Are Succulents Cacti?

by Succulent MarketNov 19, 2020

are succulents cacti


Is there a difference between succulents and cacti? Well, the short answer is yes and they can look quite different. It’s not surprising that they are considered the same though, as they both flourish in extreme habitats and require little water in order to survive.

But even so, succulents and cacti have more in common than just their durability.

What Is A Succulent?

A succulent does not have its own distinct family. Instead, they form part of around 60 other plant families. Cacti are one of these families.

As such, all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. 

The word succulent comes from the Latin word sucus, meaning sap or juice. The modern understanding of the word simply means “juicy”. Succulents come from dry climates where they are exposed to harsh environments and experience little rainfall, so they get most of their moisture from mist or dew in between showers.

Along with their unique shape and color, the little maintenance required to take care of a succulent has made it a very attractive houseplant in recent times.

Succulent Plant Structure

Succulents have thick leaves that contain lots of water and nutrients. The roots are shallow and spread close to the surface to collect and absorb as much water as possible. 

Many succulents have ribs that allow them to expand. This has two purposes: to absorb even more water and reduce the surface area exposed to the sun.

Cacti tend to display a fuzzy or sprint exterior which creates its own micro-habitat that restricts airflow around the plant to help it stay hydrated during droughts. The prickly spines also protect it from predators.

Some succulents are mistaken for cacti because they have small spines on the surface. However, it’s common for plants to have such features without being cacti.

How to Take Care of Succulents

As mentioned, succulents and cacti are excellent houseplants. They require little maintenance and last for a long time, assuming they’ve been potted and cared for correctly, of course.

The main cause of death of succulents is overwatering and infection, indicating that they prefer to be left alone. 

While specific tips will depend on that specific succulent, the general rule when it comes to looking after a succulent is to ensure its potting mix is dry before watering. The plant will only need watering around once a week, but this will depend on factors like drainage, humidity and exposure to bright light. If you notice that your succulent’s leaves are starting to feel mushy, this is a symptom of overwatering.

Cacti and succulents love natural light, but not always lots of direct sunlight. If you are growing them indoors, then make sure to put them near a window that brings in a lot of light to your home. It’s worth moving them around the place for the first few weeks to see where they are growing the best at different levels of natural light. You’ll know if they aren’t getting enough sunlight when the leaves or stems start to stretch.

Potting mix that drains well is also essential to your cactus and succulent survival. Sand, potting soil, perlite, or a mix of all three are common. Consider filling up the bottom of the pot with rocks to allow water to drain away too.

Propagating Succulents

Succulents can reproduce with seeds, but they have been forced to adapt as the wind in their natural environments can carry seeds away from habitable areas. 

Propagation is the term used for reproducing the same plant from its parent. 

There are several ways to do this.

First is vegetative propagation, which is when a piece of the plant’s stem or offshoot is replanted to form its own roots a few weeks after cutting. Leaves can also work, sprouting roots without having to be planted in new soil.

Vegetative propagation requires a callousing period, ie time for the plant to heal itself from the cutting to protect from infection.

The other form of propagation is division, which is when the parent succulent produces a plantlet, or chick, around its base. The chick is independent of its parent and can be transplanted to its own pot after a couple of weeks.