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Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus vs Easter Cactus

large Thanksgiving cactus in bloom with pink flowers
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Adding seasonal cacti to your home is a great way to add a pop of color indoors. 

But did you know there are three different varieties of holiday cacti that bloom throughout the year? 

While the Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter cactus have similar features and characteristics, they are actually very different plants. 

If you’re wondering which type of cactus you have at home, I’m here to help! 

Here’s what to look for when you’re picking a Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, and Easter cactus.

How to Tell the Difference Between Cactus Varieties

Top says "Thanksgiving Cactus vs Christmas Cactus vs Easter Cactus", under that is an image of a Thanksgiving cactus flower on the left, "Thanksgiving Cactus Schlumbergera truncata broad, pointy leaves" in the middle and a pic of a Thanksgiving cactus leaf on the right.  Under this is a picture of pink Christmas cactus flower, then the words "Christmas Cactus Schlumbergera bridgesii scalloped flat leaves" in the center and then a pic of Christmas cactus leaves on the right.  Under this is a pink Easter cactus flower with the words "Easter cactus Hatiora gaertneri rounded scalloped leaves with soft hairs", then a picture of an Easter cactus leaf to the right.

Now that you know there are three different varieties of seasonal cacti, you may be wondering how to tell the difference between the Christmas cactus vs Thanksgiving cactus vs Easter cactus. 

Each of the three cacti listed above have very similar features that make them difficult to distinguish if you don’t know what to look for.  Add in the fact that both the Christmas cactus and the Thanksgiving cactus bloom around the same time, which doesn’t help when trying to figure out which plant you have.

And to make things even more confusing, many big box stores sell Thanksgiving cacti labeled as Christmas cacti during the holiday season.

When determining which type of cactus you have, look at the:

  • Leaves. Each variety of cactus has subtle differences in the leaf shape, making it a great place to start when determining the variety of cactus you have. The Christmas cactus features wide and flat leaves that are small and scalloped, while the Thanksgiving cactus has broad, pointed leaves. The leaves on the Easter cactus are flat with rounded, tear-drop shaped scallops on the edges.
  • Shape. Another simple place to look is at the overall shape of the cactus because you can note subtle differences between the shape of the full plant. While the Christmas cactus typically starts by growing upright, as the cactus grows the stems begin to hang and droop as they get longer. The branches of the Thanksgiving variety usually grow erect and continue to grow upright as the plant gets bigger. And when comparing the three varieties side by side, the Easter cactus is typically the smaller variety of the three.
  • Bloom. Checking the bloom is a great place to look for clues as to the type of cactus you have. In addition to looking at the color and shape of the bloom, noting the time of year the cactus blooms will also help you figure out its type. Christmas cactus blooms typically droop down in a pendulum shape and feature a purple or brown anther. Similarly, the Thanksgiving cactus also features a pendulum bloom, but the anther on this variety is typically yellow. The blooms on the Easter cactus are more starburst in shape.

Christmas Cactus

Close up of Christmas cactus leaves with pink buds forming

Thanks to the Christmas cacti’s blooming time, you can add beautiful holiday colors to your home. 

This holiday cactus features flat, glossy green leaves with scalloped edges and flowers that come in a variety of shades, including red, white, yellow, pink, or purple. 

The cacti’s leaves can grow up to three feet long and typically begin to hang as they grow. 

And the blooms on this pretty houseplant can measure up to three inches long and feature several tiers of petals.

The Christmas cactus, also known by its Latin name Schlumbergera russelliana or Schlumbergera bridgesii, typically blooms during the Christmas season, with buds starting to appear in November and continuing to bloom for several weeks. 

And since this winter cactus blooms during the coldest days of the year, it needs some special care to ensure you see beautiful flowers all Christmas long.

Start by keeping your Christmas cactus cool, between 55 and 65 degrees, during the blooming period. 

This type of cactus needs very little water, so it’s a good idea to keep the soil barely moist as the plant grows. Another great way to encourage blooms is to alternate between sunlight and total darkness during the early phases of your plant’s growth to simulate its natural growing environment. 

Thanksgiving Cactus

Thanksgiving cactus with lots of red flowers in a clay pot.

While a Christmas cactus and a Thanksgiving cactus are closely related plants, they are two very different cacti with unique characteristics. Both cacti belong to the botanical genus Schlumbergera, but the Thanksgiving cactus has a slightly different Latin name – Schlumbergera truncate.

This type of cactus was once known as the crab claw cactus because of the pointy pieces on the sides of each stem segment. 

While the teeth on the stem are soft and can vary in size, they always appear on this cactus variety. 

But the stem of the cacti isn’t the only way to tell your Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti apart. 

Another way to determine which variety you have is to look at the cluster of pollen anthers sticking out of each flower. 

If the pollen is yellow, you have a Thanksgiving variety. But if the pollen is purple or brown, your cactus is a Christmas plant.

The Thanksgiving cactus begins blooming in late fall, featuring flowers in a variety of beautiful colors, like peach, orange, red and purple. 

Like the Christmas cactus, the blooms of the Thanksgiving cactus come from the shorter, cooler days of the fall months. 

One great way to encourage your cactus to bloom is to let it sit outside in a shaded location during early fall. Then, bring the plant indoors before the first frost. 

Once the cactus begins to flower, be sure to leave it in a safe location. The buds are delicate, which means they may fall off if the plant is moved. To ensure your cactus blooms from year to year, it’s a good idea to prune your plant in the spring.

Easter Cactus

While the Easter cactus does have common qualities with the Thanksgiving and Christmas varieties, it is part of a different genus, Rhipsalidopsis. All three varieties come from Brazil. 

The other two cactus varieties grow in the rainforests, but the Easter cactus is typically grown in drier forest areas. 

That means you’ll need to care for your Easter cactus differently than the Christmas and Thanksgiving varieties. And an important thing to keep in mind is that the Easter cactus is more susceptible to root rot.

Like the Christmas cactus, the Easter variety have flattened stems that are slightly serrated on the edges. 

But the shape of the leaves on the Easter cactus are rounder, with no points or teeth, making the plant’s appearance slightly different from the Christmas variety.

Another big difference between the Easter cactus and the other two varieties is its blooming time. 

While the Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti bloom during the winter, the Easter cactus begins blooming during the early spring. The flower of the Easter variety come in a starburst shape in several colors, including orange, peach, pink, and red.

Caring for your Easter cactus requires a few added steps, too. 

After flowering, this cacti variety requires a resting period for one month. 

During this time, you should restrict its water, keeping the soil only slightly moist, and fertilizer. After the resting period, you can resume normal care. 

And like the Christmas and Thanksgiving varieties, this cactus needs a cool environment during the winter months. 

Keep the plant in a cool room, between 50 and 65 degrees during the day, and provide the plant with at least 14 hours of darkness per day until buds begin to form.

Top of pin image says "How to tell the difference Christmas cactus vs Thanksgiving cactus.  Pic of a Thanksgiving cactus with pink flowers under words

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