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Christmas Cactus or Thanksgiving Cactus?

Christmas Cactus or Thanksgiving cactus, many times they are confused or mis-labeled.  I show you how easy it is to tell which one is which.

Do you know the difference between a Thanksgiving cactus and a Christmas cactus?  

I see folks all the time wondering why their so called ‘Christmas cactus’ is setting buds and blooming much earlier than late December or is blooming in February.  

The easy answer is they are most likely calling their Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) a Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi).   

Do you have a Christmas Cactus or a Thanksgiving Cactus?  I will show you how to tell the difference.

Related: How to Root Christmas Cactus Cuttings

Christmas Cactus or Thanksgiving Cactus?

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How Can You Tell?

It is true that conditions where the plant is located can also have a bearing on bloom but 9 times out of 10 it is just a different plant.  

What makes it even more confusing is garden centers and grocery stores sell the Thanksgiving Cactus as a Christmas Cactus, so if it is listed on the plant, always go by the botanical name to avoid confusion.

(note: all of the cactus I spotted in stores this season were Thanksgiving Cactus but they were selling them as Christmas Cactus.)

One way you can tell is to look at the leaves.  

The leaves of the Thanksgiving Cactus have sharp points on them whereas the Christmas Cactus has more rounded edges.

It doesn’t really matter which you have the care is the same. 

Related: Best Thanksgiving and Christmas Cactus Care Tips

Here is a photo of mine. Can you tell the difference?

Christmas Cactus or Thanksgiving Cactus?

The plant on the right definitely has spikes on the edges while the left one has more rounded lobes.

They both are lovely and will reward you well in late autumn and winter when you crave a bit of bloom happiness.

I have several colors of Thanksgiving Cactus.  

This white one below is such a gorgeous color and it has a shimmer to it that just sparkles.  It is one of my favorites.

This photo is from last Fall and the plant is twice as big today so I am hopeful to get a ton of blooms this season.

Christmas Cactus or Thanksgiving Cactus?

The orange pink Thanksgiving cactus is called Exotic Dancer and it just bloomed in abundance last year, it too is twice as large this year.  

It has a lot of fuchsia pink mixed in with the orange for a truly exotic appearance.

Christmas Cactus or Thanksgiving Cactus?

I bought 3 of my plants as cuttings online and rooted them.  

My one and only Christmas Cactus is a cutting from my mothers plant.  And I have another cutting from someone else.

Want to know how I rooted my cuttings? Click Here  I have 100% success rate!

Force to Bloom?

Many folks have all sorts of tips and tricks to get the Holiday Cactus’ to bloom (I lump all 3 varieties in this group, including the Easter Cactus), I have tried none of them.  

I just have them outside in Summer in a well lit but not direct sunlight area, then bring them into my studio cottage or house on a windowsill when the nights start getting down to 40 degrees and let them do their thing.

Place them in a room that gets no artificial light in the evening.  Holiday cactus need 12- 14 hours of darkness to set blooms. 

For us here in N. California that starts to occur around the 1st of October. 

Once they have set blooms you can put them in any room free of drafts and abrupt temperature changes.  They will bloom longer in cooler temps.  They prefer 60 to 70 degrees and humidity.

My plants totally took me by surprise this year and bloomed again in June!  

They had been moved to the greenhouse and set bud, then bloomed.  The light amount was way more than they were supposed to get if you listen to all the experts.  So who knows!

General Care of holiday cactus

Here is what I do to take care of them, it works for both. 

I water them when I water all my plants, once a week.  I water them and then let them dry out then water again.

Many try to treat these like you would a true cactus and underwater them but they do better with more water than that. The plants I kept outside needed water more often, just like my other potted plants.

Do no underwater these plants! You will not get blooms if you do.

I feed my plants in Summer and stop in late Fall, as I do all my house plants.

I start feeding again after they begin to bloom. Give them a weak solution once a month of liquid feed, and mine start to put on new growth about January.

Mine are way overgrown now and are top heavy, I have had them in plastic starter pots and they really need to be moved to a bit larger and heavy pots.

  Or I could just give them a good prune, click here if you want to see how that is done.

I will wait until after their bloom this Fall and Winter.  Transplanting them now would most likely assure I would not get any blooms this season.  

They are a bit finicky once they start to set buds.  Moving them after buds start will almost guarantee they will drop the buds and you will get limited flowering if any.  

From all accounts they like being root bound and bloom more profusely when they are.  Mine started blooming the first year but I have them in small pots and may well have gotten root bound fast.

salmon pink thanksgiving cactus with text overlay, Thanksgiving or Christmas Cactus.

Another big bonus, these things can last forever!  Well, maybe not forever but taken care of properly then can last decades.  I have a friend who has one that is over 50 years old and it is still going strong.  Now that is a house plant!

How do your Holiday Cactus get along?  Do you try to force the blooms and what works for you?

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Happy Holiday Cactus Growing!

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Margie Hotz

Friday 26th of February 2021

I love growing plants They make my house look alive Plants are good for your mental and physical health Having plants are fun Watching them grow and bloom is fun Starting new ones are awesome Love outdoor plants to It’s fun to be creative with your yard To be honest with you my mom was the one who got me into plants. Every time I would go to her house to visit her she would point out her rose bushes out back or her pansyies, snap dragons, tulips even her trees. I was not at all interested in her plants. The indoor or outdoor ones...I would be like yeah cool,cool,cool....but now I regret my lack of interest and will for the rest of my life!!!! My mom ended up getting cancer and passed away. That’s when I started to take over taking care of all her plants and having no clue to what I was doing!!! I ended up killing a lot of them and so I would go around and ask people or I would be looking up how to take proper care of the ones I didn’t kill. I brought all her indoor plants to my house. I left the outdoor ones for my dad to take care of. Anyhow the more I was learning about plants the more I was really loving having them in my house and during the summer I love going out and planting all kinds of plants!!!

liz griffith

Wednesday 13th of January 2021

i have a cactus that is over 50 years old and is 47 inches by 45 inches flowers twice a year sometimes more. its about 5o or 60lbs. i want to sell it as it has outgrown my small house i have plenty of small ones growing but this is just way to big for my little house

Pamela

Friday 15th of January 2021

Oh my goodness, that is a big one. I am glad you took cuttings to save before putting it up for sale.

Sue

Saturday 9th of November 2019

Where can you order a true Christmas Cactus? This is the best post l have read in a while. All of mine are Thanksgiving cactus and are now setting buds?

Teri

Saturday 9th of November 2019

This year, I called mine a Halloween Cactus as it bloomed right on the day., haha.

Frani

Saturday 18th of August 2018

Thanks you for the info on the Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus plants. I thought when it bloomed determined the name. Never realized it was really two different varieties. That's why I love your posts! I never know what I will learn next! Thank you

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