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 cactus – schlumbergera bridgesii, Thanksgiving cactus – Schlumbergera truncata, and Easter cactus – rhipsalidopsis gaertneri. The bloom time of each corresponds to the matching holiday.
Although these holiday 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.
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-lasting. They come in many colors and have a drooping shape to them.
- Enjoy these flowering plants indoors when other plants are dormant.
- Plants are often purchased for the holidays, with flower buds in bloom, 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 for pests and diseases before bringing them in for the holidays. They will often need repotting at this time.
- 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 cactus vs Thanksgiving cactus vs Easter 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.
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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Growing tips for holiday cactus plants
If you enjoyed this article, you can read more about plant care tips for each of these holiday cacti.
- Thanksgiving Cactus Care – Tips for growing schlumbergera truncata
- Christmas Cactus Blooming – How to get a holiday cactus to flower each year
- Easter Cactus – Growing rhipsalidopsis gaertneri the spring cactus
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.
- Heavy card stock or printer paper
- Computer printer
- Load printer with heavy cardstock or some computer paper.
- Choose portrait layout and if possible "fit to page" in your settings.
- Print out and store in your garden journal.
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