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Holiday Cactus Types – Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter Cactus

 A holiday cactus is a short day plant which produces flower buds when daylight hours decrease. Fortunately for gardeners, this happens when much of the garden is not blooming, just in time for the major holidays – Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter.

There are three different types of holiday cactus plants, Christmas cactusschlumbergera bridgesii , Thanksgiving cactusSchlumbergera truncata, and Easter cactusrhipsalidopsis gaertneri. The bloom time of each corresponds to the matching holiday.

Although the plants may look similar at first glance, the various types of holiday cacti have differences in the leaf shape and flower. Keep reading to find out more about these lovely holiday plants.

Christmas cactus, Easter cactus and Thanksgiving cactus in a collage.

About holiday cactus plants

Brush up on your knowledge of holiday cactus plants with these fun facts and growing tips.

  • Holiday cacti flowers are beautiful and the plants are very long-lived. They come in many colors and have a drooping shape to them.
  • Enjoy these flowering plants indoors indoors when other plants are dormant.
  • Plants are often purchased for the holidays with flower buds to enjoy as house plants. To promote re-blooming another year, holiday cacti need cool night temperatures and short days.
  • Thanksgiving cactus blooms in late fall. Christmas cactus flowers about a month later around Christmas, and Easter cactus forms buds in February and blooms around Easter time.
  • Holiday cactus are not true cactus plants, but rather succulents that are native to the jungles of South America.

Growing tips for holiday cactus plants

  • Holiday cactus plants like well draining soil. Heavy soils that stay wet can be very damaging to them.
  • Bright light and high humidity produce the healthiest plants.
  • These exotic plants benefit from spending time outdoors in the summer. Be sure to inspect them before bringing them in for the holidays.
  • Although they are called holiday cactus, these plants are not drought tolerant and need regular watering.
  • Propagate holiday cacti by breaking off a stem with 2-4 segments. Allow the end to callus, and then plant the cutting in a mixture of sand and potting mix. 
  • Fertilize monthly in the summer months with a balanced indoor plant fertilizer at half-strength.

Differences between Christmas – Easter – Thanksgiving cactus

These three varieties of holiday cacti are often given as gifts during the holiday seasons because of their beautiful flowers. While we name them after the three holiday seasons, there may be a bit of overlap for blooming time.

It’s not uncommon to see a Thanksgiving cactus still flowering for the Christmas holiday. In fact, one of the common names of schlumbergera truncata (Thanksgiving cactus) is false Christmas cactus!

The three holiday cacti are collectively named Zygocactus. This is not an actual genus but a broad term for holiday cactus plants.

So what are the differences between the three types of holiday cactus? The first difference is their botanical names.

Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus are in the same genus but are different species of plants – schlumbergera bridgesii (Christmas cactus) and schlumbergera truncata (Thanksgiving cactus.) However, Easter cactus, while looking similar, is a different genus altogether – rhipsalidopsis.

Leaf shape of holiday cactus plants

The next difference in the three plants is the leaf structure. Thanksgiving cactus has edges with points on them and is sometimes called crab cactus. Christmas cactus has notched edges, but they are not as pointed.

Easter cactus has no notches and much more rounded edges than its other two cousins.

Pictures of leaves and flowers of holiday cactus plants.

Holiday cactus flowers

All three types of holiday cacti have beautiful, exotic flowers which are pendulant and look great in hanging baskets. The shapes of each are slightly different.

Each type needs cool temperatures and short days to bloom, but Easter cactus needs a much longer cool period. The flowers of Easter cactus are more star shaped, while Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus have very similar looking flowers although they are placed differently.

Christmas cactus flowers are more drooping with brownish purple anthers. Thanksgiving cactus blooms form horizontally on the stems and have yellow anthers.

The holiday cactus colors come in many shades, from white, to orange, yellow and red. Red or fuchsia are the most common colors.

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The three types of holiday cactus can be hard to tell apart. Head to The Gardening Cook for a printable which will be a help in determining which type you have. #christmascactus #thanksgivingcactus #eastercactus 🎅🦃🐰 Click To Tweet

Growing tips for these plants

If you enjoyed this article, you can read more about plant care tips for each of these holiday cacti.


Where to buy holiday cactus plants

Check your local big box hardware stores and Walmart around the holiday times. I have found all three types of holiday cacti for sale there. Note that many plants labeled “Christmas cactus” are actually Thanksgiving cactus plants instead.

Local Farmer’s Markets, and small nurseries are also a good place to check.

If  you can’t find them locally, there are several places which sell these plants online:

Pin this post for holiday cactus types

Would you like a reminder of this post describing the holiday cactus varieties? Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.

Three cell phones showing pictures of flowers with words three types of holiday cactus.

Yield: 1 printable

Holiday Cactus Types - Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter Cactus - Printable

Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter cactus with words holiday cactus plants.

The three types of holiday cactus can be very hard to tell apart. This printable will be a help in determining which type you have.

Prep Time 1 minute
Active Time 15 minutes
Total Time 16 minutes
Difficulty easy
Estimated Cost $1

Materials

  • Heavy card stock or printer paper

Tools

  • Computer printer

Instructions

  1. Load printer with heavy cardstock or some computer paper.
  2. Choose portrait layout and if possible "fit to page" in your settings.
  3. Print out and store in your garden journal.

Notes

Pictures of leaves and flowers of holiday cactus plants.

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