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Easy Tips for Identifying and Growing Succulents

I’m so happy that succulents are trending at the moment. Beautiful, pretty indestructible and drought tolerant. They come in the most amazing shapes and sizes and grow inside and outside without too much effort. Best of all they’re really easy to propagate too.

Know your succulents. Easy tips for growing, identifying and propagating succulents and cacti ! #succulents #gardening

A Pilosocereus surrounded by a mix of Crassulas

Another reason I’m happy is because this month’s IBC challenge is all about gardening. And I love gardening. Before I share all my succulent tips, let me quickly tell you about the IBC. Every month a small group of international bloggers from all around the world get together to share a themed project. Last month we did fabrics, which was fun. But I’d far rather get my hands dirty than haul out a sewing machine 😉

Okay back to those succulent tips. A succulent is any plant with thick, fleshy leaves, stems or roots that get used to store water. Common examples include the Aloe, Cactus and Crassula. People often use the terms cactus and succulents together but they’re not the same. All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. More about that a little later in the post. And since I’m from South Africa, which is THE succulent “hot spot” of the world, my little patriotic heart is full of smiles right now, because I get to share some pictures of our beautiful indigenous plants with you.

Know your succulents. Easy tips for growing, identifying and propagating succulents and cacti #succulents #gardening

A little indigenous Crassula pellucida

Let me just add, I love succulents but I’m definitely not an expert. The Latin words confuse the crap out of me and every time I find a new succulent I still have to use google to look up the name. That being said, we do have huge collection of succulents and they are all really happy and make lots of babies too. So I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt these last 30 odd years and maybe it will make it easier for you to identify, grow, care for and propagate your own succulents.

Identifying the Most Common Succulents

With more than 10,000 succulent species world-wide, there’s just no way I can list all of them in one post. I’ve made an attempt to put together the most common ones and how you can identify them. Warning – big Latin words coming up 😀 And I’m not even going to try to pronounce them, since I’m Afrikaans and it would just end up sounding like goobeldy gook with a weird flat accent. If you want to give it a bash you can try the Free Dictionary for some sound clips on how to pronounce the more common botanical names. When trying to identify a succulent, I try to put them into 5 broad, highly scientific categories 😉

  • Fleshy Leaves with Spikes
  • Fleshy Stems with Spikes
  • Milky Saps
  • Flower Carpets
  • All the Others
Fleshy Leaves with Spikes

If your succulent has fleshy leaves with spikes along the edges they could belong to either the Agavoideae (Agave) or Asphodelaceae (Aloe) family. The aloe and agave look very similar but they’re not even related. While they both normally have leaves that are grouped together like a big fleshy rose on the end of a woody stem; the leaves of the agave are fibrous, which is what makes them so popular for rope making. The leaves of the aloe on the other hand, contain a jelly-like substance, and mostly get used for medicinal purposes. Think Aloe Vera. Some people would argue that Agaves are medicinal too. If you’ve ever had a Margarita then you know what I’m talking about 😉

Know your succulents. Easy tips for growing, identifying and propagating succulents and cacti

Aloe petrophila grown from seeds

Both Agaves and Aloes have tubular flowers, but the most Agaves only flower once, just before they die. So sad, they literally flower themselves to death. Aloes flower every year once they’re old enough.The easiest way to tell them apart is to break one of the spikey leaves. If it’s gooey it’s an aloe, if it’s stringy it’s an agave.

Fleshy Stems with Spikes

If it looks like you’ll need gloves to handle your succulent it’s probably a Cactacea (Cactus) or a Didiereaceae (Didierea). They have these spikes all along a fleshy stem and either have tiny insignificant leaves or no leaves at all. Unlike the Agaves and Aloes, the Cactus and Didierea are very closely related. They both store water in their columnar stems, which are covered with thorny, prickly spikes and make huge, showy flowers.

Know your succulents. Easy tips for growing, identifying and propagating succulents and cacti

This could be a Pilosocereus Azureus

The best way to try tell them apart is that the Didierea will have teeny, tiny leaves in between the spikes. Cacti are a little more evolved. They lost those little leaves a long time ago, which is probably why the Didiereaceae are often called the “Cacti of the Old World”.

The Sap is Milky

If your succulent bleeds a white, milky substance, it’s could be either a Apocynaceae or a Euphorbiaceae, more commonly known as a Euphorbia. Not all Apocynaceaes and Euphorbiaceaes are succulents though. Only the ones that have thick fleshy leaves or stems fall into that category. I prefer not to use these succulents indoors since the sap is usually poisonous and our fur babies have a habit of attacking plants. We do have a few outside, in tall pots like this beautiful indigenous Pachypodium or “halfmens” (half person). She’s a member of the Apocynaceae family.

Know your succulents. Easy tips for growing, identifying and propagating succulents and cacti

Halfmens or Pachypodium namaquanum

Lots of Beautiful Flowers

Succulents that grow flat and produce masses of gorgeous flowers are usually part of the Aizoaceae or Portulacaeae (Portulaca) family. These beauties normally have a flat spreading habit and when they’re in full bloom they resemble a carpet of flowers. I’ve never had much success growing them inside, since they require full sun for the flowers to open and put on a display. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is by counting the number of petals. If the flower has between 5 and 12 petals is a Portulaca.

Know your succulents. Easy tips for growing, identifying and propagating succulents and cacti

If your flowers have loads of petals then it’s probably an Aizoaceae. Both the Aizoaceae and Portulaca store water in their fat little leaves.

Know your succulents. Easy tips for growing, identifying and propagating succulents and cacti

Not Any Of the Above?

And finally, if your succulent doesn’t fit into any of the categories mentioned above it could be part of the extremely diverse Crassulaceae (Crassula) family. These succulents can look like fleshy trees, shrubs, ground covers or living stones. If you’ve seen the hen-and-chicks plant (Sempervivum), then you have met one of the 5000 odd members of this family 😉

Know your succulents. Easy tips for growing, identifying and propagating succulents and cacti

Sempervivum Arachnoideum – cobweb houseleek

My favorites are the  trailing, indigenous Crassula pellucida that we used in our coconut planters  and in our clock fairy garden and the upright Crassula lycopodioides shown below that just seems to make babies everywhere. We also filled our vertical garden with a whole bunch of different Crassulas.

Know your succulents. Easy tips for growing, identifying and propagating succulents and cacti from acraftymix.com #succulents #gardening

Pinny Please

Okay so now that you have a basic idea how to identify them, let’s look at how to care for them. Just click page 2 below for all those easy tips.

Categories:   Home Decor Crafts, Our Round House

Comments

  • Posted: May 15, 2018 12:10

    Linda at Mixed Kreations

    Wow you really know your succulents. I never knew there were so many different types. I've just recently fell in love with them little over a year ago. I killed the first couple I bought. But I gave them another try, because their so pretty. So far so good!
    • Posted: May 15, 2018 14:52

      acraftymix

      Thanks Linda. Succulents are the best and I think we're really lucky staying in South Africa, we have such a wide variety to choose from and the climate is just right for them too. I'm sure your succulents will do great once they're settled
  • Posted: May 11, 2018 14:31

    Laura Ingalls Gunn

    This was such an inspiring post. I love that you can plant succulents in such fun containers.
    • Posted: May 11, 2018 14:37

      acraftymix

      Thank you so much Laura 😉
  • Posted: May 8, 2018 17:41

    Christina Makri

    I used to be a black thumb for all my plants. During the years I made a lot of progress and I am proud of it... but succulents still is a problem for me. You know so many secrets... I have to study your post carefully... thank you my friend for all these informations
    • Posted: May 9, 2018 05:41

      acraftymix

      It's a huge pleasure Christina, I hope it helps
  • Posted: May 8, 2018 01:34

    FLORENCE

    Wow Michelle! You really know your succulents! I had no idea South Africa was a mecca for succulents. I love Portaluca & usually grow them every year b/c they're easy to grow and are drought tolerant, and pretty too. I've had Aloe before, but didn't know about Agave and the similarity between them. The plant that makes babies is sure cute. I enjoyed your post! I can't work in the yard anymore...I really miss it.
    • Posted: May 8, 2018 05:32

      acraftymix

      Awww, I'm sorry to hear that Florence. Working in the garden is always such a big stress reliever and I'm sure you miss it lots. Perhaps you'll be able to find some place with a smaller, balcony garden when you downsize to get your fingers dirty again.
  • Posted: May 3, 2018 19:03

    Samuel frodo

    I am the worst gardener there is, but my mum owns a majestic garden, with these beauties. I agree with you succulents are easy to care for. I know there is much variety, I am not really aware of them all, but I love the ones that grow flowers.
    • Posted: May 6, 2018 08:28

      acraftymix

      Thanks for coming to say hi Samuel. I love the flower ones too, they always look so other worldly.
  • Posted: May 3, 2018 04:07

    Julia - Vintage with Laces

    Thank you for all this great info, Michelle! Wow, I had no idea that there are so many species of succulents and I always thought that agaves and aloes were related. I've seen beautifully blooming succulents on the beach. Next time we go there I'll take some leaves and try to propagate them to put in the garden.
    • Posted: May 3, 2018 05:42

      acraftymix

      Aloes and Agaves do look so similar and it's sometimes hard to tell them apart, unless you break off a leaf 😉 Let me know how the ones you find on the beach do in your garden Julia, I would love to know
  • Posted: May 2, 2018 18:51

    Katie

    I love succulents and they are totally low maintenance. I also like that you can separate them into more and more pots as they spread.
    • Posted: May 3, 2018 05:36

      acraftymix

      I agree Katie, they're such easy and rewarding plants
  • Posted: May 2, 2018 16:53

    Tiffany Yong

    I will love to have my little own mini garden in future, but for now, I can't have it as I'm staying with my parents. You have green fingers and have a flair for gardening!
    • Posted: May 3, 2018 05:38

      acraftymix

      Thanks Tiffany, maybe you can get a teeny tiny one for your bedroom in the meantime to keep you company 😉
  • Posted: May 2, 2018 14:50

    Nati

    I love all the succulents you showed us! I am such a plant killer LOL, I managed to let a succulent die (that was long ago, when I had two jobs, and was bearly at home). now that I'm a stay at home mom, and became more thoughtful about routines and taking care of others I might give succulents another try ;)
    • Posted: May 2, 2018 15:20

      acraftymix

      😀 That happens sometimes, but I'm sure that you'll do fine if you get another one and the best thing about them is that they won't mess with you allergies Nati. Perfect little house plants
  • Posted: May 2, 2018 05:51

    Sam

    This is perfect timing, Michelle! I’ve been thinking for a while that I wanted succulents, but I’ve only really looked into it over the last week. I looked at some at Home Depot over the weekend and they were all so lovely! They had the cobweb houseleek, cacti, & a couple others. One had a little garden with both cacti and the one that looks like a flower (but doesn’t actually have flowers...I’m not sure what it’s called, but it’s the one I see most commonly that isn’t aloe). Looks like I need more investigating before deciding what to bring home!
    • Posted: May 2, 2018 06:21

      acraftymix

      The one that looks like a flower is probably a member of the Crassula family. They're the most common and the easiest to propagate and come in loads of different colors. Hope you have fun looking for your succulent Sam.
  • Posted: May 1, 2018 19:41

    Elizabeth O

    This was a really interesting post, I learned a lot about succulents and how to grow them. I really like having them around they are so lovely!
    • Posted: May 2, 2018 06:22

      acraftymix

      Thank you Elizabeth, I'm glad you found it interesting
  • Posted: May 1, 2018 18:29

    Debbie-Dabble

    Interesting post. Love the succulents!! Thanks so much for stopping by!! Hugs, Debbie
    • Posted: May 2, 2018 05:50

      acraftymix

      Thank you Debbie, aren't they just beautiful. We're very lucky here in South Africa to have such a big indigenous variety to choose from
  • Posted: May 1, 2018 16:15

    Ithfifi

    These are so on trend! I am loving the weeny little mini ones I see around. I don't do much gardening at all but I'd really like a little friend for on my desk, a creative little buddy I can talk to while I paint (Odd, I know.) I will have to look into getting one so I can test out all your knowledge!
    • Posted: May 2, 2018 05:54

      acraftymix

      That's not odd Ithi, that's awesome and plants love it when we talk to them. 😉
  • Posted: May 1, 2018 15:30

    Tanvi Rastogi

    Succulents are the only plants that I don't kill ... haha - I didn't know much about them until recently. I want to add more to my collection this summer. Appreciate all the information. God knows I need it :D ❥ tanvii.com
    • Posted: May 2, 2018 06:07

      acraftymix

      😉 I'm glad you found the information useful Tanvi and hope you'll find some lovely ones to add to your collection
  • Posted: May 1, 2018 12:57

    Carolann

    I love succulents and agree, the names always confuse me! This post really does a great job of breaking things down and makes it so easy to understand. Thanks so much for this. It's a huge help! Pinned!
    • Posted: May 2, 2018 05:48

      acraftymix

      I'm so happy you found it useful Carolann and thank you for pinning too 😀
  • Posted: May 1, 2018 02:46

    Leanna

    Such beautiful native plants, I imagine they can get quite large in their natural habitat? I always think of your yard as warm and thick with vegetation. I bet it smells like heaven.
    • Posted: May 2, 2018 06:17

      acraftymix

      We're very luck that our garden is well established and it does smell like heaven, especially after the rains and at the beginning of Spring. WRT to your question, some succulents do get really big. We've seen some Pachypodiums that are over 6 meters tall in the Northern Cape and they make the most beautiful flowers that are yellowish on the outside with a deep wine-red on the inside. Such a stunning sight
  • Posted: May 1, 2018 02:44

    Mary

    Michelle I had no idea there were so many varieties of succulents. I remember in Greece we had lots of aloe veras because they were so easy to grow and also loved the sun. I even remember being surprised when they flowered every year. Thanks so much for this great lesson I really learned a lot.
    • Posted: May 1, 2018 04:59

      acraftymix

      I'm so glad you enjoyed it Mary. We have lots of Aloes growing wild on the sides of the road here too and when they're all flowering it's just beautiful.
  • Posted: April 30, 2018 21:09

    Marie-The Interior Frugalista

    This is such an informative post, Michelle! Like Mary, I have a brown thumb leaning towards the dark brown variety and I've killed every succulent brought into this house. Buuuuut, what I learned in this post is that I quite enjoy the agave variety from Mexico, especially the medicinal coffee and pistachio flavored Mezcal. I also learned and did the happy dance when I discovered that I can quite successfully grow the Crassulaceae variety of hens-and-chicks and they propagate as rapidly as the other bunny dwellers in my flower garden. Pinned :)
    • Posted: May 1, 2018 05:12

      acraftymix

      😀 Those medicinal Agaves are the best 😀 Thanks for pinning my friend
  • Posted: April 30, 2018 19:56

    Debrashoppeno5

    I have had a few succulents for years. I love how I don't kill them. Just give them a little drink and forget them. Your tips are very useful and I will be referring to it.
    • Posted: May 1, 2018 05:08

      acraftymix

      I'm real glad the post was helpful Debra. Enjoy your succulents
  • Posted: April 30, 2018 18:41

    Pili

    Interesting post Michelle, I wasn't a fan of succulents until I realized I killed the rest of the flowers so succulents were the only option, but now I love them. Thanks for all the tips!
    • Posted: May 1, 2018 05:07

      acraftymix

      Aren't they just the easiest little plants and they come in so many lovely colors too. Because we often have droughts here in South Africa, many people have decided to just plant succulents because they're so water-wise and look stunning grouped together
  • Posted: April 30, 2018 13:10

    Katrin

    Michelle, I have finally figured out how to care for these beauties and I am so happy since they are growing and growing in my garden. I didn't know many of the facts you stated, or the different kinds so Thank you for all the info!
    • Posted: April 30, 2018 14:39

      acraftymix

      It's a huge pleasure Katrin. I'm glad you found the tips useful. Succulents rock!!!!
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