Is Christmas Cactus A Succulent? [What’s The Difference?]

Determining the type of plant you have in your landscape can sometimes be confusing. For example, do you have a Christmas cactus but don't know whether it qualifies as a succulent or not? Is there a difference between having a succulent and a cactus? Are they the same?

Luckily, we've done plenty of research and have the answers to these questions!

Yes, a Christmas cactus is considered a succulent. Since it can hold water in its leaves, your Christmas cactus does fall into a succulent classification. Furthermore, your cactus is succulent because it gathers water in its stem, roots, and leaves.

Again, this is still a cactus but also falls into the broader succulent family.

As we start this article, we will cover all things Christmas cacti and discuss whether you can also call one a succulent. If you recently planted a Christmas cactus, want to grow one, or have other questions, we're here to assist. With that said, let's dive right into this topic!

Is A Christmas Cactus Considered A Succulent?

Beautiful blooming christmas cactus in pot on wooden table

Yes, the Christmas cactus is considered a succulent. An interesting detail about these plants is that they aren't technically true cactuses. Since the Christmas cactus can store a good amount of water in its leaves, that makes it more of a succulent.

Generally, a cactus will have needle-like spines holding water in its fleshy stems. Cacti don't usually have leaves, although some varieties, like the Christmas cactus, do.

Therefore, you can consider this species a bit of a hybrid, falling into the cactus and succulent category. According to the University of Georgia, Christmas cacti are a popular subject of controversy and debate among gardeners because of their hybrid status.

Not all succulents will be cacti, so it can be tricky for some to understand when this happens. Regardless Christmas cactus should grow in similar conditions to regular cacti, so they're very similar.

What Kind Of Plant Is A Christmas Cactus?

Christmas cactus flower on the windowsill

For anyone wondering what the exact "type" of plant, their Christmas cactus is, this species (hybrid Schlumbergera ×buckleyi) falls into the popular Cactaceae family.

As we covered above, Christmas cacti can be tricky to determine, but they are succulent and cactus species by definition. Even though these festive plants don't have the typical needles of a cactus, you can still safely call one that name.

Moreover, these plants store water for extended periods in their leaves, similar to how cacti do this in their fleshy stems. According to Planet Natural, you also want to factor in that Christmas cacti aren't 100% drought-tolerant.

Since they aren't the same as a traditional cactus species, you must water them routinely. Since they're usually houseplants, this won't be an issue, but it is something to consider.

Are Succulents The Same Thing As Cactuses?

Although the two share many similarities and growing patterns, succulents and cactuses are different. As we covered above, a succulent tend to store water in its leaves, while a cactus does this in its fleshy stems.

In addition, cacti are a subcategory within a group of plants known collectively as succulents. So, by that logic, all cacti are succulents, but not every succulent is a cactus.

By definition, a succulent can store water in its leaves/stems. Succulents hold moisture inside of themselves, while regular plants depend on their roots and the soil.

Again, this can feel like overkill to some, but it's always good to understand the differences and subcategories of cacti and succulent species.

On top of that, experts claim that cacti are essentially more developed succulents, able to withstand drought for long periods. So think of a cactus as a more drought-friendly succulent to simplify things.

Can A Christmas Cactus Survive Drought?

Hand holding christmas cactus plant on the plastic pot

Although they have cactus in their name, your Christmas cacti won't be able to go more than two weeks without water. As we mentioned, this succulent species needs watering and can't survive without moisture as a traditional cactus will.

That's because your Christmas cactus isn't equipped to go months without moisture. Therefore, leaving one to fend for itself in dry conditions can prove to be deadly.

Purdue University says a Christmas cactus isn't nearly as drought-friendly as its other desert relatives. Again, it should fare better than a typical non-succulent species but isn't quite drought-tolerant yet.

If you forget to water a Christmas cactus for extended periods, you will notice its leaves drop and wilt under stress, so that's a tell-tale sign.

Additionally, you want to feel the top inch of dirt surrounding your Christmas cactus, adding water if it feels dry.

Where Do You Grow Christmas Cactus?

You want to grow a Christmas cactus somewhere out of the direct sun but with enough daily light exposure. Although this is a desert plant for many, Christmas cacti prefer moisture in their air and don't like the sun beating down on them for too long.

According to garden pros, Christmas cacti typically respond best to indirect light and humid conditions. Furthermore, you can grow your cactus inside if you live somewhere cold, making it a perfect houseplant.

Generally, you'll need to live in USDA zones nine or higher to keep Christmas cacti outdoors year-round, so check the chart for your location. Ideally, you will grow this succulent in zones 9-11 outside.

For inside growers, we recommend having your Christmas cactus in a north or east-facing window, as it won't be too hot or bright throughout the afternoon.

Sometimes, too much sun can damage your plant, so try and protect it somewhat.

Can I Grow A Christmas Cactus In Full Shade?

Surprisingly enough, a Christmas cactus may be able to adapt to mostly shade. However, you want to make sure your succulent is somewhere with bright light, even if this is mainly in the shade.

That's because this cactus needs energy and nutrients from the sun to grow. Like most plant species, your Christmas cactus will need at least some sun to bloom correctly and mature.

So, if you want to plant it in your home or garden, aim for at least a couple of hours of light daily. Without this, you could have a leggy or unhealthy cactus, which won't be as beautiful as one in better light conditions.

According to Almanac, you can also get away with having a Christmas cactus in the shade until the temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once it becomes colder than that, your plant needs to be moved into a warmer location with brighter light.

How Big Do Christmas Cactus Get?

How big do christmas cactus get

In general, a Christmas cactus won't grow very large. You can expect one to become between six and 12 inches tall and nearly 1-2 feet wide upon full maturity.

These cacti make for excellent ground-covering plants as they fill the space around them. Therefore, if you want to plant a few in your landscape, you can expect for them to fill the surrounding two feet within a few years.

Two feet of width can make a difference if you don't plan for it, so try and leave room for your cactus. Gardeners often forget to do this, leading to a misshapen or invasive Christmas cactus.

It's also worth noting that these succulents grow rather quickly, often reaching their full potential in under 4-5 years. So, even though a Christmas cactus won't be massive, it will cover a nice plot of land and grows relatively quickly.

How Long Does Christmas Cactus Live?

You can usually expect a Christmas cactus to live upwards of 100 years. Of course, that can be hard to track in our lifetime, but these succulents are known to live and thrive for decades.

Many people know this plant as a festive winter variety, but the Christmas cactus is very popular throughout the four seasons for gardeners.

With that said, for most Christmas cacti indoors or growing in subpar conditions, don't expect such a lengthy lifespan. According to experts, this species will survive for around 30 or so years for most people, which is still incredibly impressive.

If you've ever tried growing succulents inside, you may notice them dying after a few years. That's because many desert plants require certain outdoor elements to thrive: the Christmas cactus does not.

This all comes down to how well you care for your Christmas cactus, but don't be surprised if it outlives the other plants in your garden.

Are Christmas Cactus Perennials?

Christmas cactus on the pot ontop of the wooden table

Yes! Most times, a Christmas cactus will come back each year. You can expect a Christmas cactus to survive long-term as a perennial if you make sure it doesn't become too cold.

As we covered above, this species must be kept in weather above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. For example, it may die if you grow a Christmas cactus outdoors and leave it in the winter snow and ice.

In that case, you would need to bring your plant indoors until the spring. Many gardeners make the mistake of leaving their Christmas cacti outside through the colder months, which can be deadly.

So, if you want your cactus to grow as a perennial, bring it inside once the weather drops below 50.

To Finish Up

Whether you have a Christmas cactus or want one, it's always good to know how to classify it. From what we found, a Christmas cactus falls into the succulent category, as it can store water inside its leaves.

In addition, these desert plants are not drought-tolerant, which can be confusing as they are also cacti. Therefore, you don't want to go more than 14 days without giving your Christmas cactus water.

It's also essential that these succulent hybrids get bright indirect light and don't become colder than 50 degrees. We recommend bringing your plant indoors during winter to keep it healthy!

While we have your attention, check out these related garden articles below:

4 Houseplants That Don’t Need Drainage [& How To Grow Any Plant with No Drainage]

11 Types Of Echeveria You Should Consider For Your Succulent Garden

15 Low-Growing Border Plants You Should Consider

Is Christmas Cactus A Succulent? [What's The Difference?]

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