Who knew that one cactus genus could have so many festive species?

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Christmas Cactus
Credit: Getty Images

You may be used to having a Christmas Cactus in your home as a festive green and red, low-maintenance house plant, but did you know that there's also Thanksgiving Cactus and Easter Cactus varieties?

The difference between these festive cacti is so subtle that they are often sold as each other on accident. Luckily the care for each species is the same: moderate light and watering about once a week

All three variations are part of the Schlumbergera genus, Erin Marino, editorial lead at The Sill, says. Known for their leaf-like pads, or stem segments, the real trick to telling the difference between each species is to look at the shape of the stem segments and take note of what season they're blooming in, she says.

Each of their common names refers to their flowering season. Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesi) varieties are the two most confused for each other because their blooming periods are back-to-back. Thanksgiving Cacti typically bloom between November and December, while Christmas Cacti bloom from January to February. However, houseplants can be forced to bloom at any time, and some Thanksgiving Cacti will bloom closer to Christmas, Marino says. The Easter Cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri) blooms in early spring, and it has the most noticeable difference in stem segment shape of the three.

Marino says that the common confusion between the Thanksgiving and Christmas Cacti make blooming season a less helpful way of identifying each variation, so it's best to look at the shape of the stem segments instead.

Schlumbergera truncata
Schlumbergera bridgesi
Schlumbergera gaertneri
Left: Thanksgiving Cacti have pointed edges on their stem segments, while Christmas Cacti and Easter Cacti have rounded stem segments. Easter Cacti have only a subtle rounded edge. | Credit: Courtesy of The Sill
Center: Christmas Cactus | Credit: Getty Images
Right: Easter Cactus | Credit: Getty Images

The Thanksgiving Cactus has the spikiest stem segments of the three varieties. The Christmas Cactus has less spikey pads with rounder edges, and the Easter Cactus has subtle rounded edges on its stem segments. Easter Cacti can also sometimes have small hairs on their leaves, Marino says.

You may find that some stores label a cactus from the Schlumbergera genus as a "Holiday Cactus," to prevent consumers from confusing the blooming periods of the plants. The Holiday Cactus that The Sill has listed on its site is of the Thanksgiving Cactus species.