Around the holidays, we often see blooming plants that are members of the Cactus family. One of the most popular plants to give or receive during the holiday season is the Christmas Cactus. Or is it an Easter or Thanksgiving Cactus?
These 3 species of cacti, know as Holiday Cacti, are members of the group called leaf cacti. The plant bodies are flattened and the leaves are actually segmented stems. The flowers are produced from notches in these stems or from the tips. The fuchsia-like flowers last a long time. They are usually pink, but modern hybrids include white, red, yellow, and purple varieties.
There are reports of plants being handed down from generation to generation and being over 100 years old.
The main difference between Thanksgiving, Christmas Cactus, and Easter Cactus is the time of bloom. As their common names suggest, a Thanksgiving Cactus can bloom in late fall, one month before the Christmas Cactus. The Easter Cactus starts producing flower buds in February. Regardless of type, there are steps to follow to ensure bloom.
The difference is found in the shape of the leaves too. The Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) has very pointed and claw-shaped projections on the edges of the leaf. The Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) has leaf projections that are more scalloped or teardrop-shaped. The Easter Cactus (Hatiora gaertneri, formerly known as Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) has very rounded edges that are centralized on the leaf.
All of these 3 cacti are known as short-day plants. So in order to induce the plant into bloom, it must have 12 to 24 hours of darkness and cool temperatures. If you have over summered your plant outdoors or purchased it from a florist or nursery the plant should be kept in a cool location and in a dark area until it sets buds. A seldom-used bedroom or lower level is the ideal place. The Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus require approximately 6 weeks of short days in order to bloom whereas the Easter Cactus requires 8 to 12 weeks of short days to bloom hence the name Easter Cactus. When the buds appear it can be brought into a warmer area for your enjoyment. Sometimes a plant might start to drop buds at this time. That could be due to drafts, too-warm temperatures, too much water or direct sunlight. The plants enjoy bright light but not direct sunlight. The soil should be dry to one inch (2.5 cm) below the surface before watering and not fertilized or repotted while blooming. The plants seem to do the best when root-bound.
The Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus may re-bloom again for you in the spring but not as profusely as holiday time bloom. If you want to encourage springtime blooms, simply return the plant to its short-day conditions.
These plants are relatively disease-free unless overwatered. If the plant turns reddish in color it is an indication of too much sun, lack of phosphorus or lack of water.
- Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus and Easter Cactus
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- Caring for Cactus House Plants
- What To Know About The Thanksgiving Cactus And The Christmas Cactus
- Christmas Cactus Versus Thanksgiving Cactus: How To Tell The Difference
- How To Care For Christmas And Thanksgiving Cacti
- Many Colors of Christmas Cacti
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Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus and Easter Cactus
Is your Christmas Cactus blooming in November? You probably have a Thanksgiving Cactus! Yes, there are multiple holiday cacti (including an Easter cactus). Here’s the difference—plus, tips on how to care for your holiday cactus to keep it blooming.
What’s the Difference Between the Christmas Cactus and Thanksgiving Cactus?
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is the long-lived plant our grandmothers grew. I have a plant that came from one my mother-in-law grew from a cutting she received over 70 years ago! They are the ultimate pass-along plant since they are so easy to root. Just pinch off a “Y” shaped piece from one of the branches and stick it in a pot of sterile soil or vermiculite. It will root in no time.
Photo: The Christmas Cactus. Notice how the flowers hang down. Credit:ucanr.edu/
Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) typically blooms between mid-November and late December, sometimes through January. Its leaf segments are square shaped with pointed hooks on one end and along the sides like pincers, giving rise to its common name “crab cactus”. It is native to Brazil where its 2 to 3 inch long, satiny flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds.
Photo: Thanksgiving Cactus growing in garden center. Notice how the flowers grow outwards.
The Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) blooms in the spring and sometimes again in the fall around Halloween. Its flaring, trumpet-shaped flowers have pointy pink or red petals.
Photo: Easter cactus. Credit: Scott’s Nursery.
Many of the plants available for sale are hybrid crosses of Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) that come in a rainbow of exotic colors including orange, purple, yellow, red, pink, white, and two-tones.
More Ways to Tell a Christmas Cactus from a Thanksgiving Cactus
Look at their bloom color and the way the flower blooms:
- The Christmas cactus has hanging flowers in shades of magenta and blooms, of course, near Christmas. The range of flowering is late November through early February.
- The Thanksgiving cactus has flowers that face outwards and the plant comes in a wide range of colors. This plant blooms near Thanksgiving. It can start flowering in very late October or in November.
They also have different stems:
- The true Christmas cactus has a flattened stem segments with smooth, scalloped edges.
- The Thanksgiving cactus has a very toothy stem with two to four pointed teeth.
- While the Christmas cactus stems hang down like a pendent, the Thanksgiving cactus has stems that grow upright at first and then arch.
Most nurseries and stores actually sell the Thanksgiving cactus (not Christmas cactus) because it blooms around the American Thanksgiving; also the Christmas cactus is more difficult to ship as the stems are more fragile and often break.
Credit: National Garden Clubs
Caring For Your Holiday Cactus
The holiday cactus is not your typical cactus. We are all familiar with the desert cactus but the holiday plant is a forest cactus—an epiphyte that lives in decomposing leaf litter found in the forks and on the branches of trees in tropical rain forests of South America.
- The conditions in our houses are nothing like their native rain forest homes but still they do fine in normal household temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees, with a drop at night to 55 to 60 degrees. They will need protection when temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep under a shade tree or patio. Not in full sun.
- They like their forest floor so give these cacti acidic well drained soils. Use a cactus mix and add perlite, vermiculite and orchid bark. They’re not cold tolerant.
- They like bright light but not direct sun; an east or west window is perfect. If the leaves turn yellow it means they are getting too much light.
- Let the plants dry out between waterings by watering them when the top 2 inches of the soil feels dry. Do not over water; this is the number one reason for their demise in our homes. Neglect is better than over watering. You could get a hydrometer to help Don’t let them sit in water because if they get too waterlogged they will rot.
- Misting them frequently helps increase humidity.
- Optional: Fertilize them with a, all purpose fertilizer such as a Miracle Grow Tomato water soluble fertilizer (1 tablespoon to a gallon of non-chlorinated water). Feed 2 times a month.
Like all the plants we have there, it gets no special care otherwise. Luckily for us it thrives on neglect and cool temperatures.
How to Keep Holiday Cactus Blooming
The keys to getting your holiday cactus to blossom are short days and cool nights. They need 13 hours of darkness and nights at 50 to 55 degrees for at least 1 to 2 months before they will set buds. I put some of my plants outside all summer and wait until the nights start to drop below 50 degrees before bringing them in for the fall and winter. They usually bud right up and start to bloom after that. The plants that grow in my kitchen get no special treatment and they blossom just as well. Go figure!
The plants flower best when slightly potbound so only repot them if they are really crowded. Unlike many holiday plants they are non-toxic to cats and dogs so don’t be afraid to bring one home for the holidays!
Read more about plant care tips on our Christmas Cactus growing guide.
Hi Guys 😀
In this Blog I will talking about how you can tell the difference between Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus and also sharing a link to a video I have made for my Cacti & Succulent You Tube Channel called Desert Plants of Avalon where I go into more detail about the differences between Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus and also Easter Cactus.
Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus are from the Schlumbergera Cactus family and they are Epiphytic cacti and grow naturally in the tropical Rainforests hanging from trees where they get more moisture and shade than their desert sun loving cousins 😀
Schlumbergera Cacti typically flower from mid October until late January but its not unusual for these cacti to flower at other times of the year too especially if they are grown indoors under artificial light source.
The true Christmas Cacti are called Schlumbergera buckleyi and these cacti flower later than the more commonly seen for sale Thanksgiving cacti the Schlumbergera truncata Cacti, Schlumbergera buckleyi ( Christmas cactus ) flowers early December until late January, and Schlumbergera truncata ( Thanksgiving Cactus ) flowers earlier from early October until late December.
SO HOW CAN YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO ?
Schlumbergera truncata ( Thanksgiving Cactus )
Schlumbergera truncata has stem segments that are claw like and the flowers are more erect and usually this cactus will bloom from early October until late December.
Schlumbergera truncata is the Thanksgiving cactus and this Cactus has stem segments that have crab claw edges on its segments that resemble crab claws, ( see diagram below ) and the Thanksgiving cactus ( Schlumbergera truncata ) is often nicknamed the crab cactus for this reason.
Schlumbergera truncata ( Thanksgiving Cactus ) comes in many different varieties of colours due to the many hybrids now available and this cactus is the one that is most commonly seen for sale around the Christmas time and also wrongly named Christmas Cactus when it really is a Thanksgiving Cactus.
The blooms on Schlumbergera truncata also are more erect and do not hang down like the blooms on Schlumbergera buckleyi.
Schlumbergera buckleyi ( Christmas Cactus )
Schlumbergera buckleyi ( Christmas Cactus ) has rounded scalloped segments and the flowers hang down towards the ground. The blooms usually form later from November until mid February.
Schlumbergera buckleyi is the true Christmas cactus and this cactus has stem segments that are flattened and with smooth and scalloped edges that are not toothed ( see diagram below ). This Cactus is very rarely seen for sale these days in garden shops and nurseries and if you have recently bought a cactus labelled at ‘Christmas Cactus’ it is nearly always 99% a truncata and not a buckleyi.
The blooms on Schlumbergera buckleyi hang down on the stem segments.
Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri ( Easter Cactus )
Rhipsalidopsis gaerneri is the Easter cactus and the stem segments are even more rounded and have hairs on the tip of the segments. The flowers are much smaller and star shaped in appearance compared to the flowers on Schlumbergera and this cactus typically flowers from March until May.
Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri is the true Easter Cactus and this cactus also has stem segments that are very rounded with scalloped edges and the segments have a hairy covering at the tip of each segment and often have a red edging to them, ( see diagram below ) the flowers are also much smaller on Easter cacti and this cactus commonly blooms from the March to April time.
The different types of Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter cacti can be identified by their different leaf segments. Illustrations by Hans Muller
Here is a video that I have made for my Cacti and Succulent You Tube channel called Desert Plants of Avalon where I explain in lots more detail how you can tell the difference between Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter Cactus.
I will be making a future blog and also a video on How to care for Christmas and Thanksgiving Cacti in the next few days so watch this space guys 😀
Sending you all love and happiness and an abundance of PLANT POWER from across the Emerald Isle <3
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There are three different types of holiday cactus (Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter) and they are named based on when they bloom. The Christmas and Thanksgiving Cacti are part of the same family of plants known as Schlumbergera, while the Easter Cactus is from a different plant group – Rhipsalidopsis. These cacti are very different from the desert type of cactus many of us are familiar with or have grown. These plants are tropical epiphytes cactus and they are native to the rainforests of Brazil. They are found in nature attached to trees and rocks. They do not grow in soil and prefer a humid climate, not a dry one, so it is important to water these cacti regularly.
The care of these three houseplants is comparable. The look of the Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti are similar but there are some distinct differences. The Christmas Cactus typically have round or scalloped leaves and bloom in December and January, while Thanksgiving Cactus have pointy leaves and bloom in November – December time period. Thanksgiving Cactus is much easier to ship and is often mislabeled as Christmas Cactus so make sure to check the leaves. Easter Cactus has lots of blooms and the leaves are also scalloped.
After each of these plants bloom, they need a resting period so do not fertilize them for one to two months and use very little water. If you do not do this it will affect the plants blooming the following year.
Remember these plants can be long-lived houseplants. Also, a big plus is these plants are non-toxic to cats and dogs but will irritate their stomach if ingested.
Here is more detailed information on each plant and their care:
Christmas Cactus – The flowers on this plant are available in pink, orange, red, white and you might also find yellow. As previously mentioned, the bloom time is December. You can grow these plants in a container soil but also might want to consider a cactus soil. Make sure the soil drains well and that the container has drainage holes. Keep the plant in bright indirect light. During the day a temperature of 70 degrees is optimal. In the evening it can go down to around 60 degrees. In the summer keep your plant out of direct sunlight (put it in a shady location in your garden) or an unheated porch until it gets too cold.
Water the plant when the top of the soil feels dry. Dowse the soil until the water runs through the pot’s drainage holes. Do not let the plant sit in water, so when you water the plant discard any excess water after any watering. When the plant is flowering it is important to water the plant well and to keep it cool. Fertilize, with a common houseplant fertilizer, every 2 weeks from Spring through early Fall, the rest of the time fertilize monthly.
Right before blooming time, your plant will need extended periods of darkness in order for it to flower. To help your plant put it in the basement for eight weeks. Once you see the buds have started on the ends of the leaves, put the plant back in its usual location. If you notice your plant has bud drop, make sure the plant has high humidity and even soil moisture. Also, don’t move the plant around as the stress could cause the flower buds to drop. The plant starts growing upright but as it matures the leaves tend to arch downwards.
Christmas Cacti can be pruned in late Spring around June, which will inspire the plant to branch and blossoms. Just cut off a few sections of each stem. You can use these cuttings to propagate new plants.
Thanksgiving Cactus – With this plant, you find flowers of many bright colors including pink, purple, golden yellow, orange, red and white. The flowers are found at the ends of what look like flattened stems, or leaves, but these are actually called “joints”. Buds form each year as early as September and flowers will appear between November and December. Plants are almost certain to flower but the goal is to get masses of blooms. This cactus is also known as Crab or Yoke cacti.
The care of this plant is the same as the Christmas but because of the bloom time, the different steps will take place a month ahead of time. Normally, the Thanksgiving Cacti leaves grow upward or in an erect direction. As previously mentioned this differs from the Christmas Cacti which curve upwards and then sag down.
Easter Cactus – Of these 3 plants, the Easter Cactus is the more difficult to grow. This plant also comes in purple, red and pink and the color is more brilliant compared to Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus. The flowers are more star-shaped too. I have heard them described as almost Daisy-like. The plant will be in bloom in the April – May timeframe. The leaves are similar to the Christmas Cactus but the scalloped edges are subtler. Another difference is the end of the leaves have small bristles. Easter Cactus plants are also smaller than the other two plants. It is also not uncommon for this plant to not bloom for several years.
Like the Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus follow the same instructions, just make sure you adjust the time period. The plant performs best in bright natural light with no direct sunlight. When in the sun if it gets too hot the leaves can actually burn. When in bloom, water it more often but don’t let the plant sit in water as it will cause the roots to rot. Something to consider is to put pebbles in the drainage dish so the plant can’t sit in the water. Easter Cactus plants are more sensitive to over and underwater than the Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus. Many people who grow this plant use a soil moisture meter to monitor watering of the plant.
With all three of these Holiday Cacti, depending on the care of the plant and the growing environment you might see flowering at different times of the year. Christmas and Thanksgiving Cacti might also bloom again in the March – May time period. It is quite rare to have the Easter Cacti bloom again, so when it does what a great added bonus!
Share your Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter Cacti on our Facebook page and get a Free Zinnia Seed packet (while supplies last).
Cactus House Plants
Botanical Name: Cactaceae family
Cactus house plants are easy to grow and vary widely in size and shape.
There are hundreds of different kinds of desert cacti, all of which are succulents. A cactus is distinguishable from other succulents by areoles, the small sunken or raised spots from which spines and flowers emerge.
The golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), shown at left, is one of the most popular cactus house plants.
This globe-shaped cactus is slow-growing, but can grow to 3 ft (90 cm) in diameter. Its prominent ribs are covered top to bottom with yellow spines that can reach up to 2 in (5 cm) long.
You can expect this cactus to produce bell-shaped yellow flowers in the summer.
Flowering Cactus Plants
Gynmocalycium quelianum is slow-growing, but the beautiful white blooms are worth the wait.
Coryphantha andreae typically will not flower until it is several years old. Then it produces big, shiny, daisy-like flowers in spring and summer.
Aylostera kupperiana has big, fiery orange-red flowers. Put it in a sunny window and you’ll enjoy a succession of blooms for several weeks.
All desert cacti love to bask in the sun. A south-facing window is ideal for cactus house plants. Most of them will flower if given enough sunshine, although some types of cactus will bloom only when they are a few years old.
Repot in spring when the roots have filled the pot. Move the cactus to a pot only 1 size bigger. A pot that’s too big will hold too much water in the soil, which can cause root rot. It’s a good idea to use a terra cotta pot because the porous material helps the soil to dry out faster.
Cactus Plants for Sale
Caring for Cactus House Plants
Origin: Southwestern U.S., Mexico and South America
Height: Varies by species
Light: At least 2-3 hours of full sun a day.
Water: Water regularly spring through fall while plant is growing, sparingly in winter. If the plant appears shriveled and wrinkled, it’s underwatered. To rehydrate it, water lightly, and then again the following day, and it will recover nicely. Be careful not to drench the soil. Cactus is likely to rot if its roots become soaking wet. Tap water is hard on cactus plants and can cause hard water stains. Use distilled or rain water and water from the bottom or water the potting mix.
Humidity: Average to dry air.
Temperature: Average room temperatures 65-75°F/18-24°C. In winter, a cooler place to rest — 50-60°F/10-16°C at night is ideal.
Soil: Use a potting mix that drains well. You can buy a mix specially made for cacti, or use 2 parts all-purpose potting mix with 1 part sharp sand or perlite. Adding about a 1/2-inch layer of pebbles to the bottom of the container will help drainage and also add weight to the bottom. (Large cacti can become top-heavy).
Fertilizer: Typical cactus house plant fertilizer is 2-7-7. It needs less nitrogen than foliage plants and higher phosphorus and potassium for better flowering and strong roots.
Propagation: Many cacti grow offsets at the base of the parent plant. Cut them away with a sharp knife. Allow the cut surface to dry for a couple days so it doesn’t ooze sap and to prevent the new plant from rotting. Place offsets on the surface of moist, sandy potting mixture. Keep new offsets in a warm, bright place, but out of direct sun for the first month. The best season to propagate is late spring or early summer, when plants are beginning their most active period of growth.
Looking for a Holiday Cactus?
Although true cactus, these holiday favorites are native to tropical rain forests and require much different care. Find out how to keep them healthy and what makes them bloom year after year.
- Houseplants A-Z
What To Know About The Thanksgiving Cactus And The Christmas Cactus
Do you love houseplants that are easy to take care of? If so, you might have a succulent in your house that’s called either a Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus. These two types of cacti are beautiful additions to your home that you can nurture into blooming this time of year — but sometimes, it’s hard to tell which one is which.
If you have a Christmas cactus that seems a bit too eager to bloom every year, well, you might not have a Christmas cactus at all. That holiday houseplant that’s so good at flowering just in time for Thanksgiving instead of Christmas might be a Thanksgiving cactus!
The two cacti are in the same family, genus Schlumbergera, and they’re so similar that it’s no surprise that a lot of folks mix up the two. And it turns out there’s a third member of that family that you might be keeping as a houseplant — the Easter cactus.
Any of the three can bloom in March or April, which just adds to the confusion. These plants need some specific conditions to get those blooms popping and you could easily accidentally set a spring flowering in motion without even knowing it.
Christmas Cactus Versus Thanksgiving Cactus: How To Tell The Difference
The best way to tell the difference between Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti is to take a close look at the leaves.
The leaves of the Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera bridgesii, have softly scalloped edges.
But the leaves of the Thanksgiving cactus, Schlumbergera truncata, have serrated edges with sharper protrusions.
The Farmer’s Almanac notes that the flowers’ anthers are different: Thanksgiving cacti have yellow anthers, and Christmas cacti have pinkish-purplish anthers. You can see both of those in the photos above. Also, both plants have colorful, tube-shaped flowers.
The Easter cactus, Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerii, has even softer sculpting on the leaves and the flowers are more starburst-like.
But these easygoing plants that bring a pop of color to our homes just when we want it most have become popular, and garden centers have started producing Thanksgiving-Christmas hybrids, Better Homes & Gardens reports. This could make identifying your cactus tricky. But, as BH&G notes, if you have a cactus from a cutting an older relative gave you, odds are good that you don’t have one of these hybrids.
How To Care For Christmas And Thanksgiving Cacti
Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti are succulents from the tropical forests of Brazil. As with all succulents, these “cacti” are good at pulling moisture out of the air, but you’ll want to make sure the roots don’t completely dry out.
However, too much water can easily sink them; succulents don’t take kindly to overwatering. Better to neglect them a bit and forget to water them! They only need a drink every three weeks in winter, or a bit more often if they’re blooming and as temperatures warm in summer.
Though these succulents are known as forgiving houseplants that live up to 30 years, you’ll have to make sure the conditions are right if you want them to develop flowers. Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti need 12-14 hours of darkness and slightly cooler temperatures for four to six weeks to get the cue to bloom.
You can give it the darkness it needs by moving it to a closet or just placing a paper bag over it in the evening. When buds appear, bring the plant back out (but not into direct sunlight — indirect, bright light is best) into a warmer place in your home.
Many Colors of Christmas Cacti
It’s that time of year! The #christmascactus hashtag is in full bloom on Instagram right now … even though some of these might technically be Thanksgiving cacti. People around the world are posting their blooming Christmas (Thanksgiving?) cacti.
@dorylyn has a huge Christmas cactus that’s blooming in a lovely traditional red:
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Blooming, again! Better than last year!! #christmascactus #blooming #christmas #cactus
And @sally.mortimore has what appears to be a Thanksgiving cactus in bright, cheerful fuchsia:
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My flowering Christmas cactus… cheers me up on the wet and grey day…. #christmascactus #plants #indoorplants #indoorflowers #rainyday #whatmakesmesmile
And @stephenopsis has a blooming cactus in a peachy shade:
The white blooms on this cactus are just gorgeous. From @gusti_rete:
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Wenn er blüht ist es bald wieder soweit! #christmascactus #flower #advent #home
And finally, here’s one last bit of holiday-cactus inspiration for those who are ready to nurture their houseplants into gorgeous monsters. Check out this post from @smartplanthome:
Good luck growing your holiday cacti!