How to Tell the Difference Between a Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter Cactus

Over the years, the Christmas cactus has become nearly as familiar as the poinsettia for holiday décor and gift giving. It’s a plant that is easy to grow, easy to propagate and share, and a Christmas cactus can be enjoyed as a houseplant for years and years to come.
But all “Christmas cactus” are not the same. In fact, there are three different plant species that are commonly marketed around holidays that are easily confused with a Christmas cactus. You may see them as “Thanksgiving cactus”, “Easter cactus”, or more generically sold with the name “holiday cactus”.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter Cactus

Let’s break down the differences between a Christmas cactus, a Thanksgiving cactus, and an Easter Cactus so you can identify which plant you are growing.

Christmas Cactus Identification


a Christmas cactus with pink flowers in a sunny windowsill
Christmas cactus botanical name: Schlumbergera bridgesii (aka Schlumbergera × buckleyi)

Origin of Christmas cactus: Schlumbergera plants were first introduced in England as early as 1818, however, the plant that we know as Christmas cactus is actually a hybrid plant created in the late 1840’s by William Buckley of the Rollisson Nurseries in England. Buckley crossed a Schlumbergera russelliana plant with a Schlumbergera truncata plant. Since then, ongoing hybridization has resulted in a wide range of flower colors. The Schlumbergera species are native to warm, mountainous tropical regions of Brazil. They are epiphytes, that can be found growing in the nooks of tree branches or rock crevices in nature, just like many orchids and bromeliads.

Christmas cactus bloom season: Flowers appear in winter for a period of about 6 weeks.
Flower colors: Magenta, red, pink, yellow, orange, and white.
USDA Hardiness zone: 10-12
Lowest temperature: 50-55°F (10-13°C)

Characteristics of a Christmas Cactus: Produces flat stem segments with slightly rounded serration along the sides. The stems arch downward as they grow. The flower buds appear between the leaf segments and at the stem tips. The flower anthers and pollen are bright pink.

Thanksgiving Cactus Identification

Potted Thanksgiving cactus with red flowers in a sunny windowsill
Thanksgiving cactus botanical name: Schlumbergera truncata

Origin of Thanksgiving cactus: The Schlumbergera species are native to warm, coastal regions of southeastern Brazil. The Thanksgiving cactus is an epiphyte that can be found growing in the nooks of tree branches or rock crevices in the tropical forests, just like many orchids and bromeliads. The Schlumbergera truncata species is also commonly known as “zygocactus”.

Thanksgiving cactus bloom season: Flowers appear in the fall for a period of about six weeks.
Flower colors: Purple, red, pink, orange, and white.
USDA Hardiness zone: 10-12
Lowest temperature: 50-55°F (10-13°C)

Characteristics of Thanksgiving Cactus: Produces flat stem segments with softly pointed serration along the sides. In Europe this plant is commonly called a “crab cactus” because the pointy stem segments resemble the claws of a crab. The stems are upright and spreading. The flower anthers and pollen are yellow.

Easter Cactus Identification

Close up of a potted Easter cactus covered with soft pink flowers

Easter cactus botanical name: Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri (Synonyms are: Hatiora gaertneri andSchlumbergera gaetneri)

Origin of Easter cactus: Easter cactus is an epiphyte, native to the tropical forests of Brazil where it can be found growing in the tree tops.

Easter cactus bloom season: Flower buds appear at the end of the stems in spring and flowers are produced for a period of about 6 weeks.
Flower colors: Shades of pink, red, orange, and white.
USDA Hardiness zone: 10-12
Lowest temperature: 50-55°F (10-13°C)

Characteristics of Easter cactus: Produces flat stem segments with slightly rounded scalloped edges. This is probably the most easily confused with a Christmas cactus if you are only looking at the stem segments. A big difference between Christmas and Easter cacti is in their growth habits – the stems of an Easter cactus grow mostly upright until the stems may start to arc under their own weight. The stems of the Christmas cactus naturally arch downward as they grow. The flowers of the Easter cactus are distinctly different from Christmas or Thanksgiving cacti and it’s very easy to tell the Easter cactus from the Schlumbergera species when it’s in flower.

Photo Comparison of Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, and Easter Cactus Foliage and Flowers

Christmas Cactus Leaves and Flowers

a composite image showing a close up of Christmas cactus foliage on one side and a flower on the other


Thanksgiving Cactus Leaves and Flowers

a composite image of a close up of Thanksgiving cactus foliage on one side and a flower on the other


Easter Cactus Leaves and Flowers

composite image with a close up of Easter cactus foliage on one side and flowers on the other

When Does a Holiday Cactus Bloom?

row of white ceramic pots with various holiday cacti with red and pink buds just starting to flower
The differences in the overall appearance of cacti promoted during holidays may be subtle, but the differences in the bloom time and flower form can be significant. Keep in mind that commercial growers have the ability to manipulate the blooming period of many plants. This allows them to sell plants in flower for a particular holiday.
For example, if you’ve ever wondered how potted tulips are always available for Easter or poinsettias are in bloom for Christmas, it’s because the plants have been manipulated by controlling light, temperature, or plant hormones in order to trigger flowering on a specific schedule. Once in your home, any of these plants will settle back to their normal blooming periods over time.
hands holding a small potted Thanksgiving cactus with fuchsia flowers as if handing it to a friend
Whether you have a Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, or an Easter cactus, all of these plants are easy to propagate to share with friends or pass along through the generations. They’re safe to grow around kids, cats, and dogs so they’re a gift that parents and pet owners can enjoy. For step-by-step instructions on how to propagate more plants see our article 3 Easy Ways to Root a Christmas Cactus.

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