Succulents are a family of plants that have adapted to harsh conditions in amazing ways. Discover more about these fascinating plants, what they are, the many different types, and interesting facts about succulents you may not know.
What is a Succulent?
Succulents are a genus of plants that have evolved to cope with adverse conditions by storing water in their leaves, stems, or roots.
This brief description does not do succulents justice because the many adaptations different succulents use to survive in their habitat have provided us with an intriguing selection of colors, textures, sizes, and shapes.
Succulents vary in size, from living stones no bigger than a pebble to giants of the plant kingdom that can reach 20 feet tall (6 meters).
In all succulents, common traits are a reduced leaf surface to prevent moisture loss through transpiration and an extensive root system to ensure the plant can quickly absorb large volumes of moisture whenever it's available.
Due to their hardiness, succulents are some of the easiest care plants you can grow in your garden. Many different varieties will thrive in your garden in various climates or will do just as well in an indoor pot, provided they receive adequate hours of sunlight and are grown in soil with good drainage.
Different Types of Succulents
The succulent kingdom is divided into three categories: leaf succulents, stem succulents, and a unique group called caudiciform.
Aloes, Sempervivum, and Echeverias are three of the most common types of leaf succulents. Aloes feature thin, fleshy leaves, most often appearing with soft teeth along the edges. Sempervivum and Echeverias are favored for their multicolored leaves, usually arranged in intricate rosettes.
Stem succulents are easily recognized by their long, fleshy stems. Many types of cacti belong to the stem succulents family, where leaves turn into protective spines, and photosynthesis occurs mainly in the stem or trunk.
Caudiciforms are an unusual group of succulents that store water in a fat swollen base in the lower part of the stem. Some varieties hold moisture in an above-ground, fat, and swollen root system. The method these plants use to store water has created more than a few unique and almost alien appearances that make them a favorite for niche gardeners.
Some Unusual Facts About Succulents
Succulents have developed many different ways to protect themselves in the harsh environment in which they grow, such as waxy protective coverings, varnish, hairs, resin, and woody bark. From this information, we can determine that all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.
Some species of succulents, like the Delosperma, develop an outer layer that resembles ice or a layer of quartz crystals. These ‘crystals’ reflect some of the sun’s light and provide a level of camouflage against creatures that might like to make a meal out of them.
Living stone succulents, or lithops, also use an unusual approach to surviving in dry arid environments. The plant survives a blistering hot climate by keeping most of its mass underground, with just the top of the succulent appearing on the surface. It looks like a small stone or pebble that helps it blend into the surrounding landscape to avoid getting eaten by desert foragers.
Another extraordinary adaptation succulents use to survive is to improve light collection for photosynthesis through a translucent windowpane. Light can enter through the ‘window,’ but moisture is trapped inside against the drying heat.