To the connoisseur of beautiful plants, there are many types of succulents.
This large group of low-maintenance, easily grown, drought tolerant floral gems produce marvelous color in both foliage and flower.
The casual observer often misses and may not even see the brilliant, subtle, delicate tones.
What Is A Succulent Plant?
The term “succulent” is often confusing, even to experienced gardeners.
From the Latin origin meaning “juice,” but in the horticultural world, the succulent plant is described as a plant with thick, fleshy leaves, and refers to many kinds besides cacti.
Plants that store water and are drought-tolerant resistant are generally included in this classification of “succulents.” Usually, these plants are low-maintenance as well.
- The snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
- Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia)
- Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata)
… could all be considered “succulent type plants.”
The plants described in this article are not cacti, because none of them have the primary characteristics of the cactus family, which are:
- Generally no leaves
- Numerous spines in clusters
- Numerous stamens on flowers showing little difference between the petals and sepals
The rosette plants you will see are:
- Sempervivum, hardy, star-like flowers, opening flat
- Echeveria, tender, flowers never wide open
- Haworthia, tender, with translucent windows on ends of the leaves
- Mesembryanthemum, very juicy leaves and many petalled flowers
- Aeonium, rosettes on stems (Sempervivums are flat on the soil)
Look At The Flowers For The Succulent Type!
The flowers give clues to the genus of the succulent type you are looking at.
- The Kalanchoe is generally a four-petalled succulent
- Agave, Aloe, or Haworthia have six-petals in their flowers
- Other succulents mainly have multiples of 5 petals
- Star-like flowers less than ¾” inch in diameter think Sedum
- Succulents having 5 petals and 10 stamens equals a Crassula
- Aeonium have 5 petals and also 5 stamens
- While the Sempervivum has more than five petals and stamens
Types Of Succulents To Grow
One can easily confuse Crassulas with Sedums. However, Crassulas have five petals and stamens. Sedums have five petals, but 10 stamens.
Most people recognize the jade plant, Crassula argentea (also known as Crassula ovata), from South Africa.
The jade has oval, thick, juicy leaves and the Crassula is a popular garden and houseplant plant.
In warm locations, the jade takes on tree-like proportions. In December masses of pale pink flowers covering the Jade tree.
Another plant, Crassula lactea from South Africa also makes a good potted plant.
- Compact clusters of white flowers
- Thick leaves with hemstitched edges
- Series of white dots along the margins
Buttons on a String – Crassula rupestris – opposite leaves (buttons) connected at their bases appear to be strung on the stems.
Bailey calls attention to the Latin pronunciation [a-lo-ee’] and for English [al’o].
Mention the word “Aloe” and one thinks instantly of the Aloe vera plant.
However, there are over 500 Aloe species. They do not originate in central Mexico but across Africa and the Middle East.
- Bright scarlet, tubular cylindrical flowers
- Many plants are spiny with margined rosettes
- Prominently featured in cultivated Southern California landscape and across the Mediterranean region
Try growing Aloe arborescens (Torch Aloe) with narrow, watery, prickly margined leaves as a potted plant.
Haworthia (includes so-called Window-Plants)
One group of the Haworthia species have juicy leaves and displays translucent areas at the tip. For example, Haworthia retusa.
Another group of Haworthia plant species has:
Long pointed leaves, generally banded white with white raised dots – aka Haworthia margaritifera.
- Off-white flowers not very showy
- Flowers have six perianth segments
In their native habitat, plants become covered with sand. The little windows in the leaves allow light into the center of the leaves.
Echeveria plants come in wide variety of different colors and sizes of leaves. Flower colors run from palest white to fire engine red.
These pretty plants have:
- Compact rosettes making them easy to recognize
- Plump, fleshy attractive leaves
- Compact growth habit
- Leaves tinged with red or pink
Echeverias make excellent plants for use indoors. More on Echeveria plant care.
The name meaning “mid-day flower,” referring to the fact that many succulent flowers do not open until around mid-day when the sun is high.
NOTE: fig-marigold refers to any of the South African flowering plants of the Aizoaceae family. Members include ice plants (Cryophytum crystallinum – Mesembryanthemum crystallinum), living stones (Lithops) or pebble plants and split rocks (Pleiospilos).
A clock could be made to correspond to the various succulent species each blooming at a select time of the day.
These plants hold water and are very juicy. The usual watering schedule for houseplants will kill them with overwatering.
Most succulent types thrive on pure neglect. Botanists do not classify a majority of these plants as Mesembryanthemum but place the succulent species in several genera.
Those known as the “Tiger-Jaw” Faucaria have large hair-like teeth on the leaves. Those difficult to distinguish from the surrounding rocks are called living-rocks, stone-plants – Lithops and Pleiospilos.
Some have pustules which appear like crystals on the leaves like on the common annual ice plant, Cryophytum.
Perhaps it is only the appearance of being dew-sprinkled, known as Dewplants, Drosanthemum.
Don’t forget the unbelievable baby-toes, Fenestraria. These look like clusters of small cylinders with a window-like membrane at the top.
Most bear flowers with numerous, hair-like petals and numerous stamens. Predominant are golden yellow flowers, but you’ll find some white, others with brilliant crimsons, oranges, and roses only seen in the world of nature.
Stapelia (aka Carrion-Flower, Starfish Plant)
The Starfish plant is a group of strange African plants lacking the usual leaves; the green branches, often four-angled, function as leaves.
The large star flowers, generally smell extremely unpleasant, are often marked with bars of darkest red, maroon, and often with many fine white hairs.
The most common is Stapelia variegata (also known as Orbea variegata). The plant markings vary greatly, on the 2″ – 3″ flowers. Stapelia gigantea, however, produces flowers up to 10″ inches across.
Flies lay eggs in these giant flowers mistaking them for spoiled meat. When the eggs hatch the larvae die for lack of food.
The pointed leaves on lovely rosettes form comfortable colonies with often rosy, purple or gray tinted foliage.
Houseleeks seem better adapted to cool temperatures, even freezing weather. Sempervivums are commonly sold in California and across the United States.
The common hen-and-chickens is Sempervivum tectorum. The plant grows on thatched roofs in England, hence the name house-leek. The species name “tectorum,” which means roof.
Particularly interesting is the cobweb house-leek, Sempervivum arachnoideum.
The plant produces small rosettes less than an inch in diameter and covered with cobweb-like hairs which connect the leaves.
For more read our article on Hen & Chicks and Sempervivum Care
Aeonium succulents – These Canary Island natives along with adjacent areas share the largest of the rosette type succulents.
Southern California makes the perfect home where plants can reach several feet tall. They reward us with giant flowers clusters over 3′ feet tall.
The flowers are primarily yellow, white, or flushed pink. They appear like Sempervivums and Sedums, but the rosettes stand above the soil on defined branches.
Many species of Sedums are well-known for their masses of tiny or large foliage and the profusion of yellow, pink, or white flowers.
NOTE: Some Sedum species have been moved to the Hylotelephium genus.
For growing in containers, Sedum sieboldi (Hylotelephium sieboldi) makes a beautiful Autumn display with its three-part, blue-green foliage and pink flowers.
An ideal showy, blooming edging plant for Autumn from the Stonecrop tribe are varieties of Sedum spectablie (Hylotelephium spectablie).
Brilliant, with thick leaves, several inches long and wide, and masses of bright rose-colored flowers.
For the windowsill indoors try Sedum nussbaumerianum (Coppertone Stonecrop) with leaves of which are bright orange in full sun.
Gasteria (Ox Tongue, Lawyers-Tongue)
- Tubular flowers but unlike Aloes.
- Bulge at base of the flower defines the name “Gasteria” referring to the little belly
- Leaves variously spotted with white in bands
- Raised dots are known as tuberculate and also spotted white
- Leaves arise in one plane, unlike other succulents which radiate out in several directions
The common name “lawyers tongue” is said to originate from a gardener claiming the white spots “are the lies on a lawyer’s tongue.”
Kalanchoe and Bryophyllum
The panda plant Kalanchoe tomentosa is among the most well known.
Most of these plants produce new plants from the notches in their leaves, earning them the common names of:
- Cathedral bells
- Life plant
- Miracle leaf
Kalanchoe pinnata also known as Bryophyllum pinnatum from Madagascar displays leathery leaves and simple or with three to five divisions.
Eventually, pinnata or pinnatum displays a cluster of bell-shaped, reddish pendant flowers, with a large inflated reddish calyx.
Kalanchoe pubescens (Bryophyllum pubescens, syn. Kalanchoe aliciae) a hairy leaf sort displays beautiful, orange flowers veined in red.
When the flower cluster finishes blooming it becomes a collection of young plants that drop to the soil and begin growing.
Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is a Christmas plant, with large clusters of orange, red or scarlet flowers sitting atop green leaves.
Kalanchoe beharensis a BIG, amazing plant known as the “velvet leaf Kalanchoe.”
Deeply or shallowly lobed velvety leaves which are felty chocolate-brown or green, up to 18 inches long
Agave (Century Plant)
Native to the Western Hemisphere, Agave plants belong to the Agavaceae family.
“Century plant”, the common name, refers to the slow to bloom Agave americana. The claim of americana booming every 100 years is a myth.
In their own native habitat, it is claimed the plants will flower in 6 years. As conservatory plants blooming could take decades.
Oddly enough the agave dies after flowering.
Read our Agave Plant Care article for more details.
Other types of succulent to consider include:
- Senecio – The String of Pearls plant (Senecio rowleyanus)
- Mammillaria (Pincushion cactus)
Growing Succulents – Brief Review of Their Culture
Succulents naturally store water when they can to use later during dry periods.
When grown as houseplants they thrive with minimal watering when not growing actively.
The season varies depending on variety.
I read of an individual who “grew” the plant Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi in a sunny window without soil.
He gave the cutting one full tablespoon of water whenever the plant looked ready to die. Sorry, no plant cruelty comments.
For two years the plant got less than a tablespoon of water every two months.
However, plants still formed on the leaves and those small plantlets grew without any issues.
Mesembryanthemums appear to be the most drought-resistant of the ones mentioned in this article.
Good drainage is essential. As a potting soil for individual pots or in a small succulent garden, mix in sponge rock (perlite) with a good houseplant potting mix.
If ground mealybugs attack, remove the plants from their pots, wash out the soil and repot with new soil.
Many of these succulent plants live in nature under the shade of small shrubs. Therefore many enjoy bright light but not direct full sun.
The Gasteria and Haworthia prefer less bright light conditions than some others. Give Mesembryanthemums full exposure.
Aeoniums become leggy grown in the atmosphere of a home.
The leaves of Echeverias, Cotyledons, some Sedums and Kalanchoes root easily.
Cut Gasteria leaves into several pieces and plunge the cuttings into a pot of sand.
One leaf section can produce a dozen plants or more.
Echeveria, Sedum, Mesembryanthemum and Cotyledon will all grow from stem cuttings.
Many of the succulent species produce numerous runners or offsets.
You’ll find many types of succulents to choose from for use both indoors or out.
Modern gardeners blend succulent specimens perfectly with contemporary architecture.
- Houseplants requiring practically no care
- Easy care, beautiful ground covers
- Show-stopping flowers rivaling orchids
Today succulents perform and are no longer considered oddities. They are elegant, practical plants for our homes and gardens. Try some!