collection of succulents

Succulents for all!

Funny how we so often want what we cannot have. People who grew up in the deserts tend toe gravitate toward cool, fresh-smelling, rainy climates. People who grew up underneath overcast skies take wild, deep, cleansing breaths on the edge of dry canyons under bright blue skies. So isn’t it great that there is a succulent to bring out the longing for either type of climate?

Succulents sometimes include cactus, too, but botanists and horticulturist disagree strongly on this point. Botanists include cactus, horticulturists do not. However, plant-lovers the world over rarely talk about one without the other. Today, we are going to side with the horticulturists only because there are over 10,000 varieties of the two combined. (And this is an article, not a book.) So in the spirit of inclusiveness (and brevity), we’ll focus on succulents.

What makes a succulent a succulent?

Succulents, although thought of as desert plants, actually make a home for themselves on nearly every continent on the planet! The only places they don’t grow naturally are the coldest and the driest. Thus far, no one has spied any succulents in Antarctica, and while there are a few growing in Australia, they don’t thrive in the wild.

But what makes a succulent a succulent is the common trait of having a thick outer skin that helps it store moisture in its stems and especially leaves. This moisture looks like some sort of clear juice or sap. And if you’ve ever gotten pure aloe vera sap in your mouth when treating a sunburn or other injury directly from the plant, you know that this stuff is anything but sweet. Hideously bitter, in our opinion!

And while most succulents did evolve in deserts and steppes where the temperatures are high and the moisture low, we will introduce you to a few that need a bit more water than others. Some of them are even epiphytes–like air plants that don’t necessarily need a patch of ground on which to grow. But the bottom line is–succulents are not only cute and interesting, they are so easy to grow!

Hen and Chicks close-up

How easy are they to grow?

So easy! Especially for the forgetful and the traveling set. In general, most succulents need a minimum of 6 hours of light each day and water anywhere from once a week to once a month. Oh, and very, very well draining containers and soil–but you already made the assumption that over-watering succulents is the quickest way to kill them, right? If the leaves look puckered, it’s very thirsty, but that is quickly remedied. And you can buy special soil for succulents at your local garden store. Traditional potting mix will contain too much moisture for most succulents.

10,000 succulents? Which one should I choose?

We know, that is a lot and totally overwhelming. So let’s start with the easiest ones to grow. Most beginning succulent growers start with varieties like:

Hen and Chicks: there are several different varieties of this type of succulent. It is characterized by rose-shaped leaves in varying colors and thickness. Look for varieties like Aeonium, Echeveria, and Sempervivum.

Agave: for you tequila-loving plant-lovers. Just kidding! Most of us can’t grow the massive plant that syrup and mezcal comes from, but there are smaller, less dangerous-looking plants to choose from.

Jade plants: there are so many to love! The most common variety is the Crassula ovata, but look for “skinny fingers” and the Tolkien homage plants, the Hobbit and Gollum.

Sedum: also can be grown outside and is one of the hardiest of the succulents. Shaped like tiny pansies stacked on top of each other, sedum [also flowers. And the great thing about this variety is that it will trail, making it great for hanging baskets.

ox tongue in a white pot

Or go for some trendy varieties like Baby Toes (funny tube-shaped leaves and pretty daisy-like flowers), Donkey Tail (a sedum variety that trails over the edge of containers), Fishbone cactus (which likes a bit more humidity than the others), Moonstones (dormant in summer, active in winter!), Propeller Plant (give it lots of light and enjoy the red flowers), Pinwheel Desert Rose (keep it a little cooler and use regular potting mix), Ox Tongue (warty-looking and low-growing), String of Buttons (a jade plant variety), and Zebra Plant (looks like a stripey aloe).

A succulent iceberg

We have just scratched the surface of the world of succulents here today. Once you get into succulents, you will just want to keep exploring it! So whatever your weather, we hope you are inspired to head over to your local greenhouse or nursery and have a conversation with the employee in the succulent/cactus department. With over 10,000 varieties, you are sure to find the perfect succulent to brighten up your home!