Is a Christmas Cactus a Succulent? What to Know

Succulents are plants with thick fleshy stems or leaves that store water. This helps them survive in areas with high temperatures and low rainfall. All cacti including the Christmas cactus are succulents. However, cacti have few differences from the rest of the succulents.

The Christmas cactus is a member of the Schlumbergera genus, which also includes the Thanksgiving cactus and Easter cactus. These cacti are short-day plants that bloom during the winter holiday. This has made them popular houseplants in many homes across the world.

In summary here is what to know about Christmas cactus.

Botanical nameSchlumbergera bridgesii
Common namesChristmas cactus
Plant typePerennial succulent
Mature size6-12 in. tall, 12-24 in. wide
Light exposureBright indirect sunlight
Soil requirementsWell-draining 
Bloom timeMid December to January
Bloom colorRed, pink or white
Cold hardinessUSDA zones 9 to 11
ToxicityNon-toxic to pets and humans
Christmas cactus

Is Christmas cactus a succulent

Christmas cacti are epiphytes native to the tropical rainforests of Brazil where they grow on rocks or other plants. They have no true leaves, but flat fleshy stem segments that are photosynthetic. They can store water in their stems and this qualifies Christmas cacti as true succulents.

The stems are also responsible for providing support for the plant. Christmas cactus woody stem is a normal part of the plant aging process. As the cactus gets older, the stems become thicker and harder. This phenomenon we call cactus corking.

Christmas cacti stem are flat and typically green in color. This is typically to increase the surface area for photosynthesis. Epiphytic plants are not exposed to sufficient sunlight as plants that grow in an open place. All green plants need adequate light to manufacture sugars using water and carbon dioxide.

Differences between a cactus and succulents

While all cacti are classified as succulents, there are some key differences that make them unique from the rest of the succulents.

  1. Cacti belong to the Cactaceae family in the larger succulents category, while succulents are a more diverse group of plants comprising over 40 other different families.
  2. Cactuses have small, round bumps on their stems called areoles where spines, flowers, and new growth emerge. Succulents typically don’t have areoles.
  3. The majority of cacti are native to the Americas (Latin America and the US), while succulents are found all over the world including Asia and Africa.
  4. Cacti plants have adapted to being leafless and growing spines which helps in reducing water loss, whereas the rest of the succulents have true leaves.
  5. In cacti, stems are responsible for photosynthesis while in succulents, the food-making process takes place in leaves.

How to care for succulents including cacti

Both succulents and cacti are low-maintenance plants. They thrive in similar growth conditions and here is how to care for them.


Succulents including cacti prefer less watering. In fact, overwatering is one of the most common causes of death in many houseplants. The best time to water your succulents is when the soil is completely dry. Less watering is needed during the winter months.


Succulents need plenty of sunlight to thrive, at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. If you are growing Christmas cactus indoors, place it in a place that receives bright indirect sunlight such as the east-facing window. You may supplement lighting with artificial grow light if the location is not getting enough sunlight.

Soil type

Succulents thrive in well-draining soil. A good potting mix for succulents must be sandy and porous. You can add perlite or pumice to the potting mix to improve drainage. Additionally, use a pot with drainage holes when planting or repotting your succulent.


Succulents can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. However, most of them won’t survive frost. If you live in an area with cold winters, grow cold hardy cactus species. Otherwise, you may need to bring your cactus or succulent indoors to prevent frost damage.


Succulents aren’t heavy feeders, they don’t need to be fertilized very often. You can fertilize them once a month during the spring and summer months to boost growth and blooming. Use a balanced fertilizer that is diluted to half strength and apply as directed on the label.


Succulents growth is relatively slow but they will eventually outgrow their pots. When this happens, it is best to repot them into a larger pot. Be sure to use a succulent mix and a pot with drainage holes.

Common problems for succulents

All succulents are prone to root rot when overwatered. Succulents’ roots die and rot when they can’t get enough oxygen. Excess water occupies all the air pockets in the soil resulting in this problem. Additionally, fungi that cause root rot thrive in damp soil conditions.

Root rot is a severe condition and most affected plants gradually wilt and die. While root rot is difficult to treat, you can try to save the plant by removing the damaged roots and repotting it in a fresh soil mix.

Succulents are relatively resistant to pests. However, they can be susceptible to mealybugs, scale, and root rot. It’s important to inspect your succulents regularly. If you see any signs of pests treat with neem oil or insecticidal soap.

Final Thought

All succulents are low-maintenance plants that can thrive in drought conditions. They come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. If you don’t like cactus thorns then choose the other succulents. There are also cacti without spines that you can go for including the Christmas cactus.

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