What to know about the Thanksgiving cactus and the Christmas cactus


Do you love houseplants that are easy to take care of? If so, you might have a succulent in your house that’s called either a Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus. These two types of cacti are beautiful additions to your home that you can nurture into blooming this time of year — but sometimes, it’s hard to tell which one is which.

If you have a Christmas cactus that seems a bit too eager to bloom every year, well, you might not have a Christmas cactus at all. That holiday houseplant that’s so good at flowering just in time for Thanksgiving instead of Christmas might be a Thanksgiving cactus!

The two cacti are in the same family, genus Schlumbergera, and they’re so similar that it’s no surprise that a lot of folks mix up the two. And it turns out there’s a third member of that family that you might be keeping as a houseplant — the Easter cactus.

Any of the three can bloom in March or April, which just adds to the confusion. These plants need some specific conditions to get those blooms popping and you could easily accidentally set a spring flowering in motion without even knowing it.


Christmas Cactus Versus Thanksgiving Cactus: How To Tell The Difference

The best way to tell the difference between Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti is to take a close look at the leaves.

The leaves of the Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera bridgesii, have softly scalloped edges.


But the leaves of the Thanksgiving cactus, Schlumbergera truncata, have serrated edges with sharper protrusions.


The Farmer’s Almanac notes that the flowers’ anthers are different: Thanksgiving cacti have yellow anthers, and Christmas cacti have pinkish-purplish anthers. You can see both of those in the photos above. Also, both plants have colorful, tube-shaped flowers.

The Easter cactus, Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerii, has even softer sculpting on the leaves and the flowers are more starburst-like.


But these easygoing plants that bring a pop of color to our homes just when we want it most have become popular, and garden centers have started producing Thanksgiving-Christmas hybrids, Better Homes & Gardens reports. This could make identifying your cactus tricky. But, as BH&G notes, if you have a cactus from a cutting an older relative gave you, odds are good that you don’t have one of these hybrids.

How To Care For Christmas And Thanksgiving Cacti

Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti are succulents from the tropical forests of Brazil. As with all succulents, these “cacti” are good at pulling moisture out of the air, but you’ll want to make sure the roots don’t completely dry out.

However, too much water can easily sink them; succulents don’t take kindly to overwatering. Better to neglect them a bit and forget to water them! They only need a drink every three weeks in winter, or a bit more often if they’re blooming and as temperatures warm in summer.

Though these succulents are known as forgiving houseplants that live up to 30 years, you’ll have to make sure the conditions are right if you want them to develop flowers. Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti need 12-14 hours of darkness and slightly cooler temperatures for four to six weeks to get the cue to bloom.

You can give it the darkness it needs by moving it to a closet or just placing a paper bag over it in the evening. When buds appear, bring the plant back out (but not into direct sunlight — indirect, bright light is best) into a warmer place in your home.

Many Colors of Christmas Cacti

It’s that time of year! The #christmascactus hashtag is in full bloom on Instagram right now … even though some of these might technically be Thanksgiving cacti. People around the world are posting their blooming Christmas (Thanksgiving?) cacti.

@dorylyn has a huge Christmas cactus that’s blooming in a lovely traditional red:


And @sally.mortimore has what appears to be a Thanksgiving cactus in bright, cheerful fuchsia:


And @stephenopsis has a blooming cactus in a peachy shade:


The white blooms on this cactus are just gorgeous. From @gusti_rete:


And finally, here’s one last bit of holiday-cactus inspiration for those who are ready to nurture their houseplants into gorgeous monsters. Check out this post from @smartplanthome:


Good luck growing your holiday cacti!

Gardening, Holiday & Seasonal, Home

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About the Author
Jenn Fields
Jenn Fields serves as Simplemost Media’s managing editor from Colorado, where she worked as a reporter and editor, on staff and as a freelancer, at newspapers and magazines. After earning her master’s from University of Missouri’s journalism school, Jenn worked in community journalism for 10 years, writing and editing for the Boulder Daily Camera and Denver Post. Over her 20-year career, she has covered a diverse range of topics, including travel, health and fitness, outdoor sports and culture, climate science, religion and plenty of other fascinating topics.

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