Commonly referred to as “Christmas cactus,” these fun and festive house plants are fairly easy to care for and make a great holiday gift this time of year. But did you know there are actually three main types of Holiday Cactus? Named for the time of year each blooms, in addition to the Christmas cactus there is also Easter Cactus and Thanksgiving Cactus. To the untrained eye, you may easily mistake one for the other, since they all look pretty similar in foliage and flowers.
However, our experts in the greenhouse are here to explain the subtle differences between each type, so you too can spot the differences next time you come across one.
Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus are in the same genus but are actually two different species. Both are of the Schlumbergera genus and will bloom bright, tubular-shaped flowers. They are similar in care in that they need long periods of cool temps and low light each day for about six weeks to bloom. Water them when they feel dry, but don’t let them sit in water too long. The best way to tell the two apart is by checking their leaves or stems. Christmas cacti, or Schlumbergera bridgesii, have scalloped edges, while Thanksgiving cacti, or Schlumbergera truncata, have spikey, clawed edges. They are sometimes called “Crab cactus” for this reason.
We tend to classify all three as Zygocactus as an umbrella term, but the Easter cactus is actually an entirely different genus altogether. Easter cacti, or Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri, have leaves with more rounded edges and their flowers tend to be spikey or star-shaped. They also need a longer period of low temps and dim light to produce their flowers than the other two cacti. However, the flowers on the Easter cactus make it the easiest to identify between the three plants. And while we’ve been calling them all cactus, they are actually succulents that grow wild in the jungle of South America. And like other succulents, they tend to store moisture in their fleshy leaves, and draw water and nutrients from the air instead of the soil. This is why aeration in the soil is essential, and it is important to be mindful of over and under watering them.
No matter which Holiday cactus you end up choosing, they are all pretty simple to care for and should bloom bright, beautiful flowers annually when given their desired lighting and temperatures.