Zygocactus vs Christmas Cactus – How to Tell The Difference

Zygocactus also known as Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) is a popular holiday plant that blooms in late November. It commonly sells as a “Christmas cactus” in various stores during the holidays and most people fail to differentiate it from the true Christmas cactus.

The main difference between zygocactus and Christmas cactus is in the shape of their “leaves”. Zygocactus has pointy, claw-shaped projections on the edges of the stem segments while the Christmas cactus leaf edges are more scalloped.

True Christmas cactus (schlumbergera bridgesii) is also a short-day plant that blooms in mid-December around Christmas. It resembles the zygocactus in many ways including care and maintenance needs. In both, flower buds form at the tips of the segments and open into bright colors (white, pink, purple).

In summary here are the differences between zygocactus and Christmas cactus.

FeatureZygocactusChristmas cactus
Botanical nameSchlumbergera truncataSchlumbergera bridgesii
Common nameThanksgiving cactusChristmas cactus
Bloom timeNovember to DecemberDecember to January
Leaf shapePointy projections on edgesMore scalloped edges.
Zygocactus vs Christmas cactus

Christmas cactus vs zygocactus

The Christmas cactus and zygocactus are all epiphytic plants native to the tropical rainforest of Brazil. They all bloom around the winter and this makes them popular holiday plants. They are commonly sold in stores as “ Christmas cactus” but you can also cultivate them.

There are a few notable differences between these two-holiday cacti, including:

Leaf shape

Christmas cactus and zygocactus have no true leaves, instead, they have stem segments that are commonly referred to as leaves. Christmas cactus has green smooth leaves with more scalloped edges. Zygocactus, on the other hand, has claw-like projections on the edges of its leaves.

Bloom time

There is also a slight difference in their blooming time for the true and false Christmas cactus. Zygocactus blooms early in the season. With colorful blooms starting in late November to early December, typically around the Thanksgiving holiday.

On the other hand Christmas cactus blooms in mid-December to early January. Under good care of the blooms, flowing can extend to mid-January.

Video by Flower Patch Farmhouse

Christmas cactus and zygocactus care indoors

Both Christmas cactus and zygocactus cacti have similar care needs. They all prefer bright indirect light, well-draining soil, and regular watering but not overwatering.

Here are tips for growing a zygocactus or Christmas cactus indoors.

  • Place your plant in an east-facing window so it gets bright, indirect light. These cacti are adapted to cooler forest conditions and exposing them to direct sunlight may cause stress that results in plant wilting, leaves drooping, or shriveling.
  • Water your cactus deeply, but allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Both Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus are prone to root rot when overwatered.
  • Fertilize your plant every month during the growing season with a balanced plant fertilizer such as 10-10-10.
  • Reduce the amount of water and fertilizer you give your plant in the fall to encourage bud formation.
  • Provide your plant with 12 to 14 hours of complete darkness daily 6 to 8 weeks before when you expect your cactus to bloom. For Zygocactus, you may start the darkness process as early as the start of fall.
  • You may prune your plant during spring to encourage more growth and blooming. Be sure to use clean pruning shears.
  • You can also propagate your holiday cactus from healthy cuttings to get more plants that you can gift to friends and family members.
  • Repot your plant every two to three years after flowering, or when it outgrows its pot. Be sure to use well-drained succulent soil and a pot with drainage holes.

Common problems

Both Christmas cactus and zygocactus are susceptible to root rot when overwatered. This is a condition caused by excess moisture around the plant roots. When cactus roots can’t get enough oxygen, they rot and die. Further damp soil conditions encourage the growth of fungi that causes root rot.

Root rot can be prevented by watering your cactus only when the top inch of the soil is dry. You can check this by inserting a finger in the soil to check the moisture level. However, be careful not to underwater your Christmas cactus as it can also affect the plant’s health.

Neglected plants can also be infested with insect pests including mealybugs, aphids, scale, and fungus gnats. It is very important to inspect the plants regularly and treat for pests discovered. In most cases, insect pests can be controlled with neem oil or insecticidal soap.

Which should you choose?

Which to choose between the Christmas cactus and the zygocactus will depend on your personal preference and when you want your cactus to bloom. If you need blooms around Thanksgiving, then Zygocactus is a good choice. If you want to brighten up the dull winter, then Christmas cactus is a good choice.


Holiday Cactus: A Case of Mistaken Identity – Integrated Pest Management University of Missouri.

Commercial Production of Holiday Cacti – University of Massachusetts Amherst

Holiday cactus – Wisconsin Horticulture Division of Extension

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