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Succulents are a wide-ranging group of plants that cross a
number of families and genera and are noted for their thick,
fleshy leaves or stems designed to store water. While generally
slow-growing, succulents have interesting forms and often showy
blooms, making them among plants prized by collectors. Cacti are
classified among the succulents. (To learn more about desert
cacti, see the March 2006 “Foliage Plant of the Month” feature.)
Here we concentrate on others outside the Cactaceae family.
With proper care, succulents can live indoors for years.
Succulents are available year-round.
AND CONSUMER CARE
WATER From spring through
fall, water these plants as you would other houseplants, when
the soil begins to dry. In winter, when the plants are dormant,
water less frequently. Though these plants store water, they
can’t survive complete drying out. Good drainage also is
essential to avoid overwatering and root rot. Sand, pulverized
brick or rock can be added to the soil to achieve the proper
LIGHT Sunshine is vital to
these plants, and a location near a south window is ideal. Some
suggest bringing these plants outdoors during the summer.
temperature Average warm indoor temperatures are appropriate;
succulents like a marked difference between daytime and
nighttime temperatures. During the winter, keep these plants
cooler (from 50 F to 55 F though they can be kept as low as 40
HUMIDITY There is no need to
mist these plants. Fresh air is helpful, so open the windows
FERTILIZER Feed succulents
every several weeks during the growing season. Special cactus
and succulent plant foods are available.
PROPOGATION Stem cuttings,
offsets or leaf cuttings should root easily, but the cuttings
should be left to dry several days before being placed into the
compost. Succulents also can be grown from seed.
REPOTTING Ideally, plants
should be repotted every year. Many succulents have shallow,
fibrous roots, for which shallower pots are suitable.
FAMILY Succulents are
members of many families, including Aizoaceae, Amarylli-daceae,
Asclepiadaceae, Bromeliaceae, Compositae, Crassulaceae,
Euphorbiaceae, Gesneriaceae, Liliaceae, Orchidaceae, Piperaceae
WHAT'S IN A NAME The word
“succulent” comes from the Latin “succos,” which means juice or
PESTS AND PROBLEMS Nematodes
(microscopic worms) can attack the roots of succulents. Using
sterilized potting soil should prevent this problem.
LEAF PROBLEMS Underwatering
will cause dry brown spots or may cause the leaves to fall. Soft
brown spots on the leaves are a sign of leaf-spot disease, which
can be treated with a fungicide and increased ventilation around
the plant. Wilted, discolored leaves signal overwatering.
Succulents of varied forms make great pairings in dish gardens.
Create a small landscape by using tall forms, low forms and
spreading varieties. Leave adequate room between the plants for
them to grow. Rocks can be placed decoratively among the plants
and removed, as needed, as the plants grow. A shallow
earthenware container or glazed dish filled with peat-based
compost makes a proper home. To ensure good drainage, the
container should have holes in the base or a thick layer of
charcoal at its bottom.
SUCCULENTS TO CHECK OUT
• Agave americana (century plant) - has saw-toothed leaves.
• A. filifera (thread Agave) - has leaves that extend upward and
are covered with fine filaments (or threads).
• Aloe (For more on Aloe, see the September 2006 “Foliage Plant
of the Month.”)
• Bryophyllum daigremontianum syn. Kalanchoe daigremontianum
(devil’s backbone) - has triangular leaves with serrated edges
that have small plantlets growing along them.
• Crassula argentea, syn. C. ovata or C. portulacea (jade plant)
- round-edged, shiny green leaves grown from trunklike stalks.
• C. lycopodioides (rattail plant) - has small, scalelike leaves
that grow close together on erect branches.
• C. perforata (string-of-buttons) - paired leaves are spaced
along stems that can grow to 2 feet tall.
• Euphorbia obesa (gingham golfball, living baseball) - its form
is that of a seamed globe, from the top of which small flowers
• Graptopetalum paraguayense (ghost plant) - these gray-leaved,
low-growing relatives of Echeveria grow rosettelike leaves on
• Haworthia (wart plant, star cactus, cushion Aloe) - similar to
Aloe plants, these species have thick leaves covered in white
warts that often form a horizontal stripe pattern.
• Kalanchoe - grown either for their flowers or for their
striking leaves, members of this genus often have velvety
leaves, many of which have brown tips.
• Orostachys spinosus - The spiny-tipped leaves of this plant
are packed into a tight saucerlike rosette.
• Sedum (stonecrop, orpine) - A variety of species and forms are
among the Sedum genus, most of which are low growing and have
branching stems and either cylindrical or cup-shaped leaves.
• S. morganianum (donkey’s tail, burro tail) grows trailing
stems that are closely covered in cylindrical leaves.
• Sempervivum arachnoideum (cobweb houseleek) - a threadlike
covering over the dense-packed plant gives it its name. Red
flowers appear in summer.
Some information provided by:
Cactus and Succulent Society of America,
Hortus Third, by Liberty Hyde Bailey and Ethel Zoe Bailey
The House Plant Expert Book Two, by Dr. D.G. Hessayon
The Succulent Plant Page,
The Houseplant Encyclopedia, by Ingrid Jantra and Ursula Kr¸ger
Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners, by William T.
You may reach Foliage Plant of the Month writer Amy Bauer by
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (800)
Photos courtesy of The John Henry Company
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