Succulents: The Camels Of The Plant World

To the connoisseur of beautiful plants, succulents rank as a large group of easily grown floral gems with marvelous color in foliage and flower — brilliant, often so subtle that the casual observer may not see these delicate tones. 

The term succulent is often confusing, even to experienced gardeners. It is of Latin origin, meaning juice, but in the horticultural world, the succulent is described as a thick, fleshy plant and refers to many kinds besides cacti. 

Camel PlantPin

Plants That Store Water And Resist Droughts

Plants that store water and resist droughts are generally included in this classification.

The plants described here are not cacti because none of them have the primary characteristics of the cactus family, which are: 

  • Generally no leaves 
  • Numerous spines in clusters
  • Countless stamens on flowers show little difference between the sepals and petals. 

The rosette plants you will see are: 

  • Sempervivum, hardy, star-like flowers, opening flat 
  • Echeveria, tender flowers never wide open
  • Haworthia, tender, with translucent windows on the ends of the leaves
  • Mesembryanthemum, very juicy leaves, and many petalled flowers
  • Aeonium, rosettes on stems (Sempervivums are flat on the soil)

If you see a four-petal succulent, it is, generally, a Kalanchoe; a 6-petal flower is an Agave, Aloe, or Hawortkia; the others have mainly multiples of five|petals. 

If you see a star-like flower less than ¾” inch in diameter, it is a Sedum, but if it has five petals and 10 stamens, it is a Crassula.

Moreover, if it has five petals and five stamens, it is an Aeonium, while a Sempervivum has more than five petals and stamens. 

Different Kinds Of Succulents To Grow


Mesembryanthemum (Fig-marigold). The name means midday flower and refers to the fact that many of the sorts do not open until the sun is high.

A time clock could be made of the various species because each blooms at a rather definite time of the day. 

These plants are very juicy, and with the usual watering given to house plants, they soon die. Most sorts thrive on utter neglect. Botanists are not willing to call most of these plants by Mesembryanthemum, but place the species in a dozen or more genera.


Those with large hair-like teeth on the leaves are known as tigers-claw or Faucaria; those which are difficult to tell from the surrounding rocks are living rocks, stone plants, Lithops, and Pleiospilos.

Some have pustules that seem like crystals on the leaves, such as in the common annual ice plant, Cryophytes, or perhaps only the appearance of being dew-sprinkled, known as Dewplants, Drosanthemum; or the unbelievable baby-toes, Fenestraria, which are a cluster of little cylinders with a membrane, like a window at the top. 

The majority bear flowers with numerous hair-like petals and numerous stamens. Golden yellow is the predominant color, but some are white. Others have the most brilliant eye-offending crimson, oranges and roses known to the world of nature. 


Stapelia (carrion-flower, starfish-flower). These strange African plants lack the usual leaves; the green branches, often four-angled, serve as leaves.

The flowers are large stars, generally fetid, often marked with bars of darkest red, maroon, and often with many hairs. 

The commonest variety is Stapelia variegata. It varies greatly in the markings, but the flowers are 2″ to 3″ inches across.

S. gigantea, however, produces flowers even 16″ inches across. In these giant blossoms, flies lay their eggs mistaking them for spoiled meat. The eggs hatch, and the maggots die from lack of food.


Sempervivum (house leeks). These lovely rosettes of pointed leaves form comfortable colonics and are often rosy, purple, or gray-tinted foliage.

They seem better adapted to coolness, even freezing weather, and are seldom seen as houseplants or in the gardens of Southern California. 

The common hen and chicken is Sempervivum tectorum, a plant grown on the thatched roof of England, hence the name house-leek and the species name tectorum, which means roof. 

Particularly interesting is the cobweb house-leek, S. arachnoideum, which produces little rosettes less than an inch in diameter covered with cobweb-like hairs connecting the leaves.


Aeonium. From the Canary Islands and adjacent regions come the largest of rosettes. In Southern California, where they are perfectly at home, one sees them several feet in diameter and with giant clusters of flowers over three feet tall. 

The flowers are mainly yellow, white, or flushed pink. They seem to like both Sedums and Sempervivums, but the rosettes are borne upon definite branches standing above the soil.


Crassula. One may easily confuse Crassulas with Sedums, but Crassulas have five petals and stamens, whereas Sedums have five petals, but 10 stamens.

Everyone is familiar with the jade plant, Crassula argentea, from South Africa, with its very thick, oval, juicy leaves and popular as a dish garden plant. 

It assumes tree-like proportions in warm regions and is covered with masses of pale pink flowers in December.

Crassula lactea makes a good potted plant, with compact clusters of white flowers and thick leaves that seem hemstitched along the edges as they have a series of white dots inside the margins. 

Amusing is the button-on-a-string Crassula rupestris; the opposite leaves are connected at their bases and seem strung on the stems.


Sedum (stonecrop). Many species of Sedums are well-known for their masses of tiny or large foliage and the profusion of yellow, pink, or white flowers.

Perhaps the most handsome sort for pot culture is Sedum sieboldii, with its three-parted, blue-green foliage and pink flowers in the Autumn. 

Ideal for an Autumn-blooming edging plant is the showy stonecrop, S. spectabile variety, Brilliant, with its thick leaves, several inches long and wide, and its masses of bright rose flowers.

For indoor culture, try S. nussbaumerianum (adolphi), the leaves of which are bright orange in full sun. 


Gasteria (oxtongue, lawyers-tongue). The flowers are tubular, but unlike Aloes, they have a bulge at the base, hence the name Gasteria which refers to this little belly.

The leaves are variously spotted with white in bands or even in raised dots known as tuberculate. 

Some facetious gardener has said these lies on the lawyer’s tongue. The leaves arise in one plane, or unlike other succulents, they do not radiate out in several directions.

Kalanchoe and Bryophyllum

Kalanchoe and Bryophyllum. Many of these plants normally produce plants from the notches in their leaves; hence the commonest sort is known as air-plant or life-plant, Kalanchoe pinnata. It has leathery leaves, either simple or with three to five divisions. 

Eventually, there is a cluster of bell-shaped, pendant, reddish flowers, with a large inflated reddish calyx.

A hairy leaf variety, K. luciae, is beautiful, with its orange flowers veined red. When the flower cluster is past bloom it becomes a mass of young plants which drop into the soil and grow. 

K. blossfeldiana is seen as a Christmas plant, with its red or green leaves and large clusters of scarlet flowers.

An amazing big plant is K. beharensis, often called Kitchingia; it has leaves that are felt chocolate-brown or green, up to 18″ inches long, and deeply or shallowly lobed.


Aloe. These plants are not wild in the Western hemisphere. The flowers are bright, scarlet, tubular cylindrical. Many are spiny, margined rosettes, a prominent feature of the Mediterranean region’s cultivated landscape and Southern California. 

One sees Aloe arborescens as a potted plant with narrow, watery, prickly margined leaves. Bailey calls attention to the pronunciation: a-lo-ee’ for the Latin name, Aldo, for the English.


Haworthia (includes so-called window plants). These African plants are of two groups, very unlike except in flower.

Some species are rosettes of very juicy leaves with translucent areas at the tip, such as Haworthia return: other species have long pointed leaves that are generally banded with white raised dots, such as H. margaritifera. 

The flowers are not very showy, an off-white with six perianth segments. In their native habitat, they become covered with sand so that these little windows in the leaves allow light to enter the center of the leaves. 


Agave (century plant). These plants are natives of the Western Hemisphere and belong to a separate family, the Agavaceae. The common name, century plant, refers to the tardy bloom of agave americana plants, but that they bloom only when a hundred years old is fallacious. 

It is said that they flower when six years old in their native habitat, but as conservatory plants, perhaps 50 years are needed. Curiously enough, they die after flowering. 

Culture Of Succulents

The very nature of succulents is to store water when they can get it and save it for a dry day. As houseplants, they thrive with a minimum of water when they are not in active growth. This varies in the season with different sorts. 

The writer kept a plant of Kalanchoe Fedtschenkoi in a sunny window in an olive bottle without soil and gave the cutting a tablespoonful of water whenever the plant seemed ready to die. For two years, it had less than a tablespoonful of water every two months. 

Plants were produced on the leaves and little plantlets on these little plants. Mesembryanthemums seem to be the most drought-resistant of those mentioned.

We may use humus in the potting soil, but perhaps active manure had best be avoided. Some find sponge rock mixed with some soil an excellent medium. Good drainage is essential. If ground mealybug develops, take the plants from the pots and wash out the soil. 

Propagating Succulents

Many succulents take less strong sun than one might expect because, in nature, the plants are often found on the shaded side of a shrub. 

Gasterias and Haworthia like less bright conditions than others, whereas it is best to give Mesembryanthemums full exposure. Aeoniums become leggy in the atmosphere of a home.

The leaves of Echeverias, Cotyledons, some Sedums, and Kalanchoes root readily. Gasteria leaves may be cut into several pieces and inserted in sand. One such leaf section produced a dozen plants for the writer. 

Stem cuttings can be used for most producing more Sedum, Echeveria, Cotyledon, and Mesembryanthemum. Many genera produce numerous runners or offsets.

44659 by Alfred Cottes