If you love succulents, you probably keep discovering new ones whenever you search for new plants. With over 60,000 succulent families and 10,000 variants, it is not surprising that some succulents grow indoors, and others thrive outdoors.
Succulents are primarily classified as soft or hardy. Soft succulents survive in warm environments and are affected by frost. Cold hardy succulents survive extremely low temperatures. Succulents are identified by their leaves, color, flowers, stems, texture, ciliate hairs, and growing conditions.
Knowing the type of succulents is important because the different varieties have unique care needs. This article will analyze the common types of succulents, how you can identify them, and what they need to thrive.
Succulents: An Overview
Succulents are easy to spot and identify because of their growth pattern and appearance. However, it is also easy to miss some succulents because some do not have the features of most of the succulents you know.
Succulents store water in their roots, leaves, and stems. This is why some succulents are similar, and others are wildly different in appearance. Some succulents are mistaken for cacti because of their features. However, several cacti species, such as the aloes, are classified as succulents.
Given the wide varieties of succulents, some are more popular because of their aesthetic appeal and easy maintenance. Before getting a succulent, it is best to determine what type it is and if it is ideal as an indoor or outdoor plant.
This video is a great guide on the different types of succulents, soft and hardy, and how to care for them:
Types of Succulents
At a glance, some succulents look the same. They may be of different colors, but sometimes that seems to be the only difference. However, the difference is usually in the details.
You can identify succulents by looking at the following:
- Leaf’s shape, thickness, and size. You should also look out for any markings or bumps on the leaves.
- Color of the flowers, leaves, and stems.
- Shape and color of the flowers. You can also use the petals and number of blooms to identify the succulents.
- Presence or absence of ciliate hairs at the leaf margins.
- Edges of the leaves or petals. Is it smooth, or does it have spikes or spines?
- Presence or absence of epicuticular wax.
- Size and shape of the succulent.
- Growing conditions. Does it need full sun to thrive, or can it grow indoors?
- Hardiness. Some succulents can barely survive frost, while others survive winter with barely any damage.
You can easily tell if the succulents are similar or different by paying close attention to these details.
The Do’s And Don’ts When Planting Succulents
Before planting succulents, you need to know how to care for them. Although the kind of care varies depending on the type of succulents, there are some general rules that you can follow when growing succulents.
- Water succulents more frequently during summer. Water the succulents in your garden once a week and those in pots thrice a week.
- Extend the period between waterings during fall and summer to about once every two to three weeks.
- Find out from local nurseries which succulents are best suited for your zone.
- You can choose to create a succulent garden or explore the possibility of finding succulent companion plants.
Popular Indoor Succulents
Indoor succulent plants have become popular because they are so diverse. They are available in different colors, shapes, and styles. They can be grown in hanging planters, while others can be paired with other plants for a unique display.
Burro’s Tail (Sedum morganianum)
Burro’s Tail, also known as the donkey tail plant, grows up to 4 inches (10 cm) long in a tail shape. Each tail is packed with gray-green leaves, easily described as thick rice grains. The leaves have a pale sheen which wipes off when you touch them.
The leaves are delicate and easily fall off if poorly handled. It is best to place this succulent in an area that is not moved or touched frequently.
This is one of the cacti species that are classified as succulents. The long stems go beyond the edges of the pot, adding to the aesthetic appeal of your home.
This succulent is easy to maintain since it only needs to be watered when the soil dries out.
Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi)
The Christmas cactus usually bloom at the end of the year, closer and during the festive season. The leaves are usually flat, fleshy, and are attached to segmented stems.
The Christmas cactus is usually mistaken for the Thanksgiving cactus. However, some distinct features set them apart. For example, the Thanksgiving cactus has sharp spines, and its stem segments are spiky. The stem of the Christmas cactus is usually scalloped.
This succulent requires bright light and can withstand more water than the Thanksgiving cactus. Water your Christmas cactus when the soil feels dry.
Jade Plant (Crassula ovata)
The branches of the Jade plant grow like the bonsai plant. The dark green leaves of this succulent are thick, shiny, and have an oval shape.
Some Jade plant varieties have green leaves with reddish tips.
You can distinguish the Jade plant varieties using the leaf growth patterns. For example, the Gollum variety has leaves that look like monster fingers.
The trunk of the Jade plant grows thicker as the plant grows taller and older. Upon maturity, this succulent develops white or pink star-shaped flowers.
In their natural habitat, Jade plants can grow several feet tall. However, it can only grow to about a foot (30 cm) tall indoors. Jade is usually happiest when it is not overwatered. Allow the soil to dry between watering.
If the leaves lose their shine or start to pucker, you have waited too long to water the Jade.
Jade plants tend to get heavy at the top. A lightweight pot may not give it the support it needs. You should instead plant it in a heavier pot, like the terracotta.
These Fowabay Terracotta Indoor and Outdoor Pots on Amazon.com are available in different sizes and are ideal for Jade plants. They have drainage holes and come with trays so you need not worry about them creating a mess in your home.
The Aloe vera has long, slender, spiky leaves attached to a small stem. Although it makes an excellent houseplant, Aloe vera is often planted for its medicinal benefits. Its sap has for years been used for treating wounds and sunburns.
The Aloe vera is easy to maintain because it can go for weeks or months without water. It loves bright light. Although some Aloe vera grow outdoors, those used to the indoor environment burn when placed close to a hot, sunny window.
The Aloe varieties tend to have similar growth patterns. However, the differences are in the leaf colors. For example, some Aloe vera varieties are plain green, while others have white spots.
Hens and Chicks
The two succulents that are often referred to as hens and chicks are the Sempervivums and Echeveria. These succulents are often mistaken, one for the other, because they have similar growth patterns, each forming a large rosette. They also reproduce similarly, with baby rosettes growing at the base.
However, on close examination, you will discover that Sempervivum succulents have ciliate hairs while the Echeverias do not. The leaves of Echeveria are also thicker than the Sempervivum.
The Sempervivum is hardy and doesn’t suffer damage during winter. The Echeveria is a soft succulent that needs warmth for optimal growth. It can barely survive two days of frost.
The Sempervivum and Echeveria are a delight for people who enjoy collecting succulents because they have varieties with unique shapes and colors.
Fortunately, these two succulents have similar care and maintenance demands, so you are unlikely to kill any if you mistake one for the other, at least when they are indoors.
Leave the soil to dry out before watering it. Like other succulents, overwatering will cause the roots and stems to rot. Both succulents thrive when placed near a window with bright sunlight.
The Snake Plant
The snake plant is the other cacti in the family of succulents. It has long, variegated leaves with different shades of green. It grows quickly with minimal demands. The snake plant can survive without water or in a room with very little light.
The NASA Clean Air Study listed the snake plant as one of the plants that improve the air quality in the home.
Zebra Plant (Haworthia fasciata)
The zebra plant has green leaves with white variegated stripes. It stands out as a house plant and is a favorite for many people. The striking leaves point in different directions, so it’s easily noticeable. This succulent has shallow roots, so growing it in a small pot is best.
When it blooms, a yellow corn-shaped flower emerges and survives for about a week before it falls off. It is slow-growing, so you may not notice a change in its growth for a long time.
Popular Outdoor Succulents
Before planting succulents outdoors, you need to consider three things:
- Temperatures during summer and winter
- Amount of rainfall
- Duration and intensity of the sunlight
Succulents have different growth demands. Most succulents love the sun and can withstand more than six hours of intense heat. However, a few species fade, burn or even develop spots on the leaves when exposed to extremely high temperatures. If your succulent is getting leggy, it is a sign it needs more sunlight.
A good number of succulents can tolerate mild freezes. Examples are the Aloes, golden barrel cactus, and pincushion cactus. However, if temperatures continue falling, these succulents will die. Other succulents, such as Sempervivum, Sedum, Opuntia, and Agave, easily withstand harsh winters.
This video shows at least 42 succulents that thrive in low sunlight conditions:
Stonecrop Succulent (Sedum spp.)
There are two main types of stonecrop succulents, the creeping sedums, and the tall sedums. The creeping sedums are quite invasive because they grow along the ground. Most people prefer to plant them on rock walls, roofs, and rock gardens.
The tall sedums have long stems and colorful flowers. This variety is usually favored for summer gardens.
Stonecrops should be watered once a week, except in winter, where you can cut back to watering once every four weeks, or not at all.
Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum)
Although the Sempervivum succulent is considered an indoor plant, it also thrives outdoors. Sempervivum means “live forever.” It gets its name from its hardy nature and ability to survive frost and hot conditions. It also propagates quickly and produces lots of offspring, referred to as chicks.
There are more than 3,000 species of Sempervivum succulents. They are available in various colors, so you can choose to make your garden colorful by planting several varieties. Their rosette growth pattern makes them one of the most appealing outdoor succulents to grow.
Sunburst (Aeonium davidbramwellii)
The sunburst succulent, also known as the copper pinwheel, comes from the yellow leaves that grow around its center. This succulent is tri-colored, meaning it has three different colors on its leaves. In this case, the plant boasts leaves that are:
Whale’s Tongue Agave (Agave ovatifolia)
The Agave succulent has wide, flat leaves that resemble the whale’s tongue, hence the name. It grows rapidly, and it can be five feet (152 cm) tall when it reaches maturity. The leaves are wide, so you need to plant the Agave in an area with sufficient space. This succulent usually gets tall, spiky flowers ten to 14 feet (3 – 4 m) tall.
Pig’s Ear (Cotyledon orbiculata)
The pig’s ear succulent gets its name from its thick, oval leaves characterized by red edges. This succulent grows quickly and is quite invasive. It is best grown in dry areas, such as rock gardens and succulent beds.
However, it can also be grown in a controlled environment, like a hanging basket, but you will need to keep cutting it back to control growth. This succulent usually blooms in late summer, early autumn. It has red and yellow flowers.
Crassula ovata is a popular indoor and outdoor succulent. It is usually associated with wealth and prosperity, which explains its other names, money plant or lucky plant. If it is not maintained, the Crassula ovata can reach a height of three feet (one meter).
Crassula ovata grown indoors tends to have green leaves. However, if planted outdoors and in full sun, the leaves’ edges will turn red.
Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’
The Fred Ives is one of the best succulents to have in your garden. It is attractive and can withstand harsh temperatures. Its rosettes grow to over ten inches (25 cm) in diameter. Baby rosettes keep growing in the sides, so before long, you will have a mass of pink Fred Ives in your garden.
This succulent does well, both in full sun and partial shade. The only difference is that the flowers have a deeper pink hue in the sun and are compact. You can propagate the Fred Ives using a cutting or a single leaf.
Symbolic Meaning of Succulents
In some communities, succulents are given as gifts because of their symbolic meaning. For example, some guests give newlywed succulents to wish them well. The symbolic meaning behind succulents is linked to the succulents’ appearance and features.
- Endurance and timeless love. Since succulents can go for long without water, they are given as gifts to wish the recipient endurance and timeless love and friendship.
- Luck and prosperity. In Feng shui, succulents are seen as a representation of luck and prosperity. When you plant succulents or give them as gifts, you invite abundance and wealth in the home. Succulents with thorns are thought to bring misfortune when brought indoors.
- Maternal love. The cactus flower symbolizes a mother’s eternal and unconditional love. An arrangement of cacti is often given to people going through a difficult time or struggling to meet their goals.
- Gracious adaptability. Echeverias are striking and make great centerpieces. They thrive independently yet are versatile. They come in various colors and can easily adapt to any arrangement. This succulent symbolizes the importance of adaptability in any situation or circumstance.
- Time for a change. The coral cactus symbolizes profound change. It could be in your relationships or career. It may also be a sign that you have been stuck for too long, and it is time to move on. Sometimes people don’t need to speak the words to express their feelings and opinions. There are times when succulent arrangements do the communication.
These Craft Your Space Small Succulent Pots from Amazon.com are great for your indoor succulents. They make succulents more presentable, especially if you are gifting symbolic succulents to your loved ones. They also come in three attractive colors.
When you start collecting succulents, you will notice the available varieties and the stark differences you may have missed before. Once you know which succulent you have and what it needs to thrive, you can keep it for a long time.