Skip to Content

How To Tell If You Have A Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus – Or Easter Cactus!

Did you know that the beautiful “Christmas”cactus growing in your house and blooming all through the holiday season might not be a Christmas cactus at all – and could instead be a Thanksgiving or even an Easter cactus?

As the holiday season nears, one of the most popular plants of all to grow indoors is the beloved Christmas cactus. With its gorgeous flowering blooms of red, pink, white or purple, the plant certainly brings holiday cheer to any room where it flowers.

But as it turns out, the Christmas cactus you think you have growing in your home might not be a Christmas cactus at all – and could very well be a Thanksgiving or Easter cactus instead!

The gorgeous flowering cactus above is often mistaken as a Christmas cactus. Although related, it actually is a Thanksgiving cactus.
Cactus Confusion – How To Know If You Have A Christmas Cactus Or Thanksgiving Cactus

The Christmas cactus might just be one of the most misunderstood flowering houseplants of all time. And for very good reason. For starters, although the plant bears the name “cactus” – it is not one. Nor is it a drought tolerant, desert loving plant in the least.

In fact, the Christmas cactus actually prefers more moist and humid air. Even more, it also is not especially fond of sand or desert like soil, preferring to grow in more traditional, nutrient rich soil (like potting soil) as well.

The Christmas cactus hails from the tropical jungles and forests of South America. It is actually a succulent plants and not a cactus. But it does absorb and store water in its segmented leaves, which makes it appear very much like a cactus would.

Perhaps even more confusing than this beautiful flowering houseplant being confused for a cactus is just how often it is mistaken for being a Christmas cactus – when it could just as easily be a Thanksgiving or Easter cactus instead!

Segmented houseplant
There are not one, not two, but three different types of holiday cacti that bloom as houseplants. Although they all look very similar, there are indeed a few differences that help allow you to tell them apart.

How To Know If You Have A Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus – Or Easter Cactus!

As it turns out, not only is the Christmas cactus not a cactus, it has also two very close relatives that are not either – the Thanksgiving and Easter cactus.

All three of the cacti hail from the same tropical area in South America. And all three also happen to bloom after a period of chilling and low light. In the wild, the plants all flower when they get the proper natural chilling and lighting.

But when cultivated and grown in a greenhouse, the plants can actually flower at any point. All they need is to be kept cooler and darker for their resting period. And once they rest and chill – the blooms appear. And for these three plants, growers simply chill them to bloom during their specific holiday. See: How To Get Your Christmas Cactus To Bloom Big This Year!

To make matters worse, all three closely resemble each other so much that they are routinely misidentified as a Christmas cactus. Not just by those that grow them as houseplants – but even by many of distributors and stores that sell them during the holiday season.

It’s crazy but true. All three are so often labeled as a “Christmas” cactus, that many people purchase a Thanksgiving or Easter cactus thinking it is truly a Christmas cactus. So much so that it is very possible that “Christmas cactus” growing in your home at this very moment might not be one at all!

So how can you tell what type of holiday cactus you have? Luckily, it’s easy to tell in just seconds. All by simply looking at your plant’s leaves – and in the case of an Easter cactus, its blooms as well.

The Difference Between A Christmas, Thanksgiving And Easter Cactus

At first glance, the leaves of all three varieties of the holiday cactus family look similar. But if you look more closely, you will be able to identify a few slight but key differences in the shapes and design of the leaves of each type.

The two types that are confused the most are the Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus. Much of this is because they are available and made to bloom at nearly the same time. In addition, their blooms are nearly impossible to tell apart from one another. But the leaves of each tell the story!

By far, of the two, the Thanksgiving cactus has the most jagged and sharp edges. On the edges of the leaves, there will be pointy, sharp protrusions that look like claws. The segmented sections of a Christmas cactus on the other hand are much more rounded off – looking more like tear drops than sharp points.

 Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus
The segmented leaves tell the story for knowing the difference between a Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter cactus. Thanksgiving leaves are pointy. Christmas cactus leaves have slight scallops, while Easter leaves are more round.

If you go look at your “Christmas” Cactus right now – and it has pointed, jagged leaves – it’s not a Christmas cactus – but a Thanksgiving cactus. And it happens more than you ever know!

The Easter Cactus Difference – How To Know If You Have A Christmas, Thanksgiving, Or Easter Cactus

So what about the Easter cactus? As far as its segmented leaves, the Easter version resembles the Christmas more then Thanksgiving cactus. Its leaves are very round. In fact, they are even more round than the Christmas cactus.

But with an Easter cactus, you can also find a difference in its blooms. A Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus have similar blooms, both being more point and erect. Meanwhile, Easter cactus blooms are more in the shape of a star and are much flatter. Of the three cacti – the Easter version is truly the easiest to identify.

Caring For Holiday Cacti – How To Know If You Have A Christmas, Thanksgiving, Or Easter Cactus

The good news is that whatever variety you have, caring for you holiday cactus is similar. Since they all hail from the same family and region, they all thrive under equal conditions. Affiliate Link : Christmas Cactus, Live Indoor Houseplant, 6-Inch Pot

blooms of a cactus Thanksgiving
With proper chilling and rest, this Thanksgiving (and not Christmas) cactus is now ready to bloom!

The real beauty of all three of these houseplants is their longevity. If properly cared for, all can survive, thrive and bloom for 50 or more years! Because of that, many gardeners pass down their Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter cacti for the next generation to enjoy.

Here is to growing your own holiday cactus – whatever it may be!

This Is My Garden is a garden website created by gardeners, for gardeners. We publish two articles every week, 52 weeks a year. Sign up today to follow via email, or follow along on Facebook here : This Is My Garden. This article may contain affiliate links.