Sensational Succulents

The succulent has come a long way! From a plant of avoidance in the 1970s to attracting millions of people around the world.  Today, the beloved plant’s fanatical followers have brought about chat forums, fan clubs, city-based society meet-ups, virtual plant parties, classes, and multi-day seminars!  Perhaps the minimalist philosophy of self-care has led to an uptick of appreciation.  Unlike the traditional house plant, which requires repotting, annual fertilization, grooming, snipping, and water schedules, these self-sufficient accent pieces are enjoyed for their bright, colorful leaves and simple care! Have you ever wondered why you enjoy seeing a pot of hens and chicks, Haworthia zebra, panda, or Flaming Katy, on your desk?  According to a study at the University of Michigan, memory retention, concentration levels, and feelings of contentment all point to the potted plant! 

Defining the Cactus

One of your first plants may have been a cactus and moved with you across decades.  Perhaps it was tall, like the African milk tree, containing delicate limbs like the Christmas cactus, or it was from the prickly pear family, called “Angel Wings.”  Due to their low-maintenance, other-worldly shapes, and occasional spiny textures, cacti are often labeled succulents. While the succulent contains a broad group of botanical families, there are identifying characteristics that separate cacti from the succulents. 

  • Cacti have few to no leaves. 
  • Their rounded indentations, or buds, along the stem, called “Areoles,” are a noticeable characteristic which helps the cacti to store water. 
  • Succulents are native to different regions worldwide, ranging in size from tiny living stones, termed lithops, to the 50-foot giant saguaro.  Cacti, on the other hand, are only native to America.  The only exception is the mistletoe cactus, introduced by traders to Africa and Sri Lanka.

Understanding Your Succulent 

“I thought succulents were supposed to be easy? Mine died. I’m not lucky with them.”  This sentiment is a common response among plant lovers or beginner gardeners. A succulent is not a typical tropical plant.  To enjoy its beautiful, unique foliage, first, you must understand what it needs to thrive. 

    • No Need for Transplanting: While some have long root systems, most succulents do not outgrow their original container.  
    • Stress is noticeable in every living thing. Succulents experiencing excess changes in their lighting, water, or temperature, will reveal hues of blue, red, or violet to the tips of leaves.  If you are forcing a plant to transform, stressing the plant can lead to irreversible damage.
    • Watering: The succulent absorbs and retains water and stores it in its stems and leaves, providing a unique fleshy appearance. As the storage cells lose water, the leaves that first appeared plump will begin to shrivel. This is a clear sign; therefore, water them deeply, promoting healthy root development.  Nevertheless, it is vital not to keep the plant in waterlogged soil; therefore, pour out all excess liquids after waiting five minutes for drainage.  Signs of overwatering include discolored or translucent leaves or limbs that appear squishy or ready to drop!  
  • Sunlight:  Expanding the life of your succulent requires consideration of temperature and direct rays throughout the day.  Gradually expose your succulent to full sun or provide shade with a sheer curtain!  Be careful not to risk scorching the limbs, especially if newly planted. 
  • Stretching:   The Sedeveria Letizia is a low-growing, rosette-shaped succulent when it receives its ideal amount of sunlight. In winter, it often yearns for more light; therefore, it will stretch to unexpected heights.  Fortunately, in spring, propagation is a straightforward procedure to return plants to their compact size.   
  • Dormancy:  All species of succulents go through phases of active growth and development and inactivity, which characterizes their native climate.  Cold-hardy succulents, such as varieties of Agave, prickly pear, ice plants, and Sempervivum, will grow in summer and require adaptation to survive the winter.  On the other hand, there are summer dormant succulents, too.  If you have an indoor plant, yours, most likely, comprises one of those sixteen species.  Take the time to learn about your variety to boost your confidence and ensure its longevity.  
  • Grooming: Cobwebs will appear occasionally; therefore, a soft brush can clean without disturbing its delicate leaves.  Take the time to pluck spent debris or propagate elongated stems.  If you love one succulent, you might love growing more! 

Do you know the name of your succulent? There are over 60 types.  If you are lucky enough to care for a Jade plant, it can live between 70 and 100 years, while a Christmas cactus can survive more than 30 years.  Beyond that time, hopefully, the succulent will be just as popular!


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