Plants are experiencing a resurgence in popularity more than ever, but not everyone has huge gardens they can fill with plants.
Instead, they’ve turned to balconies, hanging pots, windowsills, or even indoor gardening to get that satisfaction and to reconnect with nature.
Keeping plants are proven to reduce stress, and boost energy levels. Plants also clear the air of chemicals which are emitted from building materials.
If those chemicals are allowed to build up, they can be harmful to our health over long periods of time.
Succulents have the benefits of being long-lived, of not taking up much room (depending on the type, of course), of needing very little water, and thriving on literal neglect where other plants would just give up and die.
They’re also some of the most unusual looking plants you can get, which vary wildly in their appearance and growth habit, and they are very easy to propagate.
They’ll happily go for long periods of time with no input from you at all – so you can go away for long periods of time without entrusting your plants to someone else to “look after” (read: death by overwatering), safe in the knowledge that they’ll be there when you get back!
There’s a succulent for every aesthetic – some grow outward instead of upward, some grow tall, some sprawl, some take 20 years to grow to their mature size, some take a lot less, some develop very strong colors or have unusual colors to begin with, but all are beautiful.
Whether you’re just starting out on your green-fingered journey, or if you’re familiar with growing plants but not necessarily succulents, this guide has everything you need to know about these captivating plants.
What Are Succulents?
The defining feature of a succulent is the fleshy green leaves or even the stems, which act as reservoirs for storing water. Many of these plants have evolved to go without water for months at a time.
Succulent plants come from a wide variety of plant genera, and while the identifier of fleshy leaves isn’t really scientific, it’s a good rule of thumb. The word succulent comes from Latin sucus, which translates to ‘sap’.
Because these plants come from different genera, they vary wildly in appearance and how they grow. Some climb toward the sun, others trail, and some prefer to stay compact along the soil’s surface as a rosette.
More than anything, most succulent plants need full light in order to survive, otherwise they may become ‘leggy’ and lose their intended shape or color. They are quick plants to adapt, and the more light you give them and the less water, the brighter their coloring will be.
They’ll often lose their vivid colors during the winter months, but will soon regain them when they get more light.
Most succulent plants can be grown indoors fairly well.
There are a few that are more suited to outdoors more, but you’ll have to keep them away from pests as well as downpours, as some won’t tolerate a lot of rainfall.
Common Types of Succulents
Whether you’re curious about the species as a whole, or you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where succulents grow naturally outside, or even if you’ve been gifted a succulent, and you’re not sure what type it is, (frustratingly, many retailers will label nearly anything as “succulent” and leave it at that) this guide lists some of the most popular.
Some you’ll find easier to source than others, depending on where you live.
There are always specialist succulent plant nurseries that sell succulents online, as well as succulent subscription boxes, but these plants are so popular and easy to propagate that you’ll often find them in grocery stores. You’ll be surprised at the rarer ones that turn up!
The name Agave comes from the Greek word “Agauē” which means “illustrious”, which describes this genus perfectly, really.
Agave Americana ‘Century Plant’
Native to Mexico and parts of Texas, the century plant is a very beautiful agave, and one of the most popular.
The name ‘century plant’ refers to how long this plant takes to flower – no, it doesn’t take 100 years, but it certainly feels like it! The plant can flower anywhere from 8 to 30 years old, but once it flowers, the plant dies.
The flowers themselves are an impressive display, as the flower spike forms in the center of the plant, and can reach a very lofty 20 feet high!
You can recognize this plant by its toothed leaves that form a rosette, and some forms can be variegated with yellow edges. On the younger leaves, the spines on the mature leaves often leave impressions on the undersides.
Not counting the flower spike, the plant itself can get up to 6 and a half feet tall, and 10 feet wide in optimal conditions, so you might want to plan ahead with this one.
Of course, you can grow them inside, where they won’t get nearly as big, if you prefer.
Like most succulent plants, the century plant needs protection from cold temperatures and downpours.
Agave Stricta ‘Nana’ or ‘Dwarf Hedgehog Agave’
If the gargantuan heights of the century plant are not for you, let’s talk about small agaves. This plant mimics a hedgehog with its small, tightly-packed spines, and the tips are often colored red.
The dwarf hedgehog agave can get up to 25cm tall, and spreads about the same.
This plant is usually grown as a houseplant, where it will add interest to a low traffic area, with little care needed.
Agave Victoriae-Reginae ‘Royal Agave’
Also known as the Queen Victoria century plant, these stunning plants form tight rosettes, with white edges and black tips, giving the impression that someone’s drawn them.
In the agave genus, it’s one of the slowest growing plants, so it’s usually grown as a houseplant rather than outside.
Like the century cactus, they will grow tall spikes of flowers, but not for some time.
This plant can reach around 20 inches in diameter, but this varies on the conditions it is grown in, as it may get bigger.
Probably the most famous type of succulent, the genus features over 500 species, including Aloe Vera, which I’m sure you’ve heard of before.
Aloe Aculeata ‘Red Hot Poker Aloe’
This aloe has a lot of personality, and unfortunately, it’s also endangered, so if you do want this aloe, make sure you get it from a trusted source.
You can recognize the red hot poker aloe by its curved leaves that grow without a large stem, and they become tinged with pink in bright light. It’s only native to the Limpopo Valley and Mpumalanga in South Africa.
It reaches 1 to 2 feet tall when it is fully mature, and features spines along the leaf’s surface.
The flowers that the aloe venus bears are very similar to the popular ‘red hot pokers’ or kniphofia. It produces bicolored blooms which are red at the top, and fade to white lower down.
In the wild, they’ll grow close together, putting on a sea of vivid red and white for you to enjoy.
It can grow to a maximum height of 2 feet.
A dwarf aloe, this plant forms a very unusual shape of stacked leaves, which often form a ‘U’.
It’s an aloe native to Madagascar, and it can reach up to 37.5cm tall, with triangular leaves which curve slightly toward the middle of the plant.
Aloe Polyphylla ‘Spiral Aloe’
These beautiful aloes hail from the Maluti Mountains in South Africa, and grow leaves that corkscrew from the center, creating a captivating spiral form.
Aloe Striata ‘Coral Aloe’
Another striking aloe, the coral aloe forms a single rosette – which means it doesn’t produce off-shoots. The leaves curve in towards the heart of the plant, and if the light is bright enough, it will feature red or orange stripes on the outside of the leaves.
It will grow happily both outside and inside, and will get to a maximum of 24 inches tall.
Haworthia Retusa ‘Star Cactus’
While part of the Haworthia genus, they are a member of the Asphodeloideae family, which the aloe plant is also part of. It’s worth mentioning, as haworthias are lovely succulents in their own right.
Haworthias are recognizable by their thick leaves, which look like they may burst at any minute. They’re also easier to grow inside than other succulents, as they don’t mind lower light levels than other species.
Like most succulents, they need special succulent soil, and as little watering as it can get away with, without the fleshy leaves shrinking.
Haworthia retusa is a firm favorite, and they usually stay compact at around 10cm tall.
Bulbine Mesembryanthemoides ‘Window Plant’
Another member of the Asphodeloideae family, this is a sweet little succulent which has semi-transparent leaves.
It only reaches around 5cm tall, but like quite a few succulents, it will form flower spikes which are much taller, and in this case, they’ll be around 20cm tall.
You can tell the difference between this succulent and a haworthia by the leaves themselves, as they are much softer.
Like any succulent, this plant will do well in really poor soil, as long as it’s given enough light, and very well-draining soil.
I bet you’re probably surprised to see the daisy family, or Asteraceae, on this list! While it’s one of the biggest plant families, it does include a few succulents, which can cause some confusion.
Curio Rowleyanus ‘String of Pearls’
One of the most popular trailing houseplants, the string of pearls look exactly how they sound.
Unlike most succulents, a string of pearls plant doesn’t appreciate direct sunlight, and often avoids it in its native Southwest Africa by growing under the shade that other plants provide.
If you fancy growing this plant, it’s worth trialing it in a few places to get the light levels right. Too little light will cause this plant to get leggy, but too bright light and the plant will be scorched.
It also readily roots where the leaves touch the soil.
Senecio Jacobsenii ‘Trailing Jade’
Also known as weeping jade, this is another trailing plant which is native to East Africa.
The leaves are unusual in that they stand upright away from the stems, giving the plant an almost scaly appearance.
This plant preferably needs to be outside, trailing from a container – against a wall is best, as the residual heat will help protect the plant. It will also need to be overwintered.
The stems can trail as long as 4 feet, making for an unusual display.
It can also bloom, with orange flowers, but this is fairly rare.
Kleinia Stapeliiformis ‘Pickle Plant’
Also known as the candlestick plant, this is an unusual and beautiful plant which mimics a pickle, with soft spines which form along the stems.
It’s worth mentioning that this plant isn’t suitable for households with pets or children, as they might mistake it for something they can eat!
Each stem can reach around 25cm tall, and 2cm wide. If the stems start to get to the point where they fall over, you can cut them back – and root the cuttings as new plants.
You’ll need to pop this unusual guy in partial sunlight, as they can’t tolerate full sun.
Othonna Capensis ‘Ruby Necklace’
Also known as the cape aster, or little pickles, this plant is solely native to the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
It produces long blue-gray leaves, which become red as the plant gets drier. It produces prolific daisy-like blooms.
You can grow these plants inside and outside, but you’ll need to keep them inside if you have colder weather, as they can’t stand cold temperatures.
They also need a lot of room to sprawl – so if you’re growing them as a hanging plant, do it from a height you can adjust, as the plant will get longer!
Cacti are beautiful plants, some of which can be grown outside or indoors, depending on the weather you have.
Unlike succulents, which aren’t all part of one genus, cacti belong to the Cactaceae family.
Parodia Magnifica ‘Balloon Cactus’
One of the most popular types of cacti, the balloon cactus develops bright yellow flowers in summer, but usually only on mature plants.
Like all cacti, these plants have spines, so you’ll need to wear thick gloves in order to repot them in a few years time.
The balloon cactus is happy in full sun, and the stems turn more cylindrical as they get older, reaching around 15cm tall and 5cm wide.
Ferocactus Pilosus ‘Mexican Lime Cactus’
This cactus produces flowers in different shades, including red and yellow, but the spines are more prolific.
The spines are also an interesting feature in themselves, as the younger the plant, the lighter the spines – with the indoor plants usually having white spines.
These cacti produce around 13 to 20 flat ribs, and in their native conditions, they can reach more than 3 feet high. They also produce new offshoots, which makes for an interesting display with the more plants you have.
Echinocactus grusonii ‘Golden Barrel Cactus’
Also known as the mother-in-law’s cushion, this is a very popular cactus that’s only native to the states of Querétaro and Hidalgo in Mexico.
As a wild plant, it’s both rare and endangered, and grows in volcanic rock at altitudes around 4,600 feet.
These plants can reach around 30 years old, and after 20 years, they’ll produce yellow flowers as a crown on the plant. Once they mature, they’ll be about 3.3 feet tall.
The golden barrel cactus is happy indoors, or outdoors in containers, rockeries, as long as the weather is warm and dry.
Echinopsis Aurea ‘Golden Easter Lily Cactus’
One of the most popular cacti grown as a houseplant, these plants produce vivid flowers along the ribs of each cactus, and there can be up to 15 ribs on a mature plant.
Most golden Easter lily cacti don’t produce basal offshoots, so if you do want a cactus that produces miniature copies of itself, you’ll have to choose a different variety.
Schlumbergera buckleyi ‘True Christmas Cactus’
Often grown around Christmas, this plant features long, segmented leaves which look a little like crab legs.
Eventually, as the plant gets bigger, the leaves will drape over the edges of the pot, and the plant will produce pink flowers in winter, near the Christmas holiday.
This is a very slow-growing plant, which forms a flatter, but still globular body than most cacti. It grows 3 to 5 spines per rib, which become gray as the plant matures.
If you’re a patient person, this plant will reward you with spectacular flowers in late spring once the plant has matured, which are white with pale red hearts.
The flowers can get to 6.5cm tall, and 4.5cm in diameter, appearing on the very top of the plant in a cluster.
Mammillaria Plumosa ‘Feather Cactus’
One of the most popular cacti, the feather cactus forms feathery white spines which are fairly soft to the touch, making it look like a cotton ball from afar.
This is an interesting plant to have on a rockery or even as a houseplant, as it makes a good contrast against gravel.
It also has bonus points for producing petite white flowers.
Mammillaria Elongata ‘Lady Finger Cactus’
This cactus, like the name suggests, grows in finger-like shapes, which can reach around 15cm tall.
The spines themselves can vary in color, from brown, to yellow, to green, creating a lovely shaded effect.
They also grow flowers in spring on mature growth, which can be in shades of pink, white, or yellow.
Like many cacti, the lady finger cactus is not hardy, so if you choose to grow it outside, either bring it inside in colder climates during winter, or make sure you protect it well.
It’s also recommended that you repot this cactus every year, as it is a vigorous plant which will quickly need more room.
Epiphyllum Hookeri ‘Hooker’s Orchid Cactus’
A night-blooming cactus, this plant puts on a beautiful display of large, spidery white flowers.
It also grows on other plants, like orchids do – and the term for this is epiphytic, where other plants act as a host.
The hooker’s orchid cactus produces long stems to hook onto other plants, and this can make an interesting display in itself.
Acanthocereus Tetragonus ‘Fairy Castle Cactus’
As interesting as its name, the fairy castle cactus forms clusters, which look a little like the towers of a castle, varying in height depending on how old each ‘branch’ is.
Some varieties produce night-blooming flowers, but this can be rare.
Stenocactus Multicostatus ‘Brain Cactus’
If you want a cactus that will stand out, the brain cactus is for you! These curving ribs are cultivated by the plant’s response to injury – unfortunately – where it produces rapid, wavy growth in order to protect the site of injury from disease.
It depends on how the plant’s been ‘formed’ artificially as to what shape it will take, but they normally look like brains.
These cacti are native to Mexico, where they grow between crevasses.
As if their unique appearance was not enough on its own, these plants can produce purple or pink flowers across the top of the plant.
Rhipsalis Baccifera ‘Mistletoe Cactus’
If you’re after a trailing plant that won’t take a lot of maintenance – unlike, for instance, the string of pearls – the mistletoe cactus is a good option.
From a distance, they look like hair, and are covered in fine spines. If the conditions are right, this cactus will also produce petite white flowers, which will eventually turn into fruit.
While this is a huge plant family, also known as Apocynaceae, which encompasses all kinds of trees, shrubs, herbs, and has around 200 genera, there are a few interesting succulents in this group that are worth mentioning.
Adenium Arabicum ‘Desert Rose’
Often, the desert rose, or Adenium Arabicum, is grown as a bonsai tree, as it has a tree-like appearance and produces trumpet-shaped flowers, in either pink or red, with gold or white throats.
In colder climates, it’s grown as a houseplant, as it’s not hardy, and it hates sitting in damp soil.
Cyphostemma Juttae ‘Wild Grape’
This is a very slow-growing succulent, but it does have an unusual appearance, and like the name suggests, it grows red fruit that resembles grapes – though these aren’t edible.
It’s a perfect choice for a container garden, where this plant will hold its own against showier plants. It features a swollen trunk, not unlike the desert rose.
In its native conditions, the wild grape can reach 6.5 feet high, making an impressive display out of the stem, which looks like a tree with peeling bark.
If you live somewhere hot and dry, you can plant the wild grape out in your garden, where it will add a lot of architectural interest and color.
This is a very interesting succulent, and the stem looks like a flowering potato!
To get the best out of this plant, keep it in a pot, so you can easily transfer it inside when the weather gets wet or cold, as the pachypodium bispinosum won’t tolerate either.
In bright light, it produces pink trumpet-shaped flowers on the long, branching stems. Like any succulent, you’ll have to be careful not to overwater this plant.
When planted in the ground, this succulent can grow up to 2 feet tall.
Pachypodium Rosulatum ‘Elephant’s Foot Plant’
If you don’t fancy the pachypodium above because the leaves drape down, the elephant’s foot plant is a good alternative. It’s native to Madagascar, and grows a distinctive bottle-shaped trunk with leaf rosettes at the top of the plant.
In its natural habitat, it will produce sulfur-yellow flowers from February until May.
It also loses its leaves in fall.
Unlike most succulents, stapelianthus needs to be grown outside, as it will only rot indoors.
You can grow it under glass in order to keep the watering at the right level, encouraging the plant to bloom.
While this plant only grows to around 10cm tall, the stems grow in an elongated shape, producing bell-shaped flowers which are covered in tiny white hairs.
If you can encourage this plant to flower, it produces some of the most captivating flowers, which look very similar to starfish.
The Tridentea Longipes is native to South Africa, and like Stapelianthus Decaryi above, it cannot live long indoors, as it needs the varying temperatures that only outside can bring.
It also needs as much sunlight as you can give it, in order to produce its unusual flowers.
It will get to a maximum of 10cm tall, and will flower in autumn when the temperature is less fierce than the height of summer.
A relation to the two plants listed above, caralluma indica grows slightly taller at 20cm, and does well in containers outside.
While the flowers produced are not as eye-catching as tridentea longipes, they form in clusters at the ends of the stem, around 5 to a cluster.
One of the most popular succulent groups around, they’re often grown as houseplants.
They come in a range of colors and appearances, though they are most often found in rosette shapes, which are prone to becoming ‘leggy’ if they don’t have enough sunlight.
A hybrid echeveria, this captivating plant forms unusual and unsymmetrical leaves, which turn frillier at the edges. The leaves produced also turn a brilliant red at the edges.
This crimson beauty will also get to the size of a basketball, if given enough room to grow.
This beautiful echeveria is variegated and if its display of color in pink and deep purple wasn’t enough, it changes color throughout the year.
It’s a variegated form of ‘Perle Von Nürnberg’, and the lower leaves are a light green. In the summer, the center of the rosette turns a near neon pink.
If you’re after a truly captivating display of color, this plant is one of the best choices. It’ll live outdoors or indoors, but it tends to do better indoors, and like many variegated plants, it doesn’t like midday sun, but it needs bright light in order to keep its color.
Echeveria ‘Trumpet Pinky’
A unique looking echeveria, this rare hybrid wouldn’t look out of place on a sea bed! This plant produces unusually tubular leaves, which are tinged pink at the edges.
In order to keep it looking at its best, it needs bright light to stop the color and the leaves from fading.
It is best suited indoors, as it isn’t a hardy plant.
One of the largest plant genera, euphorbia includes over 2000 species of different plants, most of which are harmful if eaten.
Euphorbia Bisellenbeckii ‘Octopus Arms’
This is a strange looking euphorbia which produces column-like stems, which can creep up to 5 feet long, producing tiny concave leaves at the very tips of the stems.
It also produces yellow-green flowers that euphorbias are readily known for.
It will grow well both outside and inside, but it needs a little more water than most succulents will tolerate, and prefers morning sunlight.
Euphorbia Milii ‘Crown Of Thorns’
Native to Madagascar, this is a very interesting plant. It either needs to be grown indoors as a houseplant, or outdoors in warm, sunny places, as it won’t tolerate cold temperatures.
This plant forms a ‘crown’ of deep red, white, or pink flowers, which can grow year round. The shrub itself grows up to nearly 2 meters high, forming spiny stems.
Although this is a beautiful plant, there is a trade-off. It’s quite poisonous to humans, and it’s extremely toxic to animals, so if you have pets – or animals that visit – this plant is not for you.
A fast-growing succulent, this looks a little like a cross between a column-growing cactus and an echeveria. It produces columns of green-purplish stems, which have tubercles and spines forming at the end.
As the plant matures, it produces rosettes of leaves at the apex of the stem. The stems can reach up to 1 meter high.
Euphorbia Pseudoglobosa ‘False Globose Spurge’
This is a lovely spineless succulent that forms globular-shaped stems, which almost look like a spineless cactus.
While this plant is young, it takes on the appearance of balls stacked on top of each other, which eventually turns into one caudex.
Eventually, it will produce petite yellow flowers on the tops of each stem.
It’s also a very slow-growing plant, which needs very little care in order to thrive, making it a perfect choice for those with little time on their hands.
Geophyte means ‘earth plant’, which sounds a bit obvious, I know, but they refer to plants which store energy and water underground in organs such as bulbs, tubers, corms, or rhizomes.
This helps them survive bad weather or awful conditions, where the rest of the plant dies back into the bulb, and when the best kind of conditions arrive, it grows again from its geophyte.
Albuca Namaquensis ‘Spiral Grass’
Native to South Africa, this beautiful plant sports long, spiraling leaves, and has the added bonus of flowering with bright yellow blooms which tower over the spiraling stems, making a magnificent display.
You can grow spiral grass indoors or outdoors, but like most succulent plants, it needs overwintering inside or in a greenhouse if you have cold, wet winters.
If you do choose to grow these lovely plants outside, they need to be in sandy soil, or even in a rockery where the soil will drain freely.
In the right conditions, this plant can get up to 4 feet tall.
Scadoxus multiflorus ‘Blood Lily’
Part of the Amaryllis family, this plant grows showy, spherical flowers made of tiny blood-red florets (anywhere from 10 to 200 individual flowers), not unlike an allium, but much smaller at 30cm tall.
Unlike most succulents, the blood lily can’t tolerate direct sun for long periods of time, as it damages the leaves and the flowers.
They make for a perfect display against a backdrop of grasses, where the flower heads really stand out, and the color is shown at its best.
This succulent usually produces a single leaf, but it can grow up to 4. They reach roughly 8cm in diameter, and feature pale veins throughout the surface.
Once the plant sheds its leaf (or leaves), it produces yellow flowers on spikes as tall as 18cm high.
It prefers partial shade over direct sunlight, and is very prone to root rot.
Like a lot of plants with tuberous roots, you shouldn’t panic when the leaves disappear, as usually the plant will come up again during its next life cycle.
If you prefer a plant with more leaves, a pelargonium appendiculatum is a nice option to have. It produces very feathery, grayish green leaves on very short stems, which can get up to 30cm tall.
This isn’t a succulent usually situated indoors, as it’s easy to keep outside in containers. It also produces delicate white flowers with red flecks on the topmost petals.
They are best kept in terracotta pots, which helps keep the soil from becoming waterlogged.
These are herbaceous succulents which usually produce daisy-like flowers in a vivid spectrum of color. Some grow upright, and some grow close to the ground, where they are favorites for ground cover plants.
These are also succulents which need a lot more water than other types, though they are still very prone to root rot.
Generally, Mesems need full sun in order to thrive, which will also minimize the risk of overwatering – but be careful you don’t scald the plants by watering them while they are in full sun.
The sub-type Mesembryanthemum, translates from Greek as “flower with the pistil in the center” where the original spelling, coined in 1684, of Mesembrianthemum, meant “midday flower”, as the flowers often opened at midday.
The varieties we know broadly open when the sun is out, and close when it goes behind a cloud, or when night falls.
Mesembryanthemum Haeckelianum ‘Yellow Sun Rose’
Also known as the heartleaf ice plant, or Aptenia haeckeliana, this plant produces bright green fleshy leaves that stay close to the ground, and neon yellow flowers with a ray of petals.
You can get variegated types, as well as the flowers in different colors, but yellow is the most common.
Mesembryanthemum Crystallinum ‘Common Ice Plant’
Also known as the crystalline ice plant, this plant blooms profusely, and the leaves look like they are covered in sugar or ice with their textured bladder cells, which act as an inner water reservoir.
This plant is highly adaptable, as it will grow happily along roadsides, in pool soils, as well as salty, sandy, or clay soil. It flowers from spring until early summer.
The leaves are also edible, and in Southern Africa, people pickle them. They also have medicinal uses, and crushed leaves can act as a substitute for soap.
In summer, this gorgeous plant produces pink, purple, or white flowers (See Top 52 Amazing White Flowers).
Muiria Hortenseae ‘Mouse Head Mesem’
This is a beautiful dwarf succulent, which is covered in downy hair, and leaves that are smooth and round.
It’s not technically a Mesem, but it’s part of the same family, and it’s an unforgettable plant, so it needed to be included on this list!
You might be surprised to know that the mouse head mesem flowers! The flowers tear through the leaves, and bloom in white or pink. From the old leaves, a new body forms, and eventually, the plant forms into clumps.
Some varieties will survive mild winters, but to be sure they do pull through the colder temperatures, bring them indoors during winter.
These are very slow-growing, but beautiful plants.
Lithops Comptonii ‘Living Stones’
While the mouse head mesem is probably new territory, you might have heard of lithops, or the living stones.
It’s much easier to care for than the mouse head mesem, and produces two kidney-shaped leaves which have evolved to look and feel like rocks, so they blend into their natural habitat without the risk of being eaten.
They also produce flowers which form at the top of the leaves, making for a lovely display of pops of color.
You can grow them from seed if you prefer, but they will take a long time to establish, and they need very little water in order to thrive.
Eulophia petersii ‘Desert Orchid’
One of the few orchids which lives in the fierce rays of full sun in Africa, this beautiful plant can be mistaken for an aloe or a sansevieria, as the leaves are very similar.
When it flowers, all doubt diminishes. These beautiful flowers are green with white tips, and purple stripes, on very tall stems which can look like ladders.
If you want to keep this orchid, it’s worth knowing that it develops big roots, so you’ll need to plant it into a very deep, wide container, so it doesn’t get pot bound.
It’s much easier to care for than most orchids, so if you’ve been struggling with conventional orchids – those which like more humid climates – a desert orchid might be worth a try.
Stonecrops, or the Crassulaceae family, encompass a wide range of plants which are native to many parts of the world, but most are found in dry, rockery areas where they have evolved to store water in their succulent leaves. There are even a few species that look a little like trees, like the Aeonium and Crassula ovata (when mature).
A relatively new type of aeonium, but arguably the most beautiful type available, Medusa is a variegated aeonium that features dark red to black stripes on blood-red leaves.
Aeoniums produce rosettes of leaves at the end of thick stems, which look like tree branches.
It probably won’t get as big as other aeoniums, because the variegation will make photosynthesis harder, but known plants have grown up to 45cm high with a similar width.
You can grow aeoniums both outdoors and indoors, but wherever you choose, they need to be in bright light and in well-draining soil, preferably in terracotta pots. They also need a little more watering than other succulents do.
They also go dormant in summer, where the leaves will start to curl up, and the plant will look ill. Don’t worry! The plant will unfold again when the dormancy period is over.
Sedum Litoreum ‘Coastal Stonecrop’
A smaller stonecrop, this is a lovely annual which looks very delicate, and the leaves resemble jelly beans.
It also produces tiny star-shaped flowers, which can be either greenish yellow or a pale yellow.
Sedums are fuss-free plants, and while they look delicate, they are quite tough and will look after themselves. The only thing you need to remember is that it needs bright light or even direct sun, otherwise it will go leggy.
Sedum Polytrichoides ‘Chocolate Ball’
This plant might make your mouth water. It looks similar to chocolate – but unfortunately that’s where the resemblance ends. The leaves are a rich dark brown which takes on hues of purple, and form in tiny rosettes.
It forms a mat of plants as it gets older, and only grows up to 20cm tall, spreading to a larger 35cm wide.
This plant is a great contrast against larger succulents, bringing the details out in both. It will do well both outdoors and indoors.
Sedum Humifusum ‘Creeping Stonecrop’
This is a great plant for filling in gaps along rockeries and containers, as the creeping stonecrop only reaches 2.5cm tall.
This allows for a variety of planting combinations, while keeping weeds down.
It also produces petite star-shaped yellow flowers in summer, adding to the versatility of this plant.
One of the most attractive types of sedums you can get, this plant grows to a maximum of 80cm tall, with leaves forming in dense clusters, covered in fine white hairs.
This plant also produces flowers in late winter and spring, which are white with dark red anthers.
One thing to keep in mind, though, if you do choose sedum mocinianum, this plant has a strange smell, though it’s not very strong. If you have a sensitive nose, I wouldn’t recommend putting it near where you’ll sit, outdoors or indoors!
Sedum Burrito ‘Burro’s Tail’
One of the most well-known sedums around, this is a striking plant which is a popular houseplant.
It trails compact, bean-like leaves, like a tail, and they can get as long as half a meter!
Sedeveria ‘Jet Beads’
An eye-catching cross between a sedum and an echeveria, this plant has very dark leaves which grow on a compact stem.
As a mature plant, it only reaches 10cm tall, and it can’t tolerate cold temperatures, or if you want to grow it outside, move it indoors when the temperatures drop.
Having said that, the cooler the temperatures, the darker the leaves become.
Hylotelephium cauticola ‘Cliff Stonecrop’
A sprawling succulent, this is a lovely plant which produces deep-pink blooms during late summer and autumn, attracting crowds of bees and butterflies into your garden. New leaves also start off pink, before maturing to gray-green.
It’s a versatile plant, and while it needs full sun and freely-draining soil, it can happily grow in pots, on roofs, at the front of borders, or hanging over the edge of walls.
Crassula Ovata ‘Jade Plant’
This is one of the most popular crassulas you can grow, and they’re also readily available.
Some people believe keeping a jade plant brings luck into your life, so it’s often given as a housewarming gift.
It can be a very long-lived plant if cared for properly. They need bright light, otherwise the plant will become leggy.
The stems grow woody as the plant matures, resembling a tree.
There are many yuccas, and all are very nearly maintenance free. They need somewhere that’s largely dry in order to thrive, as overwatering will cause the plant to rot.
You will need to watch out for scale insects, though, as yuccas are particularly susceptible.
They are also part of the asparagus family, and nearly all of them flower.
Yucca Gigantea ‘Spineless Yucca’
Outside, this yucca can reach up to 32 feet high, hence the name ‘Gigantea’. It can grow a single trunk or multiple, but all resemble an elephant’s foot on a hard, gray body.
The leaves are narrow and end in points, and can grow as much as 4 feet long. Mature yuccas will also flower in summer, and the white flowers of the yucca gigantea are edible.
This plant is also known as Yucca Elephantipes.
You can also grow yuccas as smaller houseplants.
Caring for Succulents
While it’s true that succulents thrive on neglect, this tends to mean underwatering the plant, rather than leaving it to fend for itself entirely, as they can be quite susceptible to disease or pests if not cared for.
Since the plants themselves have evolved to store their own sources of water in their leaves, they don’t need watering as often as other plants do.
If you can’t remember when you last watered your succulents, they will be absolutely fine until you decide to do so. It’s better to leave it another week, and then water, so you don’t run the risk of root rot and other diseases.
It’s also important to make sure that the container they are sitting in actually has holes for the water to drain out of.
While you can keep succulents in plants without drainage holes, this makes them much harder to care for when it comes to watering.
Nine times out of ten, your plant will rot from having too much water.
Succulents don’t need to be repotted in a new container every year, as most succulents are very tolerant of being pot-bound.
Having said that, it’s best to pop the succulent out of the pot and check it every few months – you won’t damage the roots so long as the soil is dry, as the plant will readily come out.
If the plant’s roots are growing all the way around the pot, it might be an idea to pot it up in a new container, this will help the plant get better airflow to the roots, as well as letting the plant grow bigger.
Aside from watering, getting the soil right is the most important part of getting your plant to thrive.
They need sandy soil, preferably a mixture of soil, rocks, and perlite, and you can readily buy succulent compost, and it’s fairly cheap.
When it comes to pests, these plants are not invincible. Succulents are most vulnerable to aphids, mealy bugs, scale insects, and fungus.
Pests are attracted to the soft, fleshy leaves, and you need to catch any villains early, so they don’t kill the whole plant.
Isolate any affected plants to stop the pests from spreading, and there are a range of treatments, some of which you can find in your kitchen cupboard, but the approach depends on the pest.
Never use the same tools to propagate or transfer plants without sterilizing them between uses, and don’t use the same trays of water to bottom water different succulents – this is how disease spreads.
Winter Months & Dormancy
While there are a few succulents that are surprisingly hardy and frost resistant, most need to be brought indoors before the temperature drops.
Don’t water them when some succulents go dormant – and some plants you can get away with not watering at all in the colder winter months, even through until spring.
You’ll be able to tell when a plant ‘wakes up’ from its dormancy in most cases, as the leaves – which won’t have moved for a while – will have angled themselves toward the sun, the most movement they will have made in months.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Tell The Difference Between a Cactus and a Succulent?
In the simplest terms, all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Cacti grow areolas, which is where the spines grow from.
How Do You Propagate Succulents?
As a general rule, you can propagate most succulents from taking a large leaf off the plant. Pop it on top of succulent soil.
Place a covering over the top to give it some slight humidity and protection.
Within a few weeks, you should see new growth emerging – whether that’s roots or new, miniscule leaves.
Most succulents also produce offshoots – miniature versions of themselves in the same pot.
You can wait until these get a little bigger to cope on their own, and then transplant those into a new pot.
You can collect seeds from spent flower heads – but some succulents in colder climates will very rarely produce flowers, as they take a lot of energy.
What are the Best Plants to Grow Alongside Succulents?
Succulents. No, really. If you mean in the same pot, this will prevent death by overwatering, and you’ll be simulating their natural environment by crowding them together, meaning their colors will be brighter, and the plants will look healthier.
Planting succulents with plants that need a lot of water will invite disaster – one type will die, as it won’t be getting the water it needs.
You can however place smaller pots near each other in displays, which offset nicely. As long as it doesn’t obstruct the amount of sunlight, taller plants will look great against succulents.
Consider pairing a succulent with something contrasting – if the succulent has big, fleshy leaves, place it near something with fine, feathery foliage, or large flowers to bring out the details in both plants.
What is Xeriscape?
Xeriscape is an increasingly popular landscaping concept, which is where you design the garden around needing the least amount of water and time needed to care for the garden as possible.
That doesn’t mean the design is bare – far from it. Usually, xeriscape gardens use architectural favorites like aloes and other huge, leafy plants to add interest to any part of the garden.
It also incorporates a large amount of succulents, and other drought tolerant plants such as buddleia, kniphofia, and alliums.
Are Succulents Just Ornamental Plants?
Succulents are widely renowned and even hybridized for their beautifully geometric and architectural beauty, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have other uses.
Dragon fruit are edible fruits which grow on Hylocereus undatus, a striking cactus. These fruits contain a lot of vitamin C, as well as fiber.
You’ve also probably heard of aloe vera, which is the gel extracted from the leaves, used to treat burns and topical skin problems. There are records going back as far as the fourth millennium BCE for this purpose.
Which Succulents are Poisonous to Cats?
If you have a pet, it goes without saying that you need to check that your plants are pet-safe.
Cacti pose problems because of their spines, which can also be troublesome to children.
Most aloes, euphorbias, and jade plants are capable of poisoning your pets or causing irritation, so never leave them within reach, or choose a pet-safe plant instead, such as the zebra haworthia, burro’s tail, or the holiday cacti.
How do I Stop Slugs From Eating Succulents?
There are several ways. The easiest is to stop the slugs from getting near your plant in the first place – make the ground as uneven as possible with gravel and crushed eggshells.
Plant alliums near your pots and spray garlic water around the pots. Both deter slugs as they hate the smell.
Will a Broken Cactus Stem Survive?
In most cases, the plant will be absolutely fine. The best thing to do though is to cut along the rough wound, both on the plant and on the cut stem, and let it dry.
This will allow the plant to grow a protective callus which will prevent disease, and you can plant the stem in fresh soil where it will grow roots and become a new cactus.