Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, and Easter Cactus

Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, and Easter Cactus

By Michael Jenkins

The holidays are upon us—in the US Thanksgiving is right around the corner and we’re all looking forward to the many celebrations December brings. Houseplant lovers have something special to celebrate this time of the year—many popular cacti bloom at this time of the year, bringing color and joy to our homes and indoor garden spaces. These include Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, and Easter Cactus, among others. With that in mind, we thought we’d talk about some of these cacti, the differences between them, and how you can grow them at home. It’s a very festive time here at Gardzen, so let’s dig in!

Is it a Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter cactus? How can I tell The difference?

Let’s address this first, as it’s a very common question for plant owners during the holiday season. What kind of cactus do you have, and how can you tell the difference. It can be a bit tricky to distinguish between Thanksgiving cactus, Christmas cactus, and Easter cactus—all three are members of the genus Schlumbergera, a relatively small grouping of cactus all native to southeastern Brazil. Unlike their more famous desert relatives, these cacti are adapted to cooler, moist environments and shorter periods of daylight.

So what’s the difference between them? Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) is sometimes called crab cactus due to the claw-like edges on its leaves. Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) has leaves which are notched but not pointy—when in doubt you probably have a Christmas cactus. Easter cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri), is perhaps the most easily identified of the three—its leaves are thicker, with more rounded edges, and in our experiences they tend to be a bit larger as well.

Growing Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter cactus at home

As you might have guessed from their very similar appearances, these three cacti like similar growing conditions. They are what we refer to as “short day plants”, meaning that they prefer darker, cooler conditions. These varieties are named for the time of year when the bloom—in order to induce blooming, all three types of cactus will need between 12 and 24 hours a day of low-light conditions, relatively cool temperatures, and a mostly draft free environment.

These cacti are named for the time of year at which they bloom due to their seasonal needs—Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti require 6 to 8 weeks of their preferred conditions in order to start producing blooms, while Easter cactus needs 10 to 12 weeks, perhaps more. If you’d like to help your cactus along, giving it a cool dark place with relatively high humidity will help. A seldom used room is ideal, but you can shelter them inside an indoor greenhouse or other enclosure with a sheet draped over it to control light as needed—just keep an eye on the temperature! These are ideal container plants, but avoid over-watering them—the soil mix should be dry to about an inch/2-3cm below the surface. Over-watering, along with changes in temperature, too much sunlight, or other sudden shocks, can lead to blossom drop. If that happens to your cactus, identify and correct the problem and try again.

You’ll be rewarded with prolific, lovely flowers which grow out of the ends of the leaves.  If you’ve never seen one of these in person, photographs really do not do them justice—the blooms are just beautiful and the overall effect is stunning. They’re a lovely way to bring some color into your home during the holidays, and an interesting plant to add to your indoor garden space. As a bonus—Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti might produce a second round of blooms in the spring if conditions are right.

We hope that you’ll give these wonderful plants a try—the live for years and years, often becoming a family tradition during their respective holidays. If you’re experienced with these cacti, we’d love to hear about it so please get in touch!

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