What’s a succulent plant

People often use the terms succulents and cacti interchangeably, which is scientifically incorrect. Understanding the relation between the two will help properly distinguish them and help with identification.

Succulents are plants that store water in their stems, roots, and leaves. There are about 60 different plant families within the group of succulents, including aloe, haworthia, sedum, sempervivum, and of course, cacti. Cacti are fleshy plants that store water, making them part of this group. Therefore, all cacti are succulents.

Cacti are simply a family, or sub-category within the group of plants collectively known as succulents. They range from tall and thin to short and round, and they usually do not have leaves or branches. In order for a succulent plant to be considered a cactus, the plant must have areoles. Areoles are small, round, cushion-like mounds of flesh where spines, hair, leaves, flowers, and more grow from the cactus. Areoles are only present on cacti, not all succulents.

Some succulents are often mistaken for cacti because they have thorns or spines, but these characteristics do not automatically qualify a succulent as a cactus. The areoles are the key to distinguishing the two. Without areoles, the succulent cannot be a cactus.

It seems pretty straight forward, right? Well, there is a small grey area when distinguishing succulents from cacti. Scientifically, cacti are considered succulents, yet some botanists and horticulturists categorize the two differently. Botanists categorize cacti as succulents, where as some horticulturists exclude cacti from succulents. We just wanted to cover all of the bases, but in general…all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.

What is the difference between cactus and succulent? A cactus is the only plant that can sit in a blazing south window where the sun pours in, magnified through the glass. A succulent is any plant that stores water in juicy leaves, stems or roots in order to withstand periodic drought. Some people exclude fleshy plants such as epiphytic orchids, some include desert plants that are not fleshy (yuccas, puyas).

Cactus (cacti is the Latin plural of cactus) is simply a succulent that can store moisture but is placed in a separate category (Cactaceae). Conversely, not all succulents are cactus. Succulents do not belong to one plant family but are represented in over 40 botanical families that are spread around the world and include close relatives of the pointsetta, geranium, lily, grape, amaryllis, crassula, daisy, milkweed.

Cactus comes from the word kaktos (spiny plant), used by ancient Greeks to describe a species that turned out to be not a cactus at all but a type of artichoke. 2000 years later Linnaeus (the plant classifier) adopted the name Cactaceae to embrace a group of plants whose peculiar traits included fleshy stems that served to store water, prickly or hairy coverings and few, if any, leaves.

You can easily identify cacti. With rare exception, they do not have leaves–as the result of their struggle to survive. They have stems modified into cylinders, pads or joints that store water in times of drought. Thick skin reduces evaporation. Most species have spines or bristles for protection against browsing animals, but there are some without spines; and several have long hair or a wooly covering instead. Flowers are usually large and brightly colored. Fruit may be colorful and sometimes edible.

All cacti do have leaves in their seedling stage. And some sprout small leaves on new growth for a short time each spring. As changing climate conditions turned native habitats into deserts, most cacti gradually lost their leaves, which evaporated too much scarce water into the dry air. Instead, they began to store available water in their stems. Many can change their shape to adjust the area of their evaporation surfaces to varying conditions. Accordian-like ribs can expand when moisture is plentiful and contract during times of drought.

Most succulents (i.e. aloes, hawthorias, crassula, echeveria) evolved under less severe conditions than cacti in areas where rainy seasons were followed by long dry periods. Most have leaves. To tide them over the dry spells, their leaves gradually became fattened by water-storing tissues and their leaves became covered with a waxy or horny material that reduces evaporation from the surface.

The Cactus (Cactaceae) family ranges from Canada through Central America and the West Indies, and south to the cold areas of Chile and Patagonia (southern end of South America). Perhaps Mexico has the richest collection, but many are also found in the western deserts of the United States and high in the Cordilleras of Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.

Most succulents come from desert or semi-desert areas in warmer parts of the world (Mexico, South Africa). Some (sedums, sempervivums) come from colder climates where they grow on sunny, rocky slopes and ledges. Although the deserts of the world have many succulents, not all succulents are desert plants. They exist on mountains, in jungles and near lakes and seas. The semi-arid regions of North and South America, Asia and Africa all have succulents, but many also dwell in the rain forests. In the mountains, there are succulents that thrive despite bitter cold, strong winds and poor soil. Succulents and their native lands include: Aeonium: Africa, Canary and Madeira Islands; Agave: the Americas; Aloe: Africa, the Mediterranean, Atlantic islands; Cotyledon: semi-arid regions of Africa; Crassula: mostly Africa; Dudleya: coastal California and Mexico; Echeveria: the Americas; Faucaria: South Africa; Gasteria: South Africa; Hawthoria: South Africa; Kalanchoe: tropical regions of America, Africa and Southeast Asia; Sanseveria: Africa and India; Sempervivum: Central and Southern Europe, Asia Minor, North Africa.

The main difference between cactus and succulent is that cactus consists of areoles and no leaves whereas succulent contains fleshy leaves and no areoles. Another important difference between cactus and succulent is that cactus is adapted to live in desert conditions while the leaves of succulent store more water, adapting to semi-desert conditions. Furthermore, cactus is a type of succulent.

Cactus and Succulent are two types of flowering plants adapted to live in dry environments. Succulent stores water in their stem, roots, and leaves. Some succulents include aloe, sedum, haworthia, sempervivum, as well as cacti. The main characteristic feature of cactus is the presence of areoles.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Cactus
– Definition, Facts, Characteristics
2. What is Succulent
– Definition, Types, Characteristics
3. What are the Similarities Between Cactus and Succulent
– Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Cactus and Succulent
– Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms: Areoles, Cactus, Fleshy Leaves, Habitat, Spines, Succulent

What is Cactus

Cactus refers to a succulent plant with a thick fleshy stem, which typically bears spines, but lacks leaves. It belongs to the family Cactaceae. Cactus ranges from Canada through Central America and the West Indies, and south to the cold areas of Chile and Patagonia. The richest collection of cactus is found in Mexico. Cactus does not have leaves as an adaptation to desert conditions. The cylinder-like body stores water. Moreover, the thick skin of the plant reduces the evaporation of water. Most cactus species consist of spines or bristles to protect against the browsing animals. Instead, the other cactus species consists of woolly covering or long hair.

Figure 1: Rebutia muscula

Cactus is characterized by the presence of areoles, which are small, rounded, fleshy, cushion-like mounds. The spines, hairs as well as the flowers arise from the areoles. Typically, cactus grows as pot plants.

What is Succulent

Succulent refers to a plant with thick fleshy leaves or stems adapted to storing water. Aloe, sedum, haworthia, sempervivum, and cacti are different types of succulents. Most succulents are adapted to semi-desert conditions. They grow in areas with rainy seasons followed by dry periods. The leaves, stem, and roots of succulents are fleshy since they store water in the sap. The waxy or horny material that covers the plant body reduces evaporation. Apart from semi-dried areas, some succulents grow on mountains, forests, and near lakes and sea.

Figure 2: Astroloba tenax

Similarities Between Cactus and Succulent

  • Cactus and succulents are plants that live in dry environments.
  • Both can store moisture, and both contain thick, fleshy parts.
  • The spiny thrones of both plants protect them from predators and other browsing animals.
  • They can be grown from seeds.

Difference Between Cactus and Succulent


Cactus: A succulent plant with a thick fleshy stem, which typically bears spines, but lacks leaves

Succulent: A plant with thick fleshy leaves or stems adapted to storing water

Found in

Cactus: Indigenous from Alaska to Chile in the Western Hemisphere

Succulent: Native to most parts of the world


Cactus: Present

Succulent: Absent


Cactus: Absent

Succulent: Present

Type of Dry Conditions

Cactus: Desert conditions

Succulent: Semi-desert conditions

Store Water

Cactus: In the stem

Succulent: In leaves, stem, and roots


Cactus is a desert plant with areoles and no leaves. Succulent is a semi-desert plant with fleshy leaves and no areoles. Cactus is a type of succulent. Both cactus and succulent are adapted to live in dry environments by storing water. The main difference between cactus and succulent is the structure and habitat.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Rebutia muscula” By No machine-readable author provided. Chilepine assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims). (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Astroloba tenax 6” By S Molteno – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia

HOW TO: Know the difference between Succulents & Cacti

Planting is a key ingredient to the success of whether a succulent or cacti can survive. A clay pot is recommended with a hole in the bottom that is covered with rocks or broken clay pieces. The pot should be ½ the width of the height of the plant that is to be potted. Make sure you use a soil that is meant for cacti or succulents. You can mix your own, but you need to mix sand with soil. This can be tricky, so make sure you follow some key instructions from a nursery. When you first buy your plant, do not water immediately – wait a week and then just dampen the soil, do not soak it. *Stay tuned for our next posting about watering tips for cacti and succulents. One quick hint: when planting cacti, wear leather gloves to protect yourself from the pricks!

When taking care of cacti or succulent, remember they are water-filled plants so when looking at your plant it should look plump and filled with water. If not and it looks puckered, then water it but remove any standing water that has developed in bottom of the cactus stalk.

And don’t forget – if you still have questions or need advice on what to plant or where to put your new buddy – we are here to help. Just ask and we will help you create your perfect desert oasis.

Do you know the difference between a cactus and a succulent? Although we often use the terms succulents and cacti interchangeably, that is scientifically incorrect.

Read on to understand the difference between the two so you can better identify and care for them.

What is a Succulent?

Succulents are a group of plants that store water in their leaves, roots or stems. Some plant families within the group of succulents include aloe, haworthia, sedum, sempervivum, and of course, cacti.

What is a Cactus?

Cacti are fleshy plants that store moisture and are a sub-category of the succulent plant family. In order for a succulent plant to be considered a cactus, the plant must have areoles. Areoles are small, round, cushion-like mounds of flesh where spines, thorns, hair, leaves, or flowers grow from the cactus. Areoles are only present on cacti, not all succulents.

The Rebutia senilis features the clusters of small cacti and flowers that are typical of older, established Rebutia. These excellent cacti are great for beginners. Photo © WallyGrom/Flickr

Key Takeaway

To recap, all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti!

Can you plant succulents & cacti together?

Whether you decide to adopt a giant spined cactus or a tiny succulent, the way succulents and cactus are potted can mean the difference between failure and success.

Since most members of both cacti and succulent families are native to dry, low- moisture environments, they both require very bright light, well-drained garden sites or container potting soils, and only occasional watering. Although there is one slight caveat: If you plant succulents and cacti together, keep in mind that cacti need to be watered less often than other succulents!

To enjoy your succulent, cacti or combination of both for years to come, Denise Levine, U. C. Master Gardener suggests not to water a newly repotted cactus or succulent immediately. Give it at least a week before you water unless you are repotting a very young plant. Then dampen the soil, but don’t soak, and remove any standing water that has developed in the bottom of the stalk, pot, or container.

Key Takeaway

Yes, you can plant succulents and cacti together, just remember that cacti need to be watered less often than succulents.

So, the next time you look at a succulent, look to see if they have areoles. If it does, it’s probably a cactus!

Want more advice on potting your succulents? Check out our complete guide to plant and maintain a succulent container garden for more tips and resources.

One Thing I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started a Succulent Garden

mini-succulent-plants Getty Images

Succulents are amazing additions to gardens, indoor and out. The photo-worthy plants come in almost every color of the rainbow—red, blue, orange, purple, and, of course, green—which means they can provide a brilliant pop of color to any setting. They look lovely lining a window sill or as a centerpiece for a breakfast table or in a container in a corner of the garden. They are incredibly popular right now, popping up on Pinterest and HGTV shows and everywhere in between. There is one thing about them that no one talks about, though: They are a bit finicky.

Succulents, which are related to cacti (thorns are the main way to tell the cousins apart), originally came from a dry, desert environment, so transplanting them to the South can prove to be a challenge. While they are frequently touted as nearly-indestructible, if you’re still working on your gardening merit badge, so to speak, succulents can require some special attention—not too much sun, not too much water, not too much soil. See? Finicky.

Succulent owners must learn to balance the plant’s love of dry climate and the need for water, as it can be very easy to overwater a succulent. Some succulents can go days or weeks without water, while others require a more regular water schedule. One trick is to take a chopstick or similar implement and push it into the soil surrounding the succulent, similarly to the way bakers test to see if a cake is done. If soil is clinging to the stick, no need to water. If your plant does need water, be sure not to water the leaves, instead only get the soil wet.

As for that soil, most succulents like a well-draining soil, requiring a mix of sand and gravel or a deep understanding of how well the soil in your garden drains.

While succulents are desert plants, not all of them do well in full sun. Instead they prefer a little shade, and while you’re at it some good air flowing around them, too.

Also keep in mind that not all succulents are created equally—some are hardy and live outdoors happily year-round, others need to be indoor houseplants especially come winter outdoors. Yucca and agave can do well outdoors, and according to the Washington Post, other outdoor options include stonecrop (also known as sedum) and house leeks, while Christmas cactus and jade plants do best indoors. They also note that mixing indoor and outdoor varieties can spell disaster as they have different needs. Mother Nature Network suggests choosing succulents for the landscape based on their hardiness for your USDA zone.

WATCH: How To Propagate Succulents

Succulents are generally pest resistant, but not always. Outside succulents can attract aphids and develop scale, while inside they can be plagued with fungus gnats, woolly aphids, or spider mites. If your plant is doing poorly, swing by your local nursery for suggestions.

Once you get the knack for these adorable plants, though, they can be easy to maintain and great for decorating with. When you learn the tricks, perhaps you can pass on your knowledge to someone else earning their green thumb.

How to build an indoor succulent garden

Believe it or not, there’s an almost indestructible type of plant that virtually anyone can grow. This is true whether you’re a non-gardener, a would-be gardener, a forgetful gardener or a truly awful gardener cursed with the blackest of black thumbs. If you’re wondering what in the world this plant could be, welcome to the forgiving world of succulents.

The reason anyone should be able to grow succulents is that if you follow a few simple guidelines, all you need to do is leave them alone. They won’t need much help after you’ve potted them up, especially when it comes to watering. That’s because succulents are from arid regions and their leaves and stems have evolved through the eons with the capacity to store water so they can survive extremely dry conditions. This is a particularly advantageous characteristic because American homes typically have humidity so low that it has been compared to that of the Sahara Desert. It’s not particularly good for people or most of their houseplants, but it’s ideal for succulents.

Are you familiar with one of the latest trends in home décor and flower arrangements? You may not guess it because it’s incorporating plants known as succulents.

These unique plants are an excellent choice for use as a centerpiece, as a houseplant, or even to be incorporated in your edging and container gardens.

They do well in dryer climates, require only minimal watering, and can take higher temperatures as well. There are many varieties of succulents, and I’m going to share a few favorites with you.

If you are ready to create your own terrarium or succulent garden, then here are your different options for choosing the succulent which will best fit you and your decorative needs:

1. Burro’s Tail

via worldofsucculents.com

You guessed it. This plant gets its name because it looks similar to the tail of a burro. It can grow to be approximately four inches in length and is a type of cacti.

Beyond its unique appearance, this is a great choice for a succulent plant because it propagates easily and is low-maintenance as well. If you need a no-fuss houseplant, this could be what you need.

2. Crown of Thorns

via planetdesert.com

Don’t let the name of this succulent scare you away. It’s a wonderful indoor plant because of its unique ability to adapt to typical indoor climates and temperatures quickly.

However, you should grow this plant on a windowsill whenever possible. It needs around three to four hours of sunlight daily. Don’t overdo it on the watering either. This plant should only have water added to the soil when it’s quite dry.

3. Flaming Katy

via squarerooms.com

If you keep your home between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, this could be another great indoor option for a succulent in your home. This plant doesn’t handle cold well at all. For this reason, it does best indoors in most climates.

It’s a good idea to grow this plant on a windowsill too because it needs approximately eight to ten hours of sunlight per day. This succulent will flower, and the more sunlight it receives, the more blooms you should see.

4. Jade Plant

The Jade Plant is a unique succulent. It looks like a miniature tree at first glance. The Jade plant has a thick trunk growing in its center. From there, branches sprawl out off of the trunk which gives it the appearance of a tree.

However, know its unique characteristics stop there. If you raise this variety in the proper setting, it’ll produce pink and white star-shaped flowers.

5. Aloe Vera

The Aloe Vera should be a familiar plant to many people. We typically see images of it on store shelves on the skincare aisle. Aloe Vera has fantastic healing properties which work wonders on burned or irritated skin.

However, this plant has a unique appearance because of its thick and pointy leaves. But if you like to keep a plant on hand which can offer natural healing, this could be a great succulent to incorporate into your life.

6. Panda Plant

Do you love Pandas and their adorable appearance? I’m on board with you because they’re amazing creatures. This plant is named after a Panda because of the distinct markings on the tips of the leaves.

Also, this succulent is covered with fur as well. The Panda plant has a small stature which makes it a good choice if you need to squeeze a plant into a smaller location or even a planter. It can fit practically anywhere.

7. Pincushion Cactus

I love when people grow this style of cactus because it brings back memories of my great grandmother. She grew a Pincushion Cactus in her bathroom window for years. It was unique and a special memory I only incorporate with her.

If you’re looking for a pointy cactus which will only grow to be around six inches or less, this could be your plant. It also produces pretty, colorful blooms on it as well. If I noticed it as a small child, you know this plant can draw the eye.

8. Roseum

via Amazon

The Roseum is a unique plant you’ll want to consider. It only grows to be approximately six inches in height. Because of its small stature, it’s an excellent choice for a container garden or for growing indoors on a windowsill.

Keep in mind, this plant prefers partial shade and can be eye-catching too. It produces star-shaped flowers which are a vibrant pink color.

9. Snake Plant

via houseplantcare.blogspot.com

If the name of this plant doesn’t draw your attention, no worries, the plant itself will certainly do the job. It is a plant perfect for growing indoors. It has qualities which allow the plant to purify the air in your home, naturally.

But the best part about this plant is how low-maintenance it is. If you have a room with poor lighting, this plant can thrive there, and it can survive for more extended periods of time with no water. To those who are famous for neglecting their houseplant, this plant is the one for you!

10. Zebra Plant

The Zebra plant is another succulent option which tells you how it was given its name after one look at it. This plant has stripes all over it which quickly remind you of a zebra. If you’re looking for a small succulent to grow indoors, this plant is for you.

It only grows to be about five to six inches tall. Keep in mind; you should grow this plant in a small planter because it has shallow roots. But once you get the plant settled in, be prepared to be amazed. It produces dazzling yellow flowers.

11. Hens and Chicks

Years ago, before I began gardening, my mother-in-law gave me one of these plants. She had been growing it and had propagated it. At the time, I was confused because I hadn’t seen a plant quite like this one.

Now, I’m intrigued. These plants are incredibly low-maintenance and propagate exceptionally easily. The Hen is the original plant, but they produce other plants quickly, referred to as the chicks. If this isn’t fascinating enough to make you want to grow this succulent yourself, they also produce pretty red flowers when properly cared for.

12. Stone Crop

There are two different varieties of this succulent. The first is a tall sedum, and it grows to be one to three feet tall. The other variation is known as creeping sedum. This should be grown on the ground as it likes to sprawl out.

Either way, they come in a variety of colors. You can choose between green, pink, silver, and blue. It’s a great way to add a splash of color to your home with little to no fuss.

13. Whale’s Tongue Agave

via gardenia.net

This plant is a unique option. It produces large, flat green leaves which is where the plant gets its name. They look like a whale’s tongue.

But the plant itself only grows to be about two to five feet in height, but it gets to be about three to six feet wide. It’s important to water this succulent regularly to encourage it to produce spikes which reach 10-14 feet in height. At the end of the spikes are gorgeous flowers.

14. Ball Cactus

This succulent is another one which is obvious where its name derived from. It’s a round cactus which looks exactly like a ball… only with spikes. The plant will grow to be only one to two feet high.

If you’re looking for a unique succulent to add to a container garden, this is a wonderful option. It also produces flowers in clusters which will add to its glamour.

15. Plush Plant

via flowerpictures.org

This succulent is one who prefers partial shade. You can plant it outdoors or incorporate it into your container garden.

However, it’s an attractive plant because of the gorgeous yellowish blooms it produces. If you need an eye-catching succulent to finish the look of your home décor, this could be it.

16. Dudleya

via sfgate.com

Dudleya isn’t your average succulent. If you’re someone who commonly kills houseplants, consider this plant because it will amaze you. It has over 40 different varieties to choose from.

However, this plant can live to be 100 years old when cared for properly. Clearly, it has a desire to thrive. Remember when watering, though, it doesn’t like to have its leaves get wet. You should only water it from the bottom.

17. Pig’s Ear

via highcountrygardens.com

We have yet another succulent choice which is named from what the plant resembles. The leaves of this succulent plant look similar to pigs’ ears. It can grow to be roughly four feet tall.

Beyond its unique shaped leaves, this plant has one more surprise up its sleeve. When the colder months set in, this succulent will sprout red or yellow flowers at the end of its stem.

18. Zwartkop

via plantrescue.co.nz

Don’t let the name of this one scare you off. If you can’t pronounce it, stick with its other name. It’s called ‘the black rose.’ The reason being is it looks almost identical to a large black rose.

This plant prefers full sun and does well grown outdoors. It also produces yellow flowers during the winter months.

19. Sunburst

via anniesannuals.com

The Sunburst produces yellow flowers which grow in a circle around the center of the plant. It looks like a burst of the sun when you’re gazing at it.

The Sunburst plant also produces rosettes. They’ll bloom white flowers over the summer months to give it an even more interesting look.

20. Torch Plant

via succulents.us

This plant is related to the aloe vera plant which is why they look similar. However, this plant doesn’t have the medicinal properties of the aloe vera plant.

But it does have green leaves which get darker in the sun. The plant produces orange blossoms in the summer months at the end of its long stems. These blooms cause the plant to look like a glowing torch.

21. Common Glasswort

via datuopinion.com

This variety of succulent is quite unique. Its known as ‘Poor Man’s Asparagus.’ If you didn’t already piece it together, it not only looks like the vegetable, but this is also an edible version of a succulent.

However, it’s said this plant should be pickled before eating to enjoy it at its best flavor. Try it and see what your thoughts are.

22. Sweetheart Hoya

via ourhouseplants.com

This is another unique choice for a succulent. Would you imagine it produces leaves which are almost perfectly heart-shaped?

For this reason, many refer to it as the Valentine plant. It would make a unique and gorgeous Valentine’s Day gift.

23. Agave Azul

via boethingtreeland.com

This agave plant looks similar to the Whale’s Tongue Agave, but it has smaller leaves. Every time I hear the name of this plant my mind immediately goes to our local Mexican restaurant.

It has some of the best food around, and the sign on the door has this plant on it. Any guess as to why? Well, if you knew this plant is the key ingredient in tequila it all adds up. If you’re into making your own tequila, this succulent could be a great option.

24. Ponytail Palm

via almanac.com

Are you looking for a unique succulent variety? We’ve shared a great deal of them with you up to this point, but this one is in a category all of its own.

It resembles a small palm tree. This plant has a solid trunk and wild leaves which resemble the leaves of a palm tree.

25. Wooly Senecio

via worldofsucculents.com

This plant is covered in lots of fine hairs which gives it a ‘wooly’ appearance. It’s also known as a raccoon plant for similar reasons.

However, once you get past the fuzzy hairs all over the plant, you’ll be glad to know it also produces pretty yellow blooms.

26. Christmas Cactus

My mom and grandmother have kept a Christmas cactus in their homes for as long as I can remember. This succulent variety is also known as a Thanksgiving cactus. Unless they get confused (which has been known to happen over the years I’ve watched them bloom,) they usually bloom around the holidays.

The blooms resemble those of a lobster’s claw when in the process of blooming. However, they are gorgeous and can bloom in a variety of colors. It’s the splash of color we all desire during the winter months.

27. White Velvet

via lifeathangarki.blogspot.com

You guessed it. This plant is known as white velvet because it’s covered in white hairs. You could choose to look at this in two ways.

First, you could look at the white hairs and ponder the idea of it looking like a spider has been all over the plant, or you could take the more artistic approach and see the beauty of the plant and how it seems as though its covered in white velvet. Entirely up to you, and your take on the situation.

28. Black Prince

via easternleaf.com

This plant looks similar to the black rose succulent mentioned above. The key difference is the black prince has pointier leaves.

However, it’s a gorgeous plant as it produces dark burgundy colored leaves and rosettes. If you want a unique succulent which will draw some attention, this is it.

29. Sticks on Fire

via altmanplants.com

There’s no delicate way to put this. This variety of succulent looks like a group of sticks which are on fire because they’re orange in color.

But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll know this plant is unique beyond its looks. It’s known as a hydrocarbon plant. Therefore, it has a substance inside of it which is poisonous. Don’t let this deter you though. This substance can be used to make a substance similar to gasoline. Pretty neat, huh?

Well, you now have 29 different varieties of succulents to choose from. Some do better outdoors and some better indoors.

Either way, no matter what you’re planning on doing with your succulent, this list should point you in the right direction. Hopefully, you’ll find the perfect plant to bring your vision to life.

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Succulent Plants

Drought resistant succulent plants are a special variety of plants that share similarities throughout their genera and families.

In their natural habitat this plant type grows well in dry environments with little rainfall. This is why they produce leaves or organs that store water, preventing death when rainfall is non-existent for a period of time.

Common features for many include fleshy leaves or stems that function to store water, smaller roots than other plant types (not all species though), propagation methods (offsets, leaf cuttings, mainly) and rosette in shape (circular arrangement of leaves from the center stem – but others are bushy).

Not all succulents have the same features as mentioned above. You must read about each species individually.

For more detailed information about genera, origin, habitat etc take a look at this wiki article – it’s very in depth and provides many links to other sources.

Succulent Care

For each plant species it’s best to follow care instructions specifically for that plant. However, here is some basic and comparable care advice you may find useful.

    Temperature: Most homes in temperate regions are more than suitable to grow a succulent house plant. The great thing about these is they will survive well when temperatures drop during winter and at night (they actually enjoy the drops at night). Lower than 40ºF (4.4ºC) should be avoided, which most homes never experience anyway.

    Lighting: Most succulents are sun lovers and enjoy being placed near a south facing window. They still grow in shaded spots although slower.

    Watering: This is where many growers go wrong and is probably the worst succulent plant death offender. DONT overwater. Let the soil dry out between watering – during winter you may only need to water monthly. The soil might look dry or you may think they have not had enough water for so long, but remember those fleshy thick leaves have plenty in storage. Overwatering in winter because of the cold will cause a plant to rot and possibly die.

    Soil: It’s essential a grower uses soil that drains well and is well aerated. Poor soil not draining well can cause severe rot problems.

That’s the main areas covered for many succulent species. They are very tough plants and survive neglect…keep it in mind that many suffer more because of too much rather than too little.

You can and your plants will enjoy being outside during summer. As mentioned above they will manage the drops in overnight temperatures, well actually enjoy the drops.

Succulents are often chosen as house plants for direct light conditions. Their ability to endure drought is reflected in the succulent stem or leaf condition where water is stored. These plants come from many plant families. Most notably the Cactus family. Others in this group, however, come from sub-tropical areas where light conditions are less extreme and moisture is more abundant. In this second group, we find the Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and Orchid Cacti. Some refer to this group as the jungle cacti because they are found as understory plants in tropical forests.

Some succulents make good house plants because they generally do not require much care and can grow under the average conditions of the home in which we find higher temperatures and low humidity. Some varieties are slow growers and therefore, present fewer demands for care than most other house plants. If you have a southern window in your home that receives direct light and becomes fairly hot, then you might consider choosing a succulent for that spot.


The cacti and succulents generally require at least 4 hours of bright, direct light each day. However, some including the jungle cacti prefer medium light intensities and should never be placed in direct light except during the winter. Overall, if you wish to move a plant that has been grown in indirect light to direct light, then this should be done gradually. The same is true if you move a plant outdoors. Even though it has been in a direct light location in the house, it will be damaged if moved directly to the full sun. Moving plants to a position with filtered light such as under a tree or shade screen will prevent sunscald. This appears as bleaching of the foliage resulting in a yellow-white color. In addition, plants receiving direct light benefit from turning periodically so that all sides are exposed. This is especially true of plants with heavy growth.

Photo via palmitersgardennursery.com

Temperature and Humidity

Most cacti and succulents tolerate the low humidities and warmth of the home. During the winter, it becomes difficult to regulate humidity because of heating. The only succulents which can be temperamental are the jungle cacti. These plants, including the Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti, require higher humidities and should be placed on a tray of moistened rocks. This condition will promote flowering and flower retention.

The temperature in the home is generally adequate to maintain cacti and succulents all year round and this makes them particularly suitable as house plants. Some, however, do much better if presented with cool conditions during the winter. This is known as a rest period. Window sills and cool basements are good sites for these plants. The light should be as bright as possible.


Overall, cacti and succulents should be watered more frequently during the period of greatest growth and this occurs between the months of March and October in the Midwest. The most frequent cause of problems with the cacti is due to overwatering. The moisture condition should be checked every 2 to 3 weeks. This is simply done by sticking the index finger into the soil. Soil particles should not cling if conditions are dry. Also, you should become familiar with the weight of the pot at dryness and this can be served as a gauge for watering. It is best to allow the pot to dry out thoroughly between waterings. Plants in full sun will naturally dry out more quickly than those in filtered light. In winter, water no more than once per month. This is a slow-growth period. Overwatering at this time will result in root rot by fungal organisms. Jungle cacti should be kept evenly moist all year round, especially during the flowering period of late fall or early spring. When flowering has stopped, water should be withheld to allow the soil to dry before rewatering.


The soil mix should match the moisture requirements of the plant. This is better than trying to match the frequency of watering the soil mix. It also dictates the drainage and regulates the nutrient supply. All cacti and succulents require good drainage and the type of soil should be coarser. An appropriate soil mix for most cacti would consist of two parts sand and one part soil mix. For tropical cacti like Christmas and Easter cacti, mix one-part sand with one part soil mix and one part peat. The peat will hold more moisture than is required for these plants. Sand will create the proper drainage for all cacti and succulents and by varying its content, greater or lesser moisture will be held by the mix.


Generally, succulents and cacti do not demand a great deal of fertilizer to grow. Amounts recommended for typical house plants should be cut back to one-quarter to one-half concentration typically recommended on the label. The time to fertilize is during the active growth phase which begins in March and ends in October. In winter, no fertilizer is necessary as this represents the dormant state where little obvious growth occurs.

Repotting and Propagation

Most cacti and succulents prefer to be pot-bound. This condition leads to more frequent flowering in the case of jungle cacti. If plants become too pot-bound and the top growth is unbalanced, they should be repotted. The size of the pot should only be about 1 inch larger in diameter than the previous one. Tall plants should be repotted in a container which is at least one-half the size in diameter as the plant is tall. The time to repot is when growth begins in the spring. Potting during the dormant stage will set the plant back because a part of the root system may be lost during the process and it will be very slow to recover.

Cacti and succulents are among the easiest to propagate because they have such a large storage system of water and nutrients and are thus, very well adapted to adverse growing conditions. Some cacti actually loose parts of their stems as an active way to self-propagate. These parts may lay dormant for over a year and become quite desiccated before new roots emerge as a response to wetter conditions. There are three forms of vegetative propagation where some part of the mother plant is removed and used to grow the new plant. This is by offset division, stem cuttings, and leaf cuttings.

Although more time consuming, some cacti and succulents can be started from seed. Generally, this is not worth the trouble because it may take between 2 to 5 years to establish the new plant with such slow growth rates as characterized by these plants.

The most popular way to propagate cacti and succulents is by division. Certain cacti will produce offsets which are small bulb-like protrusions that stick out from the mother plant. These can simply be pinched off and potted after a couple of days of drying at room temperature to callus over the wound. The soil should be kept damp for about 4 weeks. Check for roots by tugging at the plant. If the pot lifts with the plant, then you can be assured that it has rooted.

The other way many cacti and succulents can be propagated is by taking cuttings of stems and leaves. Plants can be cut just above a node with a sharp, clean knife. The excised part should be air-dried for 2 days then potted by burying a slight portion of the plant part in a sandy/peat potting mix. In a similar way, leaf portions from some plants like Sansevieria can be cut and potted. Leaf segments for these plants should be about 2 inches long. A segment should be potted in such a way that the basal portion that was closest to the root system of the mother plant is buried in the soil mix. Roots will not form from segments that are upside-down.

Cacti and Succulents that Flower

Although it may take a number of years, most small cacti and succulents will eventually flower. Larger cacti are not frequent flower producers. Some produce a tremendous number of blossoms over a short period and some only produce one or two. Additionally, some plants only produce flowers at night which lasts a single 24-hour period. Others bloom in full sun.

Photo via dottypants.blogspot.com

The most prized flowering plants in this class are the jungle cacti. These plants are native to shaded tropical forest floors and, therefore, do not fair well under intense light. Flowers are initiated when the day length becomes short as would occur in early winter and spring. The famous Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti are two such plants that respond to short days. These plants should be placed in a window that receives indirect light. They do best when they become pot-bound and the soil moisture is evenly maintained. Changing conditions in the middle of the flower response will surely result in bud drop, a condition that plagues many indoor gardeners.

Cacti and Succulents Commonly Used as Houseplants

Astrophytum spp. (Star Cactus)
Cephalocereus senilis (Old Man Cactus)
Cereus spp. (Hedge Cactus)
Ceropegia woodii (Rosary Vine)
Cleistocactus spp.
Crassula ovata (Jade Plant)
Echeveria elegans (Mexican Firecracker)
Echinocactus spp. (Barrel Cactus)
Echinocereus dasyacanthus (Rainbow Cactus)
Echinopsis spp. (Easter Lily Cactus)
Euphorbia milii (Crown of Thorns)
Mammillaria spp. (Old Lady Cactus)
Mammillaria bocasana (Snowball Cactus)
Mammillaria prolifera (Silver Cluster Cactus)
Mammillaria zeilmanniana (Rose Pincushion)
Opuntia microdasys (Prickley Pear)
Pachyphytum spp. (Moonstones)
Parodia spp.
Rebutia spp. (Crown Cactus)
Sedum spp. (Stonecrop)
Gymnocalycium denudatum (Spider Cactus)
Rhipsalis spp. (Chain Cactus)
Aloe aristata (Torch Plant)
Aloe variegata (Tiger Aloe)
Faucaria spp. (Tiger Jaws)
Kalanchoe spp.
Senecio rowleyanus (String of beads)
Sedum morganianum (Donkey’s Tail)
Lithops spp. (Living Stones)

Source: missouribotanicalgarden.org


  • Succulentopedia: Browse succulents by Scientific Name, Common Name, Genus, Family, USDA Hardiness Zone, Origin, or cacti by Genus

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