By The Old House Web


Plants that have adjusted to the arid and semi-arid regions of the world are known as cacti and succulents. Cacti are defined as members of one plant family and are considered separately, although they are actually succulents. The term Succulent encompasses all other fleshy plants, which stem from a variety of plant families.

Both succulents and cacti have developed means of survival that assure their growth in these regions. Their leaves have become smaller and their stems larger in order to store more water; in some, the leaves have disappeared leaving only thickened green stems. In plants where the leaves have not disappeared, the leaves may have become thickened or insulated with coverings of hair, wax or scales.

Succulents are excellent houseplants, for they are both adaptable and durable. They are suited to a wide variation in temperature, and can even survive neglected watering.

However adaptable, succulents are sensitive to some conditions occuring during planting. Succulents are sensitive to drainage and light, and are subject to invasion by rot organisms if they are kept too wet. Overwatering or tight, poorly drained soils increases the chance for disease development; for this reason the soil mix should be one which allows the water to pass through quickly. Coarse sand or perlite are excellent soil additions to improve drainage, and organic matter is also beneficial. When preparing a soil for planting or repotting, it is recommended to use about two parts coarse sand or perlite with one part organic matter and one part good garden soil. If the garden soil is fairly sandy, use equal parts of these ingredients.

Succulents need plenty of light; a bright, warm south window is satisfactory for many. A window greenhouse is ideal and can accommodate many plants; because succulents survive in relatively small amounts of soil, they can remain in small pots. When using small pots, an interesting collection of many types may be made in a small space. Large pot size can make moisture control difficult, and will lead to decline in the health of the succulents.

The are many varieties in succulents; as the plants differ in family they also differ in physical characteristics. The leaves and stems of plants classified as succulents have an endless variety in form and color. Some unique plants include: the Blue-grey senecio known as blue chalk sticks, the Graptopetalum known as ghost plant, a pen-wiper plant splashed with black, and those shining with mettalic coppery shades such as those found in plants known as copper pinwheel (Aeonium) and copper roses (Echeveria).

The most widely known succulent is the Sansevieria, usually called snake plant or mother-in-laws tongue. The Sansevieria is a durable plant, one often relegated to a poorly lighted location. Although this plant endures for a long time with poor lighting conditions, it will multiply and sometimes flower in more ideal conditions.

There are also several varieties of flowering succulent. Staphelias are large, star-shaped flowers; beautiful but with an unpleasant odor, as they are designed to attract flies for pollination. The hoya, or wax plant, has clusters of waxy, delicately fragrant flowers. The Portulaca, also known as the rose moss is the best known succulent for outdoor garden use. It is usually grown for it's flowers.


Garden Spotlight-University of Missouri, Lincoln University. January 28, 1985 Dr. Ray R. Rothenberger; Chairman, Department of Horticulture

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