Despite some evident similarities (a Turkey-focused meal, for one), the two holidays have their own quirks that make it easy for us to differentiate the celebrations. However, when it comes to the eponymously named cactuses, the distinction is not always as clear.  Questions surrounding the plant are already in abundance – and there is an ever-present desire to know how to grow a Christmas cactus – and how to make a Christmas cactus bloom, but perhaps the most prominent question of the moment is how to differentiate the festive plant from its Thanksgiving counterpart.  This is how to tell the two cactuses apart – so you can celebrate the holiday with the right plant at the right time. 

Thanksgiving cactus vs Christmas cactus – what is the difference?

The most notable difference between a Christmas cactus and a Thanksgiving cactus is the shape of their leaves. ‘A Thanksgiving cactus has sharp and claw-shaped projections at the leaf edges while a Christmas cactus has leaf-like projections that are shaped like tear-drops,’ says Alex Tinsman from How To Houseplant (opens in new tab). As the expert explains, the Thanksgiving cactus is described as being spiky, whereas the Christmas cactus is smoother. Thanksgiving cactuses also tend to be a deep red or purple color, whereas the Christmas alternative is often white, pink, or red in color. However, its differences are not limited to its aesthetic. Lindsey Hyland from Urban Organic Yield (opens in new tab) explains that another key difference is the time in which each cactus blooms.  ‘A Thanksgiving cactus is a type of cactus that blooms in late fall, typically in November,’ she says – fittingly in time for Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, a Christmas cactus blooms in late winter or early spring – typically in December.  

Should I deadhead a Thanksgiving cactus?

Yes, you propagate a Thanksgiving cactus by taking cuttings, as they do not produce seeds. However, knowing how to propagate Christmas cactus is a slightly different process. Unlike the Thanksgiving plant, the Christmas cactus should be deadheaded after blooming to encourage new flowering,’ according to Lindsey. Knowing when to water a Christmas cactus is also vital in preserving your plant’s health and ensuring it’s healthy enough to survive the season and beyond.  You are likely to see buds on your Thanksgiving cactus appear in late fall for the holiday. However, they typically bloom at the same time as the Christmas cactus. For maximum longevity, you can read up on how to repot a Christmas cactus to ensure you get the most from your plant and enjoy its festive colors year after year.  

Why is it called a Thanksgiving cactus?

According to expert Lindsey Hyland, the ‘Thanksgiving cactus’ was originally seen as a type of Christmas cactus.  ‘They are both from the genus Schlumbergera, and they are closely related. The main difference is that the Thanksgiving cactus blooms in late fall (around November), while the Christmas cactus blooms in winter (usually around December),’ she says.  Another name for a Christmas cactus is Schlumbergera buckleyi – a cactus native to Brazil. Meanwhile, the ‘Thanksgiving cactus’ is a name given to several different species of cactus, all of which are native to North America.