There are three major types of holiday cactus but most are marketed in the home stores as “Christmas Cactus.” But how do you tell a Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus?
Or a Christmas Cactus vs Easter Cactus? It’s not difficult and within no time, you’ll be able to spot the differences and know how to care for each one.
Seasonal Cacti Background
Holiday cacti are native to South America, where they grow on cliff sides and hang off trees. These cactus varieties bloom at specific times of year that happen to coincide with major holidays: Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
While young, a holiday cactus will have an upright appearance. But as they grow, the leaves (actually stems) will drop down and trail off. Elaborate blooms form on the end of the leaf sections once a year.
How to Tell the Difference Between Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, and Easter Cactus
So how do you tell the difference between Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus vs Easter Cactus? Other than waiting for them to bloom of course. There are a couple different ways to tell which one is which: the leaf shape and the bloom.
The leaves of an Easter Cactus are the smallest and the most rounded. Not only is the general shape rounded but the individual lobes are rounder. Christmas Cactus have slightly elongated leaves with slightly pointed lobes.
The Thanksgiving Cactus has the sharpest points on each individual lobe of the leaves and the most elongated overall appearance to the leaves individually. The leaves have a rounded ridge down the center axis.
All three varieties of holiday cactus will develop large, intricate blooms at specific times of year. The blooms of the Easter Cactus are the smallest and they are shaped more like large stars.
The blooms of the Thanksgiving Cactus are tubular with long stamens and two layers of short petals. Christmas Cactus have the largest blooms. They are two layered with long petals and short stamens.
Christmas Cactus Care
Your Christmas Cactus requires a moderate amount of sun. Keep it out of direct sun to prevent sunburn on its delicate leaves. However, a sunny window in your home is an excellent location for your plant.
Unlike most cactus varieties, the Christmas Cactus requires frequent watering. You still want to water it deeply, like other cacti, however they do not appreciate being dry as long as other cacti. If you don’t water it for a long time, your Christmas Cactus will start to have shriveled leaves and it will not flourish as much.
The Christmas Cactus will need to go through a dormancy period shortly before its main flowering period. Reduce watering the plant and give the plant roughly 12 hours of darkness (to simulate night) per day. After the plant goes through the dormancy period for 6-8 weeks, it will produce beautiful cactus blooms again!
Thanksgiving Cactus Care
The Thanksgiving Cactus is a tropical cactus, like other holiday cacti. Hailing from the forests of Brazil, it does not require full sun and can do quite well in partial sun. If exposed to direct sunlight for too long, the leaves will easily get sunburned.
Thanksgiving Cactus plants need to be kept humid and well watered. While they still need well-drained soil, make sure to water your Thanksgiving Cactus regularly. Similar to other cacti, the plant will not appreciate sitting in wet soil for long periods of time.
For the Thanksgiving Cactus to bloom the best, it needs to be allowed a dormancy period. Starting at the end of summer, reduce watering the cactus and put it in a darker place so that it can rest. In early to mid November, put the cactus back out in a sunny area and start watering it like normal.
Easter Cactus Care
Similar to its cousins, the Christmas Cactus and the Thanksgiving Cactus, the Easter Cactus is a tropical cactus. Because it is a tropical cactus and not a desert cactus, it will need lots of light but only indirect sunlight. Again, direct sunlight can lead to sunburned leaves.
The Easter Cactus actually needs to be watered regularly, especially during its growing season. It still doesn’t like to sit in damp soil and needs to dry out in between waterings. However, it can withstand some amount of drought so if you go on vacation, you don’t have to worry.
The Easter Cactus is dormant in the late winter and you’ll need to reduce its exposure to light and its water intake to allow it time to rest. Only when the cactus is allowed to go through its dormant period will the cactus bloom on cue for Easter.
Holiday Cactus FAQs
How to Propagate a Holiday Cactus
The holiday cactus is an easy plant to propagate with leaves. Gently pull off one of the leaf segments and follow a standard leaf propagation technique like the one explained in our leaf propagation article.
How to Grow a Holiday Cactus
Plant your holiday cactus in well drained soil. If you don’t have cactus soil, add rocks and perlite to regular potting soil to make it more appropriate. Choose a window with filtered sunlight and water once a week or just as the soil is drying out.
How to Get a Seasonal Cactus to Bloom
Just like other cactus plants, seasonal cacti can only produce a cactus bloom after a dormancy period. This period is usually 6-8 weeks before the cactus is supposed to bloom. Reduce the water you give to the plant by watering every couple of weeks.
Allow 10-12 hours of darkness each day to simulate longer nights. When it’s time to bloom, set the cactus in full sun and start watering more regularly again.
Is a Holiday Cactus Really a Cactus
A holiday cactus, whether it’s a Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, or Easter Cactus, is a real cactus. It isn’t a desert cactus like most species we think of. They are instead, a tropical cactus from South America.
It can be hard to tell the difference between the three holiday cactus varieties. When you look at a Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus vs Easter Cactus, you should look at the leaves and the blooms.
But all three types are tropical cacti which means that they need to be watered regularly and allowed a dormancy period so that they can bloom their best for you.