Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus: Is There a Difference?

Written by August Croft
Updated: October 24, 2023
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Given their number of similarities and equal popularity in the houseplant world, do you know all of the differences between a Christmas cactus vs Thanksgiving cactus? Both belonging to the same plant family, the Thanksgiving cactus is difficult to distinguish from the Christmas cactus. Are there any real differences between these two plants, and how can you learn how to tell them apart?

In this article, we will compare and contrast the Christmas cactus with the Thanksgiving cactus so that you can fully understand the differences between them. We will go over their physical descriptions as well as how they prefer to grow and where they originated from. Let’s get started and learn all about these seasonal cacti varieties now!

Comparing Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus

Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus
The Christmas cactus has leaves with rounded edges compared to the pointed edges of Thanksgiving cactus leaves.
Christmas CactusThanksgiving Cactus
Plant ClassificationSchlumbergera bridgesiiSchlumbergera truncata
DescriptionSquare or rectangular shaped leaves with rounded edges, ending in beautiful blooms depending on the time of year. Flowers are trumpet-shaped, with multiple layers of petals stretching long and tall, stamens protruding from the centerRectangular shaped leaves with sharp or toothed edges, ending in beautiful blooms depending on the time of year. Flowers are trumpet-shaped and tall, with stamens protruding
UsesPopular houseplant for its ease of growing and beautiful, seasonal bloomsPopular cactus variety for its seasonal blooms; makes a great gift
Origin and Growing PreferencesNative to Brazil; requires a period (4-6 weeks) of cold weather and dark conditions to bloom, and be sure to not overwaterNative to Brazil; requires a period (4-6 weeks) of cold weather and dark conditions to bloom, and make sure the plant enjoys some humidity
Blooming Time of YearAround the winter holiday times, with a potential re-blooming in springAround the fall holiday times, with a potential re-blooming in spring

Key Differences Between Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus

Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus

The Christmas cactus blooms slightly later in the year compared to the Thanksgiving cactus.

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There are a few key differences between Christmas cacti and Thanksgiving cacti. For example, Christmas cacti and Thanksgiving cacti belong to different plant classification groups from one another. The Christmas cactus has leaves with rounded edges compared to the pointed edges of Thanksgiving cactus leaves. Finally, the Christmas cactus blooms slightly later in the year compared to the Thanksgiving cactus.

Let’s go over all of these differences in more detail now.

Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus: Classification

It can be confusing, understanding how plants are classified, particularly when comparing a Christmas cactus with a Thanksgiving cactus. However, these two cacti varieties belong to different groups from each other, which gives them some distinct trait differences. For example, the Christmas cactus is from the Buckleyi group of cacti, while Thanksgiving cacti are from the Truncata group of cacti.

Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus: Description

Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus

Most Christmas cacti have square or rectangular shaped leaves with distinctly rounded edges, while Thanksgiving cacti have toothed or sharper edges to their leaves by comparison.

©iStock.com/Nadezhda_Nesterova

Christmas cacti and Thanksgiving cacti look strikingly similar to one another, which makes them difficult to tell apart. However, the main difference between these two cactus varieties lies in the shape of their leaves. For example, Christmas cacti have square or rectangular shaped leaves with distinctly rounded edges, while Thanksgiving cacti have toothed or sharper edges to their leaves by comparison.

Otherwise, these cacti are fairly interchangeable in terms of how they look and grow. They both reach similar heights, produce fairly symmetrical blooms at the ends of each of their leaf segments, and their leaves are equally deep green. The trumpet-shaped blooms found on both Christmas cacti and Thanksgiving cacti are beautiful and come in a variety of colors, much like the closely related Easter cactus!

Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus: Uses

Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus

The Thanksgiving cactus blooms slightly earlier in the year compared to the Christmas cactus.

©iStock.com/Elena Grishina

Both Christmas cacti and Thanksgiving cacti are used in a similar fashion. They both make ideal houseplants and gifts, especially when you consider the time of year in which they both bloom. Thanksgiving cacti and Christmas cacti have a fairly easy level of care, which means you won’t be saddling anyone with a fussy houseplant as a gift during the busy holiday season!

Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus: Origin and How to Grow

Given that they are similar and just about every other way, there are no real differences between Christmas cacti and Thanksgiving cacti in terms of their plant origins and how they grow best. For example, Christmas cacti and Thanksgiving cacti originated in Brazil, and native plants still grow there amongst rocks and sandy soil. In terms of how to best take care of your Christmas cactus or Thanksgiving cactus, make sure to not overwater, and give them a good soil mixture that isn’t just hard and compacted dirt. 

Most cacti varieties, particularly the holiday cacti, need a certain amount of time in darkness and colder climates in order to produce their beautiful flowers. The Christmas cactus and the Thanksgiving cactus both need roughly four to six weeks of consistent darkness and colder than average temperatures in order to bloom, but it’s always worth it to see their fantastic flowers! 

Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus

The Thanksgiving cactus typically blooms in late fall, around Thanksgiving, while the Christmas cactus blooms roughly a month later, closer to Christmas.

©iStock.com/yes

Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus: Blooming Time of Year

Speaking of blooms, Christmas cacti and Thanksgiving cacti have slightly different times of year in which they bloom. For example, the Thanksgiving cactus typically blooms in late fall, around Thanksgiving, while the Christmas cactus blooms roughly a month later, closer to Christmas. This is why they have these colloquial names, reminding you when your cactus is likely to produce its beautiful flowers!

Bonus: How to Repot a Christmas Cactus

Repot of decorative houseplants Christmas cactus in white flowers pots on a terrace balcony

Christmas or Thanksgiving cacti should be repotted every three to four years.


Image: Lapa Smile, Shutterstock

©Lapa Smile/Shutterstock.com

Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti are so easy to care for! They only need watering once every two weeks and repotting every three to four years. If your plant is starting to look weary or if its roots are starting to grow out of the container’s bottom – it is definitely time to repot! Follow these steps:

  • Wait until the plant has finished blooming so it can put all of its energy into the beautiful flowers.
  • Choose the right container. Your pot should be slightly larger than the old one with a drainage hole in the bottom to prevent rotting.
  • Provide your plant with a lightweight and well-drained potting mixture. You should never use soil from your garden because it could contain bacteria and viruses.
  • Repot your plant. Gently remove your Christmas cactus from its old pot, and remove old soil from the roots with your hands. Place it inside the new pot so that the root ball is about an inch below the rim of the pot.
  • Water your plant moderately and place it in a shady location. Spending two or three days in the shade is good for a newly repotted Christmas cactus because excess sunlight can damage the leaves in their vulnerable state.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Elena Grishina


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About the Author

August Croft is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on astrology, symbolism, and gardening. August has been writing a variety of content for over 4 years and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Theater from Southern Oregon University, which they earned in 2014. They are currently working toward a professional certification in astrology and chart reading. A resident of Oregon, August enjoys playwriting, craft beer, and cooking seasonal recipes for their friends and high school sweetheart.

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Sources
  1. Effect of chemicals and photoperiod on the growth and flowering of Thanksgiving cactus, Available here: https://journals.ashs.org/jashs/view/journals/jashs/110/5/article-p658.xml