How Can You Tell the Difference Between a Christmas Cactus and an Easter Cactus?

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Tia and Tamera Mowry, Dylan and Cole Sprouse, the Christmas and Easter Cactus... what do all of these things have in common? Well, they're all nearly identical, and it takes a lot of Googling to tell them apart! While we can't help you figure out which Hollywood celebrity is which, we can help you figure out the difference between the Christmas Cactus and Easter Cactus. Check out these helpful tips!

How can I tell the difference between a Christmas Cactus and an Easter Cactus?


This is probably the easiest way to make a quick ID on your cactus. Christmas Cacti are smooth to the touch. Easter Cacti have bristles (aka stickers) between each "leaf" segment and usually on the ends. If you want to have a feel for them, go ahead! The stickers aren't very stiff or pointy, so they won't hurt you.

"Leaf" Shape

In all technicality, Christmas and Easter Cacti don't really have leaves. Their "arms" are stems that come in flattened, leaflike segments. The shapes of these segments are a critical way to identify the difference between a Christmas Cactus and Easter Cactus!

Both have similar scallops, but they point in different directions. Christmas Cacti have tear-shaped scallops that point towards the end of the leaf. An Easter Cactus has more rounded scallops that point straight out from the center. As noted above, they also have bristles that stick out of each joint.

It's worth saying: if you have a cactus that has triangular, pronounced edges, you actually have a Thanksgiving Cactus (aka Crab Cactus). Don't be shocked, as they are prevalent and often mislabeled as Christmas Cactus. These cacti require very similar care as the Christmas Cactus.

Overall Cactus Shape & Size

The general size of the cactus can also help you identify the difference between a Christmas Cactus and Easter Cactus. Easter Cacti are usually much more petite. Chances are, if you are looking at a massive cactus with a subtle leaf shape, you're looking at a Christmas Cactus.

As far as the shape of the entire plant goes, look at the trajectory of the plant's arms. A Christmas Cactus begins by going upwards at the roots but droops significantly as the stem goes longer. Easter Cacti are generally more upright, staying bouncy and lifted.

Cacti Flowers

This is last on the list because if you haven't closely maintained your cactus, you may not have seen it flower since Day 1. But, these tips are worth considering, nonetheless!

Christmas Cacti have a tubular flower and come in a variety of colors. It makes sense because naturally, these cactus flowers would feed hummingbirds. Also, they have dark-colored anthers. (No, not antlers... anthers! They’re at the end of the stamen, where all the pollen is!)

An Easter Cactus has open, star-shaped flowers (imagine a pointy gerbera daisy) and yellow anthers. They also come in a variety of colors!

If you have successfully gotten your cacti to rebloom, this can also be a vital clue in identifying the difference between a Christmas Cactus and Easter Cactus! These plants were aptly named for the seasons they bloom in. So, if you have a cactus that blooms in the fall-winter months, you are likely dealing with a Christmas Cactus. Comparatively, if your plant flowers in the springtime, you have an Easter Cactus.

One Last Tip

Sometimes we can psyche ourselves out, especially if we feel like we've received an overload of information. So, if you feel like that, don't despair! Follow this unique tip: Inspect your plant blindfolded.

Okay, you don't actually have to be blindfolded, but at least close your eyes! Your sense of touch can do a lot to help you identify the difference between a Christmas Cactus and Easter Cactus without overthinking it! If you feel something prickly, you have an Easter Cactus!

Why is it important to know the difference between a Christmas Cactus and an Easter Cactus?

If you put the two plants next to each other, at first glance, they may look like identical twins. But in reality, these two cacti are just lookalikes because they aren't from the same scientific family.

While both cacti come from South America, they don't have the same hometown either. The Christmas Cactus is from the tropical jungle, while the Easter Cactus is from a drier forest region. Why does it matter? For one thing, Easter Cacti are much more sensitive to overwatering. Out of all three of the holiday cactus varieties, this cacti takes the crown as the most difficult to grow.

Contrastingly, Christmas Cactus enjoy humid, moist conditions. They also enjoy being misted!

The ultimate plant parent goal is to get your Cacti to rebloom. Understanding the difference between the Christmas Cactus and Easter Cactus is essential in reaching this goal! Christmas Cactus requires 6 weeks of shorter days to rebloom, while Easter Cactus requires 8-12 weeks of shorter days. What exactly do these "shorter days" consist of? 12-24 hours of darkness and cooler temperatures! These plants need VIP treatment 1-2 months before they bud. So, depending on which type of cactus you have, you will need to start this process at different times.

As long as you make a positive identification, and care for your cacti appropriately, your holiday cactus will be relatively easy to grow. They are both known for being heritage cacti; beautiful gifts that are passed on through generations.

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