What Does a Christmas Cactus Look Like – Easy ID Tip

“What does a Christmas cactus look like?” is one of the most frequently asked questions, and with good reasons. Unbeknownst to many, there are three common types of holiday cactus namely the Thanksgiving cactus, Christmas cactus and Easter cactus. As you’ve probably guessed, the different species get their names for the time of year in which they bloom.

what does a christmas cactus look like

The Thanksgiving cactus, or Schlumbergera truncata, blooms in late fall whereas the Christmas cactus, or Schlumbergera bridgesii, blooms about a month later. The Easter cactus, or Schlumbergera gaetneri, on the other hand, blooms in late winter to early spring.

Although these holiday cactus are traditionally available in shades of red, the varieties you see today come in magenta, pink and scarlet, as well as yellow, white, orange, purple, salmon and apricot.

All three holiday cacti are native to Brazil – the Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti are tropical rainforest plants, while the Easter cactus is a natural (drier) forest plant.

christmas cactus identification
Christmas Cactus aka Schlumbergera truncata
thanksgiving cactus identification
Thanksgiving Cactus, also known as Crab Cactus and Lobster Cactus aka Schlumbergera truncata
easter cactus identification
Easter Cactus aka Schlumbergera gaetneri

How to Tell the Holiday Cactus Apart?

It is a common misconception that all holiday cacti are Christmas cacti. In fact, some stores incorrectly label the Thanksgiving and Easter cacti they sell as Christmas cacti. To the untrained eyes, all three cacti look absolutely identical. However, once you learn about the different characteristics of the holiday cactus (which is actually very obvious!), you will be able to tell the three holiday cacti apart easily.

The best way to tell the holiday cactus apart, i.e. the most distinguishing feature of the three holiday cacti (besides the different bloom times of the plants) actually lies in the stems – which resemble leaf-like pads.

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What Does a Christmas Cactus Look Like?

The stems (leaf-like pads) of the Christmas cactus are smaller with more rounded and smooth edges. They have elongated segments with rounded ends or very small tips on each stem segment end. The stems are often smaller, and a dull light green, and sometimes have a thick purplish vein running through the segmented stems. Flowers usually come in pink or pink-and-white, are elongated and look ‘doubled’.

christmas cactus leaves
Christmas Cactus leaves

What Does a Thanksgiving Cactus Look Like?

The stems (leaf-like pads) of the Thanksgiving cactus have 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. The leaves don’t often turn purple or reddish. Flowers come in various colors including pink, purple, red, yellow, or any dual-color mix, are elongated and look ‘doubled’.

thanksgiving cactus leaves
Thanksgiving Cactus leaves

What Does an Easter Cactus Look Like?

The stems (leaf-like pads) of the Easter cactus have a more bristled appearance. They have short, fat, rounded segments with dramatic scallops. The stems are often a dull light green or a dull dark green and sometimes have a purplish or reddish tinge around the outer edges. Flowers often come in shades of pink and purple and are not ‘doubled’ and elongated but rather look more like a daisy.

easter cactus leaves
Easter Cactus leaves

Although the Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus and Easter cactus differ in appearance and characteristics, their care requirements are relatively similar. Unlike regular, desert-dwelling cacti, holiday cacti are not drought-tolerant, although a period of relative dryness is especially important for the Easter cactus, which isn’t a tropical plant. They prefer dark nights and relatively cool temperatures between 50°F and 65°F (10°C and 18°C). They are also easy to propagate – just by breaking off a stem with two to five segments.

What are all the Christmas Cactus Color Varieties?

Christmas cacti (Schlumbergera spp.) are known for their bright, colorful blooms that appear during the holiday season. There are several different color varieties of Christmas cacti, including:

  1. Red: Red is perhaps the most common color of Christmas cactus blooms. The bright red flowers add a festive touch to any home during the holiday season.
  2. Pink: Pink Christmas cacti are also popular and can range from a light pastel pink to a deeper, more vibrant shade.
  3. White: White Christmas cacti are less common but can be quite striking. The pure white blooms provide a lovely contrast against the dark green foliage.
  4. Purple: Purple Christmas cacti are also available, and their unique hue can add an interesting touch to holiday decor.
  5. Orange: While less common, some Christmas cacti can produce orange-colored blooms, which add a warm and cozy touch to any space.
  6. Yellow: Finally, some Christmas cacti can produce yellow blooms, which are sunny and cheerful and add a bright pop of color to any room.

It’s worth noting that while these are the most common color varieties of Christmas cacti, there may be other less common colors available as well. Additionally, some Christmas cacti may produce blooms in more than one color, such as red and white, or pink and yellow. Whatever the color, the bright, cheerful blooms of a Christmas cactus are sure to bring joy and holiday spirit to any space.