We call them Christmas cactus, but did you know there are actually three different holiday cacti? Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. All are in the succulent family and grow in the trees of the rainforest in South America but they all bloom at different times of the year.

It can be confusing to tell them apart so let’s look at each one for identification.

The Christmas cactus has wide and flat segmented leaves that are smaller and rounder than the Thanksgiving cactus.  The edges of the leaves are smooth and scalloped. 

The flowers can be white, red or yellow.  Their bloom time is usually in December but they may produce a stray bloom at other times of the year.  The Christmas cactus has purplish-brown anthers and the flowers are symmetrical and the leaves and flowers droop straight down.

The Thanksgiving cactus has broad segmented leaves with pointed edges on each side that resemble a crab’s claw.

The flowers are pink, red, white or yellow and will bloom in November.  The anthers are yellow and the flowers are more asymmetrical and grow horizontally from the tips of the stem. The plant itself grows in a more upright form.

The Easter cactus also has flat segmented leaves similar to the Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus but the scallops on the edges of the leaves are smaller and smoother, there are also small bristles on the end of each leaf which the other two do not have.

The flowers are dark purple, red or pink and are more star-shaped.  The Easter cactus blooms in the spring between April and May. Over all the Easter cactus will be smaller in size than its holiday counterparts.

Now that we know how to tell the difference between the three plants let’s talk about their care.

The perfect soil to plant your cactus is a very well draining mix containing bark pieces that allow water to flow. It’s also a good idea to place a few stones in the bottom of your pot to help with drainage. 

They prefer very bright but indirect light, as direct sun can cause the leaves to burn. They prefer temperatures between 65-75 degrees and prefer 50-60% humidity.

Watering should be done when to top of the soil feels dry. Too much water, or sitting in soggy soil can cause root rot and too little water can cause your cactus not to bloom. 

Feeding with a good cactus fertilizer should be done every two week until a month before its time for the cactus to bloom.

Pruning your cactus will keep it vigorous and healthy but don’t prune it until a month after it has finished blooming. Simply twist the leaf you want to remove at its segment. If your cactus has become large and unruly you can trim up to 1/3 of the plant without causing any damage.

If you want to propagate the sections you remove simply place them in a pot with your potting mix, burying the first segment of the leaf. Your new plant will take root in no time!

Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter cactus are truly beautiful and one of the most profuse bloomers in the succulent family. With proper care they can prosper for decades. Many become heirlooms with their segments passed down from generation to generation.  If you’ve never grown one of these beauties give them a try!

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