How hard could it be to distinguish Thanksgiving cactus vs Christmas cactus vs Easter cactus? With their shared plant architecture, misidentifying these succulents is not surprising! Botanists sometimes seem to not quite agree with plant nomenclature, classification, and naming. However, this is not an excuse to inaccurately baptize your favorite holiday flower! You only need to jot down a few nuances on its morphology. To know more about the difference between Thanksgiving cactus vs Christmas cactus or a Christmas cactus vs Easter cactus, get hooked with this exciting guide on this confounded group of tropical plants!
Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter Cactus Common Facts
At the beginning of the 19th century, people were already gift-giving Christmas Cactus, likely a species of Schlumbergera bridgesii. Nineteen years later (1819), an English botanist named Allan Cunningham was exploring the rainforests of Brazil and stumbled upon the bewildering beauty of another ancestor of the Christmas cactus. He later published his discovery and named it after a French cacti-botanist, Frederic Schlumberger, Schlumbergera truncata. Later, many refer to it as Thanksgiving Cactus for its subtle resemblance to the previous holiday plant.
The most common varieties of Christmas Cactus today are a product of interspecific crosses of various species (Schlumbergera × buckleyi). The discovery of a few species and the advancement of breeding technology have complicated the identification accuracy, especially since most people tend to confuse seemingly identical plants. The difference between Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus is mainly observed in their phenology or flowering. In the wild, they typically display their short-lived flowers from April to May. However, the shortening of daytime and the plummeting temperatures in November and December alter their blooming time… and yes, you are right! It is where they earned the popular name that we know today.
In the same zone, but in the drier Brazilian forest, a new Schlumbergera species–the same genus where Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus belong–was later discovered primarily growing on rock cliff voids. At that time, it became a must-have collection of succulents, and later, the name Easter cactus became widely accepted among many hobbyists. However, scientific naming has been quite debated by scholars, as morphologically similar species may be in the same taxa but do not have common ancestry, challenging its taxonomic placement. Until recently, scientists found promising genetic evidence suggesting that the Easter cacti species deserve to be on the throne of the genus Hatiora after several assignments from Schlumbergera, Rhipsalis, to Rhipsalidopsis (now proposed as a subgenus of Hatiora). We hope this puts a period on the Christmas-Thanksgiving-Easter cactus scientific dispute!
How Blooming Correlates With the Holiday Cactus Names
A clear line separating the aerial succulents – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter cactus – is by characterizing their blooming habits. Stimulated by the shortening of daylight, the difference between Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus blooms is the timing of blooming. Although both may bloom in early November to December, the latter may coincide with the most popular Christian holiday, while the former may be the November-celebrated American holiday. They typically bloom earlier because they only require about 6 weeks of dark period. On the other hand, Easter cactus is typically seen blooming in early spring, from February to March, to complete the 8-12 weeks of longer nights and shorter days.
How to Tell the Difference Between Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter Cacti
To tell the difference between Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter cactus, here are some of the notable features you need to take note:
Shape of Leaves
The shape of stem-like leaves (phyllacodes) is a good indication to assign the taxa. Easter cactus leaves tend to have roundish indentations on the edges, while the others have more striking differences, literally. To differentiate the Christmas cactus vs Thanksgiving, simply look into its sharp claws–thanksgiving cacti have prickly points with deep notches, while Christmas have rather blunt tips but are more pronounced than easter.
As flowers are the primary distinctive features of every angiosperm, the cacti-related holiday succulents can be recognized by looking at their blooms – both display pendulous, fuchsia flower hues. Christmas vs Thanksgiving cactus is differentiated by their anther color – Christmas has darker, brown to purple-tinged anthers while thanksgiving has yellow ones – although there are slight phenotypic differences between cultivars.
As previously mentioned, the timing of blooming is also helpful. Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus typically bloom on their respective celebrated days. However, the bud opening may overlap. Luckily, Easter cactus is easier to identify as it blooms later than the two, typically in early spring.
The plant canopy and growing habits will also tell you whether it is the type of holiday plant you thought. Christmas cacti generally appear saggy, regardless of the watering conditions, as they increase in size. In contrast, Thanksgiving can grow upright, even if it bears long, chained stems. Finally, the Easter one can become droopy like Christmas but generally maintains a smaller plant canopy.
Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas Cactus Identification
Is it giving… Christmas Thanksgiving Easter cactus? Characterizing might be a bit challenging if you have not seen the trio plants. It might be a “to be or not to be” Shakespear question, but we can absolutely give you the answer to that! In just a snap of a photo, our cutting-edge AI-assisted plant identifier is your handy tool to differentiate a Thanksgiving vs Christmas cactus or the other way around. We can guarantee about 99% accuracy! (Of course, the 1% is reserved for our botanists). But kidding aside, our 24/7 available botanists are on standby for precise identification, including tailored advice and growing ideas based on your plant’s current health status!
What is the Rarest Color of Christmas Cactus Bloom?
Orange and yellow-colored varieties are fairly rare hybrids of Christmas Cactus. While a slight copper tinge can be seen on wild types, they are not as striking as the current tangerine hybrids.
Does Christmas Cactus Like Sun or Shade?
Christmas cactus enjoy being under partial or dappled light in your garden. If you want to find out more about Christmas cactus identification, cultivation, and proper care, head out to PlantIn’s Plant ID section and get our expert help!