Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus and Easter Cactus

Types of Holiday Cactus

Dec 11, 2017
Christmas Cactus
Robin Sweetser

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Our Christmas cactus is blooming its heart out right now. Did you know: A Christmas cactus is one of three popular holiday cacti: Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

You can probably guess by their names when these plants usually bloom. So if your “Christmas cactus” is not blooming during the winter holidays, it may be a Thanksgiving cactus or Easter cactus. What’s the difference?

Three Types of Holiday Cacti

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  • The Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) blooms in the spring and sometimes again in the fall around Halloween. Its flaring, trumpet-shaped flowers have pointy pink or red petals.

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  • Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) blooms between October and January. Its leaf segments are square shaped with pointed hooks on one end and along the sides like pincers, giving rise to its common name “crab cactus”.  It is native to Brazil where its 2 to 3 inch long, satiny flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds.

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  • Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is the long-lived plant our grandmothers grew. I have a plant that came from one my mother-in-law grew from a cutting she received over 70 years ago! They are the ultimate pass-along plant since they are so easy to root. Just pinch off a “Y” shaped piece from one of the branches and stick it in a pot of sterile soil or vermiculite. It will root in no time.

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Many of the plants available for sale are hybrid crosses of Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) that come in a rainbow of exotic colors including orange, purple, yellow, red, pink, white, and two-tones.

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Not Your Typical Cactus

We are all familiar with the desert cactus but the holiday plant is a forest cactus—an epiphyte that lives in decomposing leaf litter found in the forks and on the branches of trees in tropical rain forests of South America.

Caring For Your Holiday Cactus

  • The conditions in our houses are nothing like their native homes but still they do fine in normal household temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees, with a drop at night to 55 to 60 degrees.
  • They like bright light but not direct sun; an east or west window is perfect. If the leaves turn yellow it means they are getting too much light.
  • Let the plants dry out between waterings by watering them when the top inch or so of the soil feels dry Don’t let them sit in water because if they get too waterlogged they will rot. 

Like all the plants we have there, it gets no special care otherwise. Luckily for us it thrives on neglect and cool temperatures.

How to Keep Holiday Cactus Blooming

The keys to getting your holiday cactus to blossom are short days and cool nights. They need 13 hours of darkness and nights at 50 to 55 degrees for at least 1 to 2 months before they will set buds. I put some of my plants outside all summer and wait until the nights start to drop below 50 degrees before bringing them in for the fall and winter. They usually bud right up and start to bloom after that. The plants that grow in my kitchen get no special treatment and they blossom just as well. Go figure!

The plants flower best when slightly potbound so only repot them if they are really crowded. Unlike many holiday plants they are non-toxic to cats and dogs so don’t be afraid to bring one home for the holidays!

Read more about plant care tips on our Christmas Cactus growing guide.

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

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