Easter Cactus: How it Differs from Christmas Cactus

easter cactusRecently you described Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus. Could you give some more details on the third plant you mentioned, Easter cactus?

Answer: An Easter cactus, also known as a spring cactus or Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri or Hatiora gaetneri, is one of three popular holiday cacti—alongside the previously mentioned Thanksgiving and Christmas species. With reference to their namesake, Easter cacti typically bloom in spring, around the time of Easter.

All of the holiday cacti originate from the tropics of South America, where they can be found naturally growing on trees. Given this, they all share another common name besides “holiday cacti,” which is “jungle cacti.”

An Easter cactus is really similar to the other holiday varieties; however, there are ways to tell them apart. One easy way to determine the species is the blooming season. Easter cacti bloom in spring, starting to reveal flower buds in February and flowering from March through May. Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti bloom in late fall or winter, with Thanksgiving varieties typically blooming a month earlier than the Christmas ones.

Besides varying bloom seasons, another way to separate the holiday cacti is by studying the edges of their leaf segments. In the previous post I mentioned that Christmas cacti have smooth, round edges and Thanksgiving cacti have pointy, jagged ones; well, Easter cacti are known for the bristles that can be found on the edges of their leaf segments. The flowers of the spring variety also seem to be more star-shaped in their form, but have the radiant shades of colors typically found in all three species: reds, pinks and purples, with some cultivars showcasing a pure white flower.

Each holiday species typically has the same growing conditions: shorter days and longer periods of uninterrupted darkness to promote flowering, with well-drained soil. One thing to consider, especially with the Easter cacti, is how much water they need. Easter species are especially sensitive to overwatering, which can cause great damage to the plants. Make sure you wait until the soil in the pot is dry before watering it.

Whether you prefer an Easter, Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus, all three offer wonderful displays of vivacious, tropical beauty, sure to bring a little festive joy throughout the holiday seasons.
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