Christmas Cactus Vs Thanksgiving Cactus: Know The Real Difference

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When we think of cacti, we conjure certain images, such as desert, an extremely hot environment, arid areas, etc. Most of us believe that cacti are plants that thrive in hot, dry conditions, which is accurate. It is not, however, the only truth.

There are several cacti that can grow and prosper in extremely humid environments with filtered light. Therefore, these plants are frequently grown indoors and given as gifts during the holiday season. And this brings us to the Holiday Cactus Plants. These plants are commonly found in Brazil’s mountainous forests and are grown expressly for the Holiday season in contrast to regular cacti. However, these are often regarded as not real cacti but epiphytes and succulents that grow on other trees.

There are mainly three types of holiday cacti:

  • Thanksgiving Cactus
  • Christmas Cactus
  • Easter Cactus

While the Thanksgiving and Christmas varieties belong to the Schlumbergera genus, the Easter variety belongs to the Rhipsalidopsis genus. In this article, we will discuss the real differences between the Thanksgiving cactus and the Christmas cactus that typically bloom from early November through January, during the holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year.

What is a Christmas Cactus?

What is a Christmas Cactus?
Image Credit: https://in.pinterest.com

We all have heard about Christmas trees, but how many of us are familiar with the term “Christmas cactus?

These cacti are epiphytic succulents, and they flourish in the equatorial forests of Brazil.

Christmas cactus is an indoor cactus plant. Unlike its relatives, this variety does not grow in hot and arid zones.

They source their water requirement from the branches of the tree on which it grows and soaks up the high humidity. Further, the Christmas cactus also require filtered sunlight and warm temperatures.

So, for beginners, the thumb rule is not to follow the traditional care other cacti require. Christmas cactus plants are not the run-of-the-mill cactus and cannot survive in sunny and dry conditions.

One more thing: Traditional Christmas Cactus blooms closest to Christmas time!

Also Read: How Long Does It Take to Grow a Christmas Tree?

Thanksgiving Cactus a Real Cactus?

Thanksgiving Cactus a Real Cactus
Image Credit: https://romesentinel.com

The Thanksgiving Cactus is yet another well-liked holiday cactus. This cactus, which is in the Schlumbergera genus like the Christmas cactus, blooms from the beginning of early fall.

Thanksgiving cacti are not real cacti but are epiphytes that grow on other plants and trees.  Compared to other conventional arid-region cacti, these ones have considerably different growing and maintenance requirements.

Despite being misidentified as the Christmas cactus, this cactus plant is distinct from the latter.  Therefore, it is crucial to comprehend the differences between these two types of holiday cactus plants.

This brings us to the next part of our discussion, where we’ll examine the actual differences between these two kinds of cactus.

Christmas Cactus Vs Thanksgiving Cactus: Real Differences

Christmas Cactus Vs Thanksgiving Cactus: Real Differences
Image Credit: https://www.allaboutgardening.com

As we noted earlier, Christmas cactus is sometimes misidentified as Thanksgiving cactus and vice versa. And it’s true that these two cacti resemble one another almost exactly. However, they are distinct. Therefore, it is essential to examine the actual distinctions between these two cacti kinds. After all, you won’t want to bring a plant home or gift one cactus in the name of another.

Here are the sections that will help you learn how to tell a Christmas cactus from a Thanksgiving cactus by comparing its various characteristics. We’ll concentrate on parameters like.

  • The basics
  • Look
  • Growing needs
  • Bloom time
  • Care

Christmas Cactus Vs Thanksgiving Cactus: The Basics

Christmas Cactus Vs Thanksgiving Cactus: The Basics
Image Credit: https://www.allaboutgardening.com

To know about a plant is to learn about its basics. Hence, one of the best ways to tell the differences between a Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus is to understand its fundamentals.

In order to provide you with a clear and concise understanding of these two species of succulents, we are presenting a table.

Factors Christmas CactusThanksgiving Cactus
NativeRainforests in BrazilRainforests in Brazil
Sun exposureFiltered and partiaFiltered and partial
Soil needsMoist, well-drainedMoist, well-drained
Bloom timeEarly winter to mid-winterLate fall through mid-winter
Leaves’ shapeFlattened with notches around the edgesPointed and claw-shaped
Flower colorPink, red, magenta, white, or purple | Uncommon colors- cream, salmon, peach, and orangeRed, pink, peach, purple, orange, or white

It is very obvious from the above table that most characteristics of these holiday cacti are nearly identical. However, one needs to consider their leaf shapes and blooming times to differentiate them from each other.

To highlight the true differences between these two cacti kinds, we shall examine three-element- leaves, shape, and blooms, separately in the following sections.

Christmas Cactus Vs Thanksgiving Cactus: Leaves

Christmas Cactus Vs Thanksgiving Cactus: Leaves
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When buying any of the holiday cactus plants, you must keep your eyes open and use your analytic skill. Does it sound apprehending? Well, it is not so.

Let us help you out.

The leaves of Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti are one thing to look at. Possibly the fastest way to recognize what plant you are looking at is to identify it by its leaves. Likewise, the same might be said about cactus plants.

While a cursory inspection would reveal that the leaves of each of these cacti are nearly identical, a closer examination would reveal the differences. The leaves of the Christmas cactus are smaller, more flattened, and have scalloped edges with notches.

Although each segment’s tip has a small curvature, it can appear practically straight. To see what we’re referring to, look at the picture below.

On the other hand, the Thanksgiving cactus’ leaves are wider and pointier. Because of its unusual pointy leaves, this cactus is often frequently referred to as the “crab claw cactus.”

Christmas Cactus Vs Thanksgiving Cactus: Shape

Christmas Cactus Vs Thanksgiving Cactus: Shape
Image Credit: https://in.pinterest.com

The next factor to consider is the overall shape of the cacti. Give a minute look at both the cacti to point out the differences.

A Christmas and a Thanksgiving cactus can be easily distinguished by their overall shapes if the plants are mature enough.

To get an idea, look at the pictures above.

A Christmas cactus leaves also get longer in an upright manner as they get older, eventually drooping. The adult Thanksgiving cactus’ leaves, on the other hand, will still grow straight while not drooping. So, look at the leaves’ growth direction to tell the difference between these two-holiday cacti.

Christmas Cactus Vs Thanksgiving Cactus: Bloom

Christmas Cactus Vs Thanksgiving Cactus: Bloom
Image Credit: https://in.pinterest.com/

Another difference between these two cacti is their flowers. Along with having slightly different blooming times, the blooms of these plants are different from each other.

Christmas cactusThanksgiving cactus
Early winter to mid-winterLate fall through mid-winter

Christmas cactus flowers often bloom in December and are commonly pink or white. The blossoms typically form a pendulum shape as they fall down. That said, in its native region, this cactus may also produce flowers between March and May.

Therefore, if you see a Christmas cactus in bloom in the early spring or summer, don’t be startled.

The Thanksgiving cactus, on the other hand, develops flowers at the tips or the point where the leaf sections converge. The only difference between the flowers and Christmas cactus blossoms is the anther, which grows in the usual yellow color in the former. This cactus’s blossoms appear to be one flower inside another.

Holiday Cactus Care

Despite the differences between Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti, each requires the same maintenance. Therefore, the fundamentals of caring for any holiday cactus plant you bring home are listed here.

  • Temperature: Holiday cacti are “short-day plants.” It indicates that these cacti bloom when the temperature falls between 50 and 55 degrees F. They cannot stand freezing, though. So you should bring your Christmas cactus indoors over the winter. They require daytime temperatures of 75 to 80 degrees F to grow.
  • Water: During their growth period, these cacti need frequent watering. Keeping the soil moist is essential but avoid overly soggy soil. So, if you grow your cactus in well-drained soil, consider watering it frequently. But if the soil is heavy and tends to retain moisture, water only when the soil is dry.
  • Sunlight: Keep your holiday cactus out of direct, bright light at all costs. These cacti grow on other trees in the shade of the forest in their natural habitat. Therefore, it will be best to keep your plant indoors with filtered light. That being stated, maintain it in a dark area at a temperature of 50 to 55 degrees from twilight to dawn.

Note: These cacti bloom better when they get long night hours of darkness.

  • Soil: Holiday cacti need adequate drainage and aeration for strong root development. So, plant them in loamy soil that drains nicely. Additionally, these cacti do well in slightly acidic soil. Use the following mixing ratio if you’re using potting soil to cultivate your holiday cactus in a pot or planter.
  • 40% perlite
  • 60% peat moss
  • Fertilizer: From June to August, you can fertilize your holiday cactus. For these cacti, use organic fertilizers. Change the fertilization to a blended, soluble, or powder fertilizer as the buds form. Use a fertilizer with a formulation of 0-5-10, which is low in nitrogen (N), high in phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
  • Pest Care: Holiday cacti are generally resistant to pest infestations, although occasionally, they may come under attack from pests like mealybugs and spider mites. One effective method to get rid of these pests may be to apply a certified insecticide designed for houseplants. Furthermore, a holiday cactus can become prey to snails and slugs. As a result, maintain your planter on a high platform or utilize companion planting to fend against these creatures’ attacks.
  • Propagation: Holiday cactus plants can easily be propagated via stem cuttings.

The Takeaway

The Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti are both members of the same family and share many characteristics. Yet they are two different plants.   And fortunately, some factors distinguish them well. And to reiterate, the easiest ways to distinguish between these two cacti are by looking at their leaves, general shapes, and blooms.

So please stick to the identification guidelines we’ve provided above to choose the ideal holiday cactus.

Here are the key takeaways for you as a recap.

FactorsChristmas cactusThanksgiving cactus
LeavesFlattened and drooping Pointed and upright 
Overall shapeDrooping when maturedGrows in an upright manner 
BloomsPendulum-shaped and often hangingTube-shaped, as if a flower within a flower

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