christmas cactus can bloom in November too but usually later in the month. This cactus may continue blooming until February. 

The Thanksgiving cactus is always done blooming by January, so if you have a holiday cactus that’s still going strong with its floral display by February, it’s a Christmas cactus. 

Remember, an Easter cactus won’t start blooming until March, so it’s much harder to confuse it for a Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus. 

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