Holiday Cacti

By Andrea Laine

Holiday cacti have had a place in my indoor garden for as long as I’ve been gardening.  (That’s 30 years.)  Some in my current collection have been in my husband’s family for close to 50 years!  Hundreds of cultivars are available blooming for several weeks in shades of red, pink, and purple, as well as white.

There are three types that look similar to one another but bloom at different times of year, to which they owe their common names: Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

All have gracefully arching stems composed of succulent segments, which are botanically called phylloclades.  Subtle differences in the shape of the segments and the color of the anthers help distinguish one species from another.  

  • Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) has saw-tooth or pointed projections on the margins. Its anthers are yellow.  
  • Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) has flat, jointed segments with smoothly scalloped edges. Its anthers are purplish-brown.
  • Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) has flat oblong segments with bristles at the edges. Flowers are more star-shaped than the other cacti.   

Note how the segments differ between these two species of holiday cacti:Christmas CactusThanksgiving Cactus

In their native habitat, these cacti grow on trees in the forests of Brazil. Here in North America they are common holiday hostess gifts and excellent year-round houseplants. Best of all, it is much easier to coax a holiday cactus to bloom again than it is a poinsettia!

Coming soon: Holiday Cactus Care

References and Resources