Difference between Succulents and Cacti

Difference between Succulents and Cacti

What is the difference between cacti and succulents? Why are cacti classified as succulents? Are cacti succulent plants?

Usually, the two names are used interchangeably but differ scientifically.

In this article, we take a look at the difference between succulents and cacti.

Ideally, cacti are said to be easy to notice since they have spines, however, that may not be the case given that there are plenty of other plants with spines and are classified as succulents. Besides, some cacti plants lack spines so it can be confusing to identify which is which.

A good way to identify a cacti plant is to check whether it has areoles. This is the tiny, circular light area on the surface of a cactus plant that sometimes looks like dark-colored bumps that later become the spines or flowers when the plant grows.

Therefore, the next time you come across a succulent plant with areoles, know that it’s a cacti plant. And if it lacks areoles, then it’s not a cacti plant. Also, cactus plants don’t have leaves but instead have areoles as their branches and spines as their leaves which enable them to survive in arid and semi-arid areas since no water is lost.

Read on to understand their differences much better.

What is a succulent?

Succulents are a category of more than 40 plant families and usually have leaf-like branches that are meant to prevent water loss. These plants are usually found in dry areas and store water in their stems or roots. Good examples of succulents include sedum, aloe, cacti, agaves, euphorbias, etc.

The term succulent is derived from a Latin word succulentus meaning full of juice. 

Well, there has and still much controversy when classifying a plant as succulent by plant experts say that any plant that stores water and water in its stem, roots or leaves temporarily for use during the dry season can be classified as a succulent.

Usually, xerophytics succulents are considered drought-resistant plants while halophytic succulents preserve the water that enables them to survive in salty soils such as in marshes or seashores.

Well, don’t get confused, keep reading. As you come to the end of this article, you will have understood the difference between succulents and cacti.

Other Water-Saving Features That Distinguish Succulents from Other Plants

The flesh leaves and stems are some of the features to identify succulents even when in the middle of other plants. However, these features are just a few of the mechanisms these plants use to endure dry climates.

Here are some other water-saving features of succulent plants.

  • A waxy coating, spines, and hairs that prevent water loss. These features also act as a shade for the plants.
  • Green stems that facilitate photosynthesis.
  • Grooves that make the plant to swell during the rainy season and shrink during the dry season to reduce exposure to sun rays.

How to Grow and Care for Succulents Indoors

Although succulents including cacti survive in dry climates, they make good indoor plants. These plants grow well in high temperatures and low moisture but they also need lots of light. And due to their ability to store water in their leaves, succulents require little maintenance.

This way, you can grow them indoors even if you are a busy person. Ideally, succulents don’t need to be watered daily as this could attract infections hence resulting in the death of the plant. As long as you grow succulents in a place with adequate sunlight, they are good to flourish even without your close attention.

Just make sure the potting mix is dry before you water again. These plants don’t need too much moisture and that makes it tricky to grow succulents indoors. In fact, they may not be the best houseplants. But this should not discourage you from growing them indoors since we are going to show you how to grow and care for your succulent plants indoors.

Let’s get started.

Choose the Right Succulent Plant for You

As said earlier, succulents need lots of light and high temperatures; however, if you plan to plant yours in a shaded corner indoors, then you would want to choose a low-light succulent plant such as the mother-in-law tongue.

A good rule of thumb is to read the plant label to understand the amount of sunlight your succulent plant needs.

Allow in Adequate Light

We proceeded by mentioning that succulents survive in hot, high temperatures and need lots of light to grow. 

That makes them tricky plants to grow indoors since denying them adequate light could make them die. When grown outdoors, they only require 6 hours of bright sunlight every day.

But that shouldn’t be a thing to worry about. When you grow succulent plants indoors, make sure they get enough light. A good rule of thumb is to put your potting mix close to the window where they are exposed to direct sunlight each day- you must have a place in your home or office that gets bright light throughout the day. This is the best place to place your succulent plants.

Note that, you should introduce direct sunlight gradually as newly planted succulent plants may dry up. You could place a curtain between your newly planted succulents and keep adjusting the light until the plant grows.

Usually, if your succulents aren’t getting enough light, they will start to stretch their leaves toward the light. If you notice this, transfer them to a place with enough light.

Well, sometimes succulent plants will also stretch their leaves even when in direct sunlight. That means you need to supplement with grow light…And if the stretched leaves grow longer, just prune and propagate them.

More Water but Less Frequently 

Ideally, succulent plants need more water, especially when they are still young and this is especially during the summer seasons, unlike during the winter season. And this is where new succulent growers find themselves in a crossroad that they either underwater or overwater their plants.

It’s simple; just make sure you give them enough water but not as regularly as other indoor plants.

You want to make sure the soil is completely dry before you water your succulent plants again. Follow the water and dry method and make sure you don’t water them every day.

The best way to determine when it’s time to water your succulent plants is to test the soil with your finger. Push your index finger in the soil about 1.25 inches and when you notice the soil has dried up, add more water.

Also, you should always observe the leaves of your newly grown succulent plants. If you notice drying or scorching or drying up of the leaves, especially the ones at the top, it’s a bad sign, but if at the bottom of the stem near the soil, that’s normal.

Add Water Directly to the Soil

During watering of your succulent plants, make sure you add water directly to the soil until it starts to drain out of the holes at the bottom of the potting mix. Of course, limit water if your container doesn’t have holes. Avoid spray bottles when watering your succulent plants as this can make their leaves moldy.

Grow your succulent plants in a container that drains water

As mentioned earlier, succulent plants don’t require too much moisture so make sure, the container can drain water to keep their roots from rotting. Make sure the container has a drainage hole to allow excess water out during watering.

Having read what succulent plants are and how to grow and take care of them, let’s take a look at their sub-group- cactus plants.

What Is A Cactus?

Cacti are a sub-group of the succulent plants and as we have said, a plant is classified as a cactus if it has areoles. That means not all cactus plants can be succulents.

Nevertheless, cacti share a lot of features with other types of succulent plants. For instance, most cacti don’t have leaves but have spines and green-colored stems that conduct photosynthesis, and are used to store water.

Another feature that distinguishes cactus plants from other succulent plants is the big and colorful flowers that produce fruits.

Can you grow succulents and cacti together?

The two plant families can be grown together but put the following in mind.

The two families are native to dry and low-moisture conditions. They require lots of bright light and even though they need more water, they don’t require regular watering.

However, some succulent plants will need regular watering while others don’t. To grow cacti and succulents together, just make sure you avoid watering a newly grown cactus or succulent plant immediately.

Allow it to grow for at least one week before you start watering it. Also, although you need to dampen the soil, you should not soak the plants in water. Drain the excess water that collects at the bottom of the container.

How to Grow and Care for Cacti

Cacti and succulents are becoming popular houseplants these days. Being a sub-group of the succulent plant family, you can care for your cactus plant the same way as succulent plants. However, you need to note that cacti need lots of bright, adequate drainage, and direct sunlight whereas some succulent plants don’t.

Just make sure you imitate their natural habit.

If you are looking for how to care for your cactus plants, follow these tips.

Give them enough light

They flourish well in areas with bright and direct sunlight. In fact, in the desert, they require 6 hours of direct bright sunlight every day.

Does growing cacti indoors sound challenging for you?

No, it shouldn’t worry you.

Just make sure to grow them in a place where they get full sun all day. If they lack sufficient light, cactus plants won’t grow.

Avoid excessive moist soil

You can dampen the soil, but don’t soak cacti in a container with too much moisture. Make sure the soil is dry before you water your plant again. And when watering, make sure excess water escapes through the hole completely. When water collects in the soil, the cacti roots will rot. Otherwise, when it is cold, you can even stay without watering your plant for one month.

Soil and container size 

If you have to grow cactus plants together, make sure your container has enough space so that they aren’t squeezed in one place. This will give your cactus plants enough space to grow, grow and for air to move freely between them.

Cactus roots don’t grow deep so you don’t need a deep container either. 

Also, cacti grow well in sandy or gravelly soil. This type of soil does not allow water to accumulate at the container.

Avoid overwatering your cacti

Although cacti need more water, overwatering can kill your plants. Ideally, you will need to water your cacti during the active growing periods and when it grows big, make sure the soil is dry before you water your cacti.

Did You Get the Difference Between Succulents and Cacti?

So there you have it, cacti are a sub-group of the succulent plant family, but not all succulents are cacti.

We hope the next time you see the two categories of plants; you will be able to distinguish them easily. And if you are planning to grow them, we have also shared tips on how to for care cacti and succulents.


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