Did you know that all three types of Christmas cactus plants, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter cacti, are native to the cloud forests and rainforests of Brazil? These plants have adapted to the humid and shaded conditions of their native habitats. In the past, Christmas cacti usually had pink flowers. Now, they can also have white, yellow, orange, apricot, and purple flowers.
Over the years, I noticed that what many call a “Christmas” cactus plant” might actually be a Thanksgiving or Easter cactus. But to understand the differences, you must know how to identify the three different types of holiday cactus plants.
Different Types of Christmas Cactus Plants
Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera Bridgesii)
Christmas cactus plants are called so because they typically bloom during the Christmas season. They bloom from the end of November to early February with flowers that can be red, white, or sometimes yellow. The flowers have purple-brown parts inside and are spread out evenly. They look best in hanging baskets because the flowers hang down.
Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera Truncata)
The Thanksgiving cactus blooms around the same time as the Christmas cactus (from Thanksgiving to the end of December), so people often mix them up. The Thanksgiving cactus leaves have claw-like edges, which is why some call it the “lobster catus” or “crab cactus.” Its flowers grow to the side and are yellow, white, red, or pink. The inside parts of the flowers are yellow and grow straight out from the tips of the stems.
Easter Cactus (Schlumbergera Gaertneri)
The Easter cactus blooms in spring, mainly in April and May. Its flowers are bright and can be pink, purple, or red. The colors are more vibrant than the Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti flowers. Growing and caring for an Easter cactus can be tricky. It’s important not to give it too much or too little water. If it gets slightly dry, it might lose its leaves. To help with watering, using a hygrometer for soil is a good idea. You might never see it flower if you don’t water it just right.
The Difference Between a Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, and Easter Cactus
|Type of Cactus||Christmas Cactus||Thanksgiving Cactus||Easter Cactus|
|Blooming Perios||Late November to early February||Mid-November to late December||April to May|
|Leaf Shape||Smooth, rounded edges||Square-shaped with pointed “teeth”||Flat, succulent leaves|
|Flower Colors||Red, white, sometimes yellow||Yellow, white, red, pink||Red, pink, royal purple|
The Christmas Cactus blooms from late November to early February. It has smooth, rounded leaf edges and hanging flowers that are typically red, white, or sometimes yellow, with purple-brown anthers.
The Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus both start blooming in November. However, the Thanksgiving cactus usually starts blooming a little bit earlier, between mid-November, and blooms until late December. It has square-shaped leaves with pointed “teeth” and flowers that grow horizontally in colors like yellow, white, red, and pink, with yellow anthers.
The Easter Cactus is a spring cactus and blooms from April to May. The Easter cactus leaves are trumpet-shaped and the flowers are red, pink, or royal purple, and flat, succulent leaves.
Christmas Cactus Colors
There are several colors of Christmas cactus flowers, including red, pink, white, yellow, and purple.
Red is my favorite Christmas cactus color. I enjoy the deep contrast of the red and green. Some specific holiday cactus varieties of holiday plants, like the “Dark Marie” plant. The flower buds are purple, and they bloom into red flowers.
White are often seen in holiday cacti, with some flowers showcasing some gold. Varieties like the “White Christmas” have creamy white flowers, while the “Christmas Gold” boasts purple buds that, when bloomed, reveal gold flowers with purple stamens.
Yellow and Orange
The Christmas cactus typically does not naturally produce orange flowers. However, through hybridization and breeding, there are varieties that can produce blooms closer to an dark yellow or orange. I personally think cacti with orange flowers are a refreshing change and great for autumn decorations. Some, like the “Malindi” cactus, start showing their bright orange flowers from purple buds in October. The “Xmas Fantasy” has a unique peachy shade with a touch of purple. And if you’re patient, the “Peach Parfait” cactus blooms a little later, showcasing either peach or orange petals with a purple center. It’s a delightful twist to traditional holiday plants!
Purple and Pink
From soft pinks to rich purples, the colors are captivating. The “Nicole” cactus stands out with its light purple flowers that have a white middle. Then there’s the “Dark Eva” cactus, which blooms early. It starts with deep purple buds that open up to show white flowers with pretty purple edges. In fact, I loved it so much that I used it as the main attraction on my Christmas table last year, and it perfectly matched my purple holiday theme.
How to Care for a Christmas Cactus
To care for a Christmas cactus, avoid direct sunlight. Ensure you water it only when the top inch of the soil feels dry, and maintain an environment with average to high humidity for optimal growth.
The keys to getting your holiday cactus to blossom are short days and cool nights. They need about 13 hours of darkness. The ideal temperature range for a Christmas cactus is between 70°F and 80°F (21°C to 27°C). However, to encourage blooming, it benefits from cooler temperatures, between 50°F and 60°F (10°C to 15°C) for at least 1 to 2 months before flowering season. Avoid exposing the plant to temperatures below 50°F (10°C) for extended periods, as this can cause damage.
Watering is crucial; they should be watered when the top 2 inches of soil feel dry. Overwatering can be detrimental, so it’s better to err on the side of caution.
Another important factor is ensuring the plants are slightly potbound, as they flower best when their roots are a bit crowded. Only repot them if they seem extremely cramped in their current container.
If the Christmas cactus leaves are limp, it’s often a sign of overwatering or underwatering. Check the soil moisture; if it’s too wet, reduce watering and ensure proper drainage. If it’s dry, water the plant thoroughly. Ensure the cactus is in indirect light and not exposed to extreme temperatures. Adjust care as needed to restore its health.
Which One Is the Most Common Holiday Cactus?
The Thanksgiving cactus plants are in my opinion the true Christmas cactus plants among the three holiday cacti. This prevalence is largely due to frequent misidentification; many people think they own a Christmas Cactus when they actually possess Thanksgiving Cacti. The cactus is vibrant and varied flower colors, combined with its tendency to bloom right around the festive Thanksgiving period, make it a favorite choice for many households. The “crab cactus,” as it’s sometimes called due to its claw-like leaves, is often more readily available in nurseries and stores, further boosting its popularity.