Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus: How to Tell Them Apart

The holiday season is upon us and you are probably looking to add a splash of color to your home or gardening space to keep things fresh, or you’re trying to decide between a Christmas cactus or Thanksgiving cactus to determine which one would be the best for a homely decoration. This guide will look at the key differences between these houseplants and give details about each individually.

Christmas Cactus vs. Thanksgiving Cactus

Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) and Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncate) are both from the Schlumbergera family, so they have a similar history. They are both tropical cacti from the rainforests in Brazil. While it may seem like an unusual holiday plant, the Christmas cactus features bold blooms, making it attractive in the middle of winter.

On the other hand, the thanksgiving cactus is native to Brazil, where it grows as an epiphyte or shrub but sometimes in shady places among rocks. Both plants are often confused with each other.

However, the margins of Christmas cactus are crenated, meaning they have rounded indentations. In contrast, the margins of the thanksgiving cactus are sharply saw-toothed.

Christmas CactusThanksgiving Cactus
Common NameChristmas Cactus, Holiday Cactus, Crab CactusThanksgiving Cactus, Crab Cactus, False Cactus, Holiday Cactus, Water Cactus
Botanical NameSchlumbergera X buckleyiSchlumbergera truncata
Plant TypeSucculent, Cactus, PerennialCactus
Mature Size6-12 inches tall, 12-24 inches wide12-24 inches long
12-24 inches wide
Sun ExposurePartial shadePartial shade
Soil TypeMoist, well-drained, loamyMoist but well-drained
Soil pHNeutral, acidicAcidic
Bloom TimeFall, winterFall
Flower ColorPink, red, white, purple, orangeRed, pink, orange, white
Hardiness Zones10-12 (USDA)10a, 10b, 11a, 11b, 12a, 12b
Native AreaBrazilBrazil


One of the easiest and quickest ways to tell the difference between a Christmas cactus and thanksgiving cactus is by the shape of their leaves. The Christmas cactus has flat, thinner leaves that are small and scalloped. While the thanksgiving cactus has pointed broad leaves, sometimes referred to as the ‘crab claw cactus’ because of its distinctive pointed leaves.

The stems of the Christmas cactus are smaller, with more rounded and smooth edges. They are often smaller, with elongated segments with rounded ends or very small tips on each stem segment end.

The stem of the thanksgiving cactus has serrated teeth on either side, which is why it is often known as the lobster cactus or crab cactus. Its stems are often larger and a shiny medium to dark green, while the leaves don’t often turn purple or reddish.


Blooming Christmas and Thanksgiving Cacti

Another way to tell the difference between the two cacti is the appearance of the blooms. For Christmas cactus, the blooms usually droop down in a pendulum shape and feature a brown or purple anther. The blooms of the thanksgiving cactus are produced from the tips or from where the leaf segments join.

They come in various colors, mostly pastels, including red, peach, purple, orange, or white, and typically bloom on thanksgiving. Thanksgiving cactus begins to form buds in late fall and typically flowers during the coldest days of the month. However, the buds of a Christmas cactus typically appear in November and bloom over the Christmas holidays.

Because they bloom on the coldest days of the year, they need a different pattern of care compared to the thanksgiving cactus. Moreover, the bloom on this cactus is usually tiered and can grow up to 3 inches long.


Both cacti can be used to make ideal houseplants and gifts, especially at the time of the year they bloom. They can also be used for beautification, landscape designing, and showy purpose.

Growing Requirements

Christmas cacti are also epiphytes meaning they don’t naturally grow in soil but in shallow organic debris found on rocks or in the crevices of tree trunks. While it can be propagated from seed, the easiest way to propagate them is from cuttings, and this should be done in the warm growing months, April through September.

The best part of the Christmas cactus is that it is not that demanding as a houseplant. Like the Christmas cactus, the thanksgiving cactus is an epiphyte, which grows naturally from trees and branches in a jungle environment.

You might want to check out: How to Propagate Cactus Plant


Christmas cactus do well in the sun or shade. However, they are adaptable to other conditions.

But If you expose them to full sunlight, ensure it is during the winter months, as too much sunlight in spring and summer can cause the plant to become pale and yellow. Thanksgiving cactus does best in medium indirect light.


Christmas cactus is adaptable to moist soil conditions and grows naturally as an epiphyte in its native region. For optimal growth, it prefers a pH level between 5.5 and 6.2. When growing the thanksgiving cactus as a houseplant, it should be grown in a potting mix that is moist and well-drained with an acidic pH.


A proper watering routine is one of the important ways of keeping both cactus happy. Water both plants thoroughly, allowing excess water to run through the drainage holes. Water the plants two or three times a week, but if they are located in a sunny location, you should water them once a week.

Temperature and Humidity

Both cactus need ample humidity, especially in dry or heated homes during the winter. Christmas cactus is a bit picky about its temperature. During its peak growth months (April to September), it prefers balmy temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once the buds are set, it requires low nighttime temperatures between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Ensure you keep the humidity of your thanksgiving cactus above 5o percent and the temperatures between 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.


Christmas cactus should be fed monthly with a half-strength diluted water-soluble balanced fertilizer during the early spring and summer months. Stop feeding once you’ve noticed the formation of flower buds which is usually late summer or early fall. You can continue feeding after the plant blooms.

For thanksgiving cactus, fertilize regularly throughout the growing season to help promote blooming in the fall. Then apply a balanced, diluted liquid fertilizer every two weeks during the spring, summer, and early fall. After the blooms drop, stop fertilizing the cactus until new growth begins in the spring.

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