Holiday cacti are easy to grow in containers, which gives gardeners control of their environment and soil conditions. Holiday cacti are named for the time of year they flower. Christmas cactus flowers in winter, about the same time as the Christmas holiday. Cacti are known their sharp needles and living on very little water, but flowering holiday species are actually attractive as indoor or outdoor plants.
Three types of cacti are identified as Christmas cactus: Thanksgiving cactus, Christmas cactus and Easter cactus. Because of the names, Christmas cactus is also referred to as "holiday cactus," but Thanksgiving and Easter cacti are also considered Christmas cacti. The Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) bloom flowers that are red, light purple and pinkish-orange in color. The Thanksgiving cactus flowers from late November through December. Christmas cactus (S. x buckleyi) produces vivid reddish-pink flowers from late December to March. Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerii) blooms from March until May with flowers in shades of pink and red. Flowers bloom at the top of the cacti. Give holiday cactus bright light during the day and a room temperature between 55 and 65 degrees. Keep soil dry until buds form, and then provide light watering. Christmas cactus needs well-drained soil.
The Schlumbergera x buckleyi "Christmas cactus" was created in the 19th century as a hybrid of two other plants. The buckleyi has white and pinkish-purple flowers. True Christmas cacti are very long-lived and flower year after year in mid and late winter. Sometimes, the true Christmas cactus is identified as S. bridgesii because it was once incorrectly cited with this name in a publishing, but the true Christmas cactus is the original S. x buckleyi hybrid. However, there is only one true Christmas cactus by that cultivar name, but the November cactus and Easter cactus are also identified as Christmas cacti.
The Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata "Christmas Charm") blooms a month earlier than the Christmas cactus, which is why it's common name is for the November holiday. The flowers of the Thanksgiving cactus are asymmetrical in shape and white in color. Other cultivars produce flowers in different colors. The S. truncata v. marvellous "Gold Charm" produces yellow blooms, and some species produce magenta flowers. Despite the name, Thanksgiving cactus is classified as a type of Christmas, or holiday cactus. In some parts of North America, they are more common in garden stores than true Christmas cactus.
The Easter cactus is a spring-blooming Christmas cactus. Unlike the Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti, the Easter cactus only blooms once a year. The Easter cactus is more difficult to grow, as it is sensitive to water conditions, and drops flower buds and blooms under the slightest water stress. R. gaertneri "Crimson Giant" and "Rainbow" Easter cacti produce red flowers. The rose Easter cactus (R. rosea) produces pink-and-red flowers. Easter cacti are also identified as a type of Christmas cactus.