Christmas Cactus vs. Thanksgiving Cactus vs. Easter Cactus

These seasonal, flowering cacti are a little bit confusing if you’re not familiar with them. They’re all lovely though with prominent similarities yet they differ from each other.

These plants are from the same genus but have distinct differences, and Plantly will help you tell them apart. Then you will know if you are buying the right one.

How to Tell the Difference Between the Holiday Cactus Varieties

Investing in the seanal cacti is the best thing you can do to add a pop of color to your indoor garden set-up or outdoor plants collection.

While the Christmas cactus, Easter cactus, and Thanksgiving cactus share similar features, they remain unique plants in their way.

Here is how you can differentiate between these holiday season plants as the Thanksgiving cactus and Christmas cactus flowers tend to bloom at the same time.

But before we get to the telltale signs, let’s look at some background history on these holiday plants.

Holiday Cactus History

flowering cactus

The Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus belong to the Schlumbergera family, and the history of the plants is similar. Both are tropical cacti found in the Brazil rainforests.

Both Thanksgiving Cactus plants became well-known indoor houseplants in the 19th century, discovered by Allen Cunningham. He named the genus after Frederic Schlumberger, an exotic botanist.

You can find six species with all holiday names named after the period in which they bloom in the Northern Hemisphere. So, for example, you will find the Thanksgiving cactus blooms earlier than your Christmas cactus.

Yet growth in the native habitat of these cacti begins blooming from April to May. So these plants can be called by any of the two names. Now when you look at the Easter cacti, it belongs to the Hatiora family and is a succulent from Brazil growing in a drier forest.

Yet, little is known about whom discovered the Easter cactus plants, and it seems to be around the same time as the Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus. Still, while online nurseries throw them into one basket, there are some ways to tell them apart as follows:


flowering cactus leaves

The easiest way to know if you have a Christmas and Thanksgiving or Easter cactus is through the leaf shape. Still, it helps to take a closer look.

The difference between the Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus leaves is that the Christmas one has flat, thinner foliage that is small with scalloped edges.

Now looking at the Thanksgiving cactus and Easter cactus, the Thanksgiving one also goes by the claw crab cactus.

The foliage is pointier and broader, looking like a crabs claw. Lastly, the Easter cactus has flat leaves with rounded edges and is more scalloped with fine hairs.

The Blooms

Another difference is the appearance of the flowers. For example, your Christmas cactus plants have flowers with a pendulum shape that hang down with a brown or purple anther.

The Thanksgiving cactus blooms look similar to the Christmas cactus, but the anther is yellow. The Easter cactus has distinct star-shaped flowers comparing Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter blooms.

While looking at the blooming period can help the buds on your Christmas cactus appears over November into the festive period. Then you have the Thanksgiving blooming period at the same time in late fall to Christmas.

As you can see, it is not helpful while the Easter cactus blooms mainly in early spring. Hence the name spring cactus. The standard colors of the Christmas flowers are white, yellow, red, and pink.

The Thanksgiving flowers range from purple, peach, and orange, to red, while the Easter flower is white, red, pink, peach, and orange.

The Overall Shape

Another way to distinguish between the holiday cactus is the overall shape. You can easily do this when the plant matures, but it does not help when you want to buy a specific one.

The Christmas cactus grows upright, but as the stems extend, it starts to droop. On the other hand, the Thanksgiving cactus does not slump as it continues to grow upright.

While the Easter cactus will hang with time, the Christmas Thanksgiving cactus are smaller.

Now let’s look at each one a bit closer.

Christmas Cactus

christmas cactus flowering

The fancy botanical name for the Christmas cactus is Schlumbergera bridgessii. You see the Christmas cacti bloom from November to December as flowers on the coldest days. Yet, compared to your desert cactus, the care differs. The flowers are tiered, growing up to three inches long.

The seasonal cacti need low light to bright light but not direct sunlight as the leaves burn. Moisture is essential, and placing your plant on a pebble tray will help increase humidity in the air. You can give your plant enough water in the growing period and never allow the soil to dry.

The same applies to overwatering, leading to stem and root rot. Furthermore, your plant needs a few hours of darkness to bloom. It helps to keep your plant away from drafts and reduce the light, moisture, and temperature.

For this reason, provide your plants up to 14 hours of darkness daily. If it stands on a pebble tray, remove it and cut back on watering until it blooms. Then provide it with a month of rest after blooming before you proceed with your regular care to start the cycle again to receive beautiful blooms.

Thanksgiving Cactus

thanksgiving cactus

As the Thanksgiving cactus is identical to the Christmas one, the features are not the same as the Easter cactus. The botanical name is Schlumbergera truncate. You notice buds forming in late fall and flowers during colder days lasting up to four months.

Yet, the crab claw cactus must not receive direct sun as it results in a purple discoloration. Neither should the soil dry out, similar to your other holiday cacti. You can provide it with moist soil, not soggy soil, as you risk fungal and root issues.

Another concern is the Thanksgiving variety has delicate blooms that easily fall off. The holiday cactus needs the same dormant period as the Christmas cacti. So, it helps to provide your Thanksgiving cacti up to 14 hours of darkness and less water in late summer to early fall.

Also, remove any pebble trays to prevent added moisture and give your plant a month’s rest before resuming the yearly care cycle to produce those beautiful blooms.

Easter Cactus

easter cactus flowering

The spring cactus botanical name is Hatiora gaertneriYet, it was formally known as the Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri. While all three cacti come from Brazil, the Easter cactus lives in a drier environment, similar to a desert cactus.

You will notice beautiful blooms from February to March. All three plants have the exact needs, but the spring cactus needs less water. It helps let the soil dry between watering and loves a bit of humidity.

It will also need a new pot every two years in spring but prefers being pot-bound. While there are subtle differences, you can force it to bloom following the same steps as with the Christmas Thanksgiving cactus.

It helps to start with the forced dormancy in October, stopping feeding, less water, and cooler temperatures. You can check our Christmas cactus care here.


The tree plants are similar, with subtle differences that distinguish them apart. The best way to tell the difference is through the leaf segments. The best thing we can advise is when you gift seasonal cacti to someone; it is best not to do it for the color punch. Instead, you can quickly tell them apart when you use the tips.

Whether you want to buy, sell or simply reach out to other plant enthusiasts, Plantly is the right place to be!

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