What Is The Difference Between A Cactus And A Succulent?


Succulents and cacti are lovely plants that are well-liked for their characteristics. The terms “cacti” and “succulent” are frequently used interchangeably. This is untrue since the two are distinct from one another.


So, whether you enjoy taking care of plants or are just starting and want to start a collection, this article will help you to tell the differences between succulents and cacti.

What Are Succulents?

green succulent plants
Photo by Maureen Bekker on Pexels.com

It might surprise you to learn that “succulent” isn’t a scientific categorization or family of plants. It’s a term for a group of plants that share certain traits, such as resistance to dryness and fleshy, thick leaves.

Succulents are a tremendously genetically, aesthetically, and geographically varied collection of plants since they often don’t all come from the same plant family. The word “succulent” refers to anything that can grow to be more than 40 feet tall, including the little 5-inch-tall Zebra Plant from the tropics and the towering Joshua Tree from the desert.

The category of succulents has roughly 60 distinct plant families, including cactus, aloe, haworthia, sedum, and sempervivum. This group includes fleshy plants that hold water, such as cacti. All cacti are thus succulents.

Because of its numerous drought-tolerant adaptations, including shallow roots that quickly absorb rainwater and thick, waxy stems that retain moisture, cacti are referred to as succulents. Cacti, however, stand out from other succulents for a variety of reasons.

Succulents Care Requirements

  • The delicate and beautiful succulent plant species thrives in a soil mixture with good drainage. Clay and Terra Cotta pots work well with succulents since they allow for adequate drainage and reduce the risk of root rot.
  • This plant prefers full sunlight. Put your succulent somewhere warm, but keep it away from direct sunlight since it might burn it.
  • During the growth season, give your plant plenty of water. Before watering again, make sure that the soil is totally dry and that no liquid is left in it. These plants can die if overwatered or left in drenched soil for an extended period.
  • If you reside in a frigid climate with freezing weather, you may have to grow your succulents inside to avoid bringing additional harm.

What Are Cactus?

woman planting various cacti for decor
Photo by Teona Swift on Pexels.com

When we think about cacti, we picture them as being completely covered in spines and lacking any leaves or stalks. However, this is not entirely true. Numerous cactus species come without spines. Succulents and cacti have fleshy stems that can hold water.

When a succulent has areolas, it is regarded as a cactus. Areoles are small circular bumps. These little lumps sprout leaves, fur, and spines. The major reason you’ll see spines and prickles developing from them is to ward off animals that enjoy eating cactus for their water content. Areoles can also produce flowers on occasion. The West Indies, Central America, and other arid regions are where cactus plants first appeared.

Cactus Care Requirements

  • The cactus plant is lovely and requires very little upkeep. This low-maintenance plant requires watering especially during the blooming season. It is recommended to let the soil dry out. Watering should be minimized or avoided throughout the winter dormant season.
  • For your plant, it is best to use the cactus soil mix. This aids in enhancing drainage and maintaining dry soil.
  • It is suggested that you fertilize the cactus plant once a year.
  • Those beauties like indirect bright light, therefore, they require to be in the full or mild sunlight for a few hours each day.

How Are Cactus And Succulents Different From Each Other

Simply said, cacti are a family, or subcategory, of the succulents, a class of plants. They might be small and spherical or tall and slender, and they frequently lack leaves and branches. A cactus differs from a succulent in several ways on the outside. Because of their needle-like spines, cacti may be recognized. They can perform photosynthesis and have fleshy stems that can retain water.

On the other hand, the fleshy leaves of a succulent plant store water and nutrients. The waxy stems of the cactus give them their distinctive appearance. On the other hand, the arrangement and form of a succulent’s leaves can be used to identify it.

Although some cactus plants do have leaves, the majority do not. Cacti also develop little white lumps on their surface known as Areoles.  A succulent plant has to have Areoles to be categorized as a cactus. Areoles are tiny, spherical, fleshy cushions from which the cactus produces spines, leaves, hair, flowers, and other things. Only cacti, not all succulents, have Areoles.

Due to their thorns or spines, certain succulents are sometimes mistaken for cacti. However, this does not mean that all succulents with similar features are cacti. The two can be separated primarily by their Areoles.

Cacti and succulents both have blooms. In contrast to the flowers of succulent plants, cactus plant blossoms are brighter, larger in size, and come with intricate architecture. Bees, butterflies, and bats all fertilize the cactus flower’s blossoms. Succulents have tiny, straightforward flowers that are typically pollinated by bees. Although both cacti and succulents have flowers, only cactus plants can produce fruits. Some of the most known Cactus fruits are prickly pear and dragon fruit.

The method of propagation involves using a part of the main plant to create new plants. Without having to purchase additional plants, this simple way aids in growing your collection. Seeds and offsets are both used to grow cacti. Leaf cuttings and Stems are the most common method of propagating succulents.

Characteristics Of CactusCharacteristics Of Succulents
Cactus have Areoles.Most succulent classes (Except cactus) do not have Areoles.
Have thick and fleshy stems and do not have leaves.Have thick and fleshy leaves and thin stems.
Blooms of the cactus are very bright.Succulent flowers are small and modest.
Produces fruit.Do not produce fruit.
Cactus is typically propagated by seeds and offsets.Succulents are typically propagated by stems and leaf cuttings.

Why Do Succulents And Cactus Have Similar Characteristics?

Convergent evolution is a kind of evolution that results in the development of comparable features in plants that are not genetically related. Plants that inhabit areas with the same environment and circumstances typically develop similar traits.

In addition to cactus, several other succulents call deserts their home. This indicates that certain other succulents experience the same environmental difficulties as cactus, such as dry conditions and hungry predators. To survive in their habitats, those succulents have evolved similar adaptations to cacti, such as cylindrical forms that offer them more space to retain moisture and spines that deter predators.

Bottom Line

Well, there is a tiny bit of ambiguity when separating succulents from cacti. Cacti are classified as succulents in science, however, some botanists place them in distinct categories. In principle, all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.

Typically, cacti are characterized by one large, fleshy stem and very few or no leaves. Whereas, the succulents have thick and juicy leaves and thinner stems. Another main difference between the cactus and succulents is Areoles. If a plant doesn’t contain Areoles, it’s merely a succulent, and if it has, then the plant is most likely cactus. Therefore check for these tiny, white bumps to distinguish between the two types of plants.

Peride Beradze
Peride is an avid planter, Tour Manager and freelance writer. She is a plant collector who mainly focuses on succulents. She loves studying cultures, traveling and learning new languages.

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