The Difference Between Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter Cacti

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

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 are 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

Christmas Cactus
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Flowering, Tropical Cacti With Leaf-Like Pads

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter cacti are part of the Schlumbergera genus that's native to Brazilian rain forests where they grow on trees like orchids, according to the Southern Living Garden Book.

These holiday cacti blooms come in a variety of colors. Christmas cactus has purplish-red flowers; Thanksgiving cactus comes in white, pink, salmon, orange, and yellow; and Easter cactus flowers can have pink, orange, red, or white hues.

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, Erin Marino, editorial lead at The Sill, says.

How Blooming Correlates With the Holidays

Each of their common names refers to their flowering season. Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesSchlumbergera x buckleyi, sometimes labeled Schlumbergera bridgesii) 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.

Look at the Stem Segments to Tell the Difference

The Thanksgiving cactus has the spikiest stem segments of the three varieties, and its pollen is yellow. The Christmas cactus has less spikey pads with rounder edges, and its pollen is pink. The Easter cactus has subtle, rounded edges on its stem segments. Sometimes Easter cactus can also have small hairs on their leaves, Marino says.

"Holiday" Cactus Basics

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.

According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, to encourage Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti blooms, make sure they get bright light, night temperatures between 55 F and 65 F, and long nights of around 13 hours of continuous darkness. Easter cactus also needs bright light and night temperatures of 55 F to 65 F and will bloom as the days get longer between March and May, the North Carolina State Extension website says.

For general care, aside from bright light to partial shade, water moderately. Keep soil moist—to prevent root rot, do not overwater these plants—the soil can go somewhat dry between waterings after the blooming season. If your holiday cactus needs to be repotted use a cactus or succulent potting mix, which is much lighter than regular potting soil. This should be a pH-balanced mix that may contain 60-80% potting soil with 40-20% perlite, recommends Clemson University's Cooperative Extension. Fertilize monthly, after their flowering season ends and when new growth starts, and then reduce when flower buds form.

Succulent and Cacti Tips

Whether a Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter cactus, with the right care, these seasonally flowering houseplants can definitely add cheer and beauty to your holiday and throughout the year. To learn more about low-maintenance houseplants, check out our cactus and succulent care guides.

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