Christmas Cactus or Thanksgiving Cactus? Which One Do You Have?

Do you know which holiday cactus you have? We explain which is which and how to get those beautiful blooms!

Christmas cacti are such beautiful plants when they flower, and we often hear that cuttings have been passed down from generation to generation, often still thriving after decades. But are you sure you know which holiday cactus you have? They are often confused.

Which Holiday Cactus Do You Have?

Here’s a startling revelation: you may have a Thanksgiving cactus instead of a Christmas cactus! Although they look very similar, they’re two different plants.

Unfortunately, the confusion between these holiday succulents is perpetuated by the fact that they’re often mislabeled in garden centers. And since they both bloom in late fall or early winter it further adds to the confusion. But it’s it’s nice to know which one you truly have. Here’s how to tell them apart:

Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata)

Cactus - Plants
Leaves of the Thanksgiving cactus are toothed.

Leaves: You can tell the Thanksgiving cactus apart from the Christmas cactus by the shape of its leaves. The leaf segments, called “phylloclades,” are serrated or “toothed,” with pointy spines; with 2-4 on each side.

This is why these succulents are referred to as “Crab Claw Cactus.” The end of the last segment is slightly concave with a point on each side.

Flowers: Flowers of the Thanksgiving cactus are produced from the tips, or from where the leaf segments join. They resemble a long tube, appearing as if a flower within a flower.

They come in a range of colors, mostly pastels, including red, pink, peach, purple, orange, or white, and typically bloom in Thanksgiving. 

The blooms on a Thanksgiving cactus come in many colors, with yellow pollen-bearing anthers.

Also, look at the pollen-bearing anthers—Thanksgiving cactus anthers are yellow, while Christmas cactus anthers are pink to purplish-brown.

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii)

Christmas cactus leaves are rounded.

Leaves: The leaves of the Christmas cactus have a more rounded, scalloped edge. The tip of each segment is slightly curved but they can look almost straight across.

Flowers: The flowers of the Christmas cactus are usually pink or white and bloom in December. But don’t be surprised if you also see blooms between March and May on these plants.

Easter Cactus

Cactus - Stock photography
Your Easter cactus will also show its blooms in March.

Believe it or not, there’s also an Easter cactus (Hatiora gaertneri), which blooms in … you guessed it—spring! These succulents have leaves with small bristles and a thick ridge on one side.

The flowers have more of a star-shape. They’re native to the natural non-tropical forests of Brazil. Caution, though, when watering as this cactus is much more sensitive to over- or under-watering.

Read: Tips to Care for your Christmas Cactus and Poinsettias

Getting Your Holiday Cacti to Bloom

Christmas cactus in bloom very beautiful red color.
Christmas cactus in bloom very beautiful red color.

If you’re hoping to get blooms in time for Thanksgiving or Christmas, you’ll need to begin temperature treatments several weeks before. Your plant will need 12 to 14 hours of total darkness, along with cool nighttime temperatures of 60-65 F for about 3—4 weeks in order for buds to form.

One way to do this is to place the plant in a dark closet from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. Or, you can cover the plant with a large paper bag in the same timeframe. Once you see buds, you can resume normal lighting, but keep the plants cool.

If you keep the plant in a continuously cool room (around 50—60º F) in September and October, chances are excellent that it will produce flowers, although you’ll notice growth will be slower. If temps are too cool, you’ll find that the buds may drop off.  So it’s a bit of a balancing act.

March Blooms?

Sometimes Christmas cacti and Thanksgiving cacti showing prolific blooms in March. It’s not uncommon for this to happen. In fact, don’t be surprised if you see blooms anywhere from March to May, although usually, these blooms are more sparse than you’ll see around the holidays. The reason is that most holiday cacti bloom more than once a year. Check to see if you see any buds forming between the leaf sections. You can encourage them to bloom using the steps above, or just wait and see what happens!

Enjoy those colorful blooms —any time of year—and share your pictures with us on our Facebook page!

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Emerald

A older lady past away in my neighborhood and I just received two thanksgiving cactus that she had. I have a problem though, one of the plants the leaves are changing to a reddish color and is wilted. The other is wilting and leaves are dying. The soil is super dense and super wet. The are currently blooming, what can I do to save them?

Susan Higgins

Hi Emerald, “Red or purple-tinged foliage and wilting are two common symptoms of a magnesium deficiency, which is a common ailment in Christmas cacti. It occurs mainly during the winter months when feeding and watering are restricted and cold temperatures slow the plant’s nutrient uptake. The cactus does best in winter at temperatures around 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Correcting a magnesium deficiency can be done with Epsom salts. Dissolve 8 heaping tablespoons of Epsom salts in 2 1/2 gallons water, and mix in 1 to 2 drops of dishwashing liquid. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and spritz the tops and undersides of the foliage. Reapply the mixture every two weeks until the foliage returns to its original color.”

janna

These are so easy to propagate. I got my first plant by picking up a stray segment off the floor in a garden centre. It grew very well and now is blooming with lovely rose coloured flowers.
Just let the segment dry out for a couple of days and then stick it in a small pot and water once in a while so it doesn’t shrivel. You can sprinkle it with rooting hormone before planting if you like. If you want more plants, just twist off a segment and stick it in the soil. Cannot get easier than that.

Lisa

I have the Thanksgiving cactus. I would like to get the Christmas cactus. I can not find the Christmas cactus anywhere. Everyone advertise them as Christmas cactus but its really the Thanksgiving one.
Where can I find the Christmas one?

Sharon

I av a cactus that was my mothers shes about 50yrs old now. The cactus not my mother haha. She blooms every christmas and easter. I also take cuttings from her every yr and av many all around my home and also gift to family and friends .my mother adored her cactus but unfortunately she ad to go in a retirement home as she is 92 nxt wk and was struggling at home so I inherited my lovley cactus. Shes part of my family .mum too haha.I get soooo much joy out of seeing her every day and think of my mother.she will always grow in our family for generations to come with all the cuttings we get from her x

FionaTheShihTzu

Best explanation of the differences anywhere. Thank you.

Joy

I put mine outside in the spring and bring it in before frost and it blooms right away, I don’t put in in darkness.

Carla

I do the same thing. Put it outside on the three season porch during the spring and summer, and take it in just before the first frost in fall. The plant has buds on it before I bring it inside every fall, and the blooms are beautiful.

Last edited 1 year ago by Carla
Elaine Burton

My plant has Christmas leaves with Thanksgiving blooms. I have had it since 2009. Every year after danger of frost here in Va mine goes outside in practically full sun, then when there is beginning to be frost warnings I bring it back in. I brought it in this past weekend and already it has buds all over which will be opening very soon. I was given this plant when my daughter passed away so it is special to me. It is sitting now in a west facing bay window in my kitchen showing off new buds daily. I have had people say to me, when seeing it outside, that they have never seen one outside and ask if mine blooms. Yes it does soon after it comes back to its window.

Christy

I have a Thanksgiving cactus that I’ve had for five years. I get one to two blooms a year after fertilizing. This year, we stuck it in the greenhouse in the Spring. I just brought it in the house (Nov 1) and it is COVERED in buds! Full sun for six months!

Sandi Duncan

Awesome! A few flowers blooming at this time of year is always a great treat!

Renota Drum

Can I put my xmas cactus outside in April I live in NC

Renota Drum

I live in NC can I put my xmas cactus outside in the last of April

Jane

That was very interesting. I didn’t know which cactus I had until now

Julie K Veatch

My 15 year old plant that has survived hurricanes has started to turn purplish-red and wilted. She is in the same location on my back deck as she has been for years…don’t know what to do!M

Gail

Maybe she is root bound. Might be time to break up the “family”.

vivian gerard

my thankgiving was sitting in water for a while i dumped out the water should i throw it out it is looking better

Susan Higgins

Hi Vivian, don’t throw it out! They’re very resilient, see if it bounces back. And you’ll have a story to tell!

Kristen VanDerburgh

After a beautiful blooming at Thanksgiving, my cactus’ leaves have become very thin-like and have turned radish in color. I have grow-lights. Is this normal after a blooming?

Ginger

I have had my Christmas cactus 13 years. Was a cutting from my mother in laws plant. Was just a sprig! Moved from one place to another. Welll- Merry Christmas to me- ITS BLOOMING! So excited!

Ginger

I have had my Christmas cactus 13 years. Was a cutting from my mother in laws plant. Was just a sprig! Moved from one place to another. Had someone watch it for awhile when I was traveling for a couple months- she nearly killed it. Welllllll- Merry Christmas to me- ITS BLOOMING! So excited!

Cindy

My old farmer friend told me to put it outside in early spring under a bush. Bring it in early fall. It works every year. Beautiful blooms. Mine is about seven years old.

barbara

Mine were in a north/east window and did not do that well. I moved them to a southern window and they are so big I have had to put them in larger containers and they are blooming like crazy! Also, I never put them anywhere dark for weeks. Just consistent southern light!

Susan Higgins

Hi Barbara, thanks for sharing. They sound like very happy plants!

Susan

Ok. Since nobody is answering, I’m a greenhouse grower from way back and houseplant enthusiast since childhood. All of these plants prefer to be a bit pot bound. If and when you do change pots use cactus soil because it’s a lighter media. Only water at most once a week and when you start to see buds coming don’t let it dry out completely until it’s finished blooming. These plants really do very well when neglected. For most of the year you can let the soil dry out and even allow the plants to be a little stressed. Always remember most plants do not like to swim. Bright indirect light which means in an East or north window or a few feet away from a south or west facing window. (If it’s sunrise you see your window is East, sunset it’s west. Don’t worry nobody ever thinks of it that way.) If you leave the plants in the same place year round you really don’t need to worry about the light the plants adjust. For the people they haven’t bloomed for let them dry out a bit more. A stressed plant is a flowering plant it’s a natural reaction to wanting to propagate. Very easy, long lasting and pretty plants.

Doreen

Awesome info, thank you. I’m about to inherit a plant that is not doing well and wanted some info on helping it bounce back?

Susan Higgins

Good luck, Doreen!

Virginia Phillips

How can I share this. It’s so informative.

Jena

I’ve had a Christmas cactus for 3 years and it has NEVER bloomed. What am I doing wrong? It’s been growing just fine though.

Mary wood

I have a cactus plant for over 40 yrs. It blooms twice a year. I just noticed the leaves turning a reddish color. Never saw this before. It is blooming now. Why would the leaves turning color?

Deb

Do they do better in a pot that is root bound or a bigger pot?

Bev Andrews

Well my “Christmas Cactus” appears to have Thanksgiving leaves but the flowers are a pinkish red and the anthers are pink. It came from three small clippings many years ago. It sits in the same spot year round. I give it Miracle Grow once a month and it blooms 4-5 times from before Thanksgiving until maybe Easter. I must be doing something right but then my friends tell me I have a green thumb with all my plants.

Barbara

I water mine from the top stay in house all year bloom several times a year full of flowers now nospecial care

nancy

i have a Christmas cactus and it starts plum at thanksgiving time

Erma Cribbs

My Christmas cactus is several cuttings from my son’s fiancee’ Nana’s plant. It has been outside since summer of 2018. It had a few blooms, not many, last Christmas. Lasted maybe a week or two.
Do I need to bring the plant inside during winter? I live in Fresno CA (San Joaquin valley) some nights get to freezing or near freezing. Plant sits under covered patio and against outside wall of house facing North. Any help would be appreciated.

Star

I sit my out every on the porch every summer and bring it in before it gets to cold, by the time i am bringing it in it has buds forming, nothing special in the way of caring for it.It just keeps on blooming a long time. I also just pour the water on it from the top, don”t seem to hurt it.

Pam Bender

I just stole pieces of the cacti from my beauty shop. Don’t do anything special for them. Water when I water and feed other plants. Didn’t even know about putting the in dark! It now I know they are Thanksgiving ones. Blooms all over mine now. Setting in window!

Debby

Always water from the bottom, I just sit mine in the kitchen sink for awhile.

Sharon S

I have a very old 100years+ Christmas Cactus that blooms every year. But any of the plants I have started from cuttings have never bloomed. They are big and beautiful but will now bloom. Are they sterile?

Vivien G.

My mother’s Christmas cactus bloomed it’s heart out, and it was huge. It’s offspring, that I have had now for over 40 years, has very few flowers. I keep saying “one more year” but if it doesn’t bloom better this year I’m tossing it. I have a baby Thanksgiving cactus and will see how it does.

Teresa sammartino

Is it possible to show a side by side picture of all 3 together with names. Please and thank you

Chelsea

My Easter cactus thrives though I’m not sure if she’ll bloom this coming spring yet, but every time I get a Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus, it dies off. I use succulent/cacti potting soil and water that’s been purified or left to sit for days so the chemicals dissipate. Love these finicky plants though!

Carolyn

How much water & when?

Chris French

One error. Schlumbergera bridgesii was an error, and was corrected back to schlumbergera buckleyi way back in 1964… perpetuating this error continues the misinformation. Thanks!

Sharon

How often should any of these get water, and how much

Gregoria

Mine tend to bloom, it seems like, whenever they want! I didn’t know about the darkness and temperature though.
They get do neglected but still come through for me.

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