Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Succulent Succulents

Succulents are getting a lot of attention these days because they are compatible with low-water gardening, are generally considered low maintenance and offer interesting color, form and texture. According to Wikipedia, “succulent plants, also known as succulents or fat plants, are water-retaining plants adapted to arid climates or soil conditions. Succulent plants store water in their leaves, stems, and also in roots.” Some plants use more than one way to store water.

Leaf Succulents: Leaves are almost entirely composed of water storage cells covered by a thin layer of photosynthetic tissue.

Stem Succulents: Fleshy stems contain water storage cells overlaid by photosynthetic tissue. Leaves are almost or entirely absent, reducing surface area to prevent evaporative loss of water.

Root Succulents: Swollen fleshy roots store water underground away from the heat of the sun and hungry animals. Stems and leaves are often deciduous and shed during prolonged dry seasons.

I always carry my camera with me to take photos of interesting plants, containers/troughs and landscapes. I found that I was taking a lot of pictures of what I traditionally think of as succulents. There are many plants—some that surprised me—that fit Wikipedia’s description of a succulent plant. In fact, “more than 60 plant families, split into some 300 genera, have evolved succulent species as an adaptation to limited availability of water. The best-known succulents are cacti. Virtually all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.”

In addition to fleshy leaves and stems, succulents have other features to minimize water loss, which may include using stems instead of leaves for photosynthesis; compact, cushion-like growth; “ribs enabling rapid increases in plant volume and decreasing surface area exposed to the sun”; a waxy, hairy, or spiny outer surface to reduce, which also has the effect of shading the plant’s surface.  
Air plants, or epiphytes, are also considered succulents. Other succulents plants include—and this is far from a comprehensive list—Aloe, Cordyline, Oxalis, Saxifragaceae, Orchids, Crocosmia, Lewisia, Freesia and Gladiolus, Perlargonium (most often sold as annual geraniums), Echeveria, Sedum and Sempervivum, Euphorbia, Agave, Begonia, Impatiens and Asparagus.

Succulents are much more cold-tolerant than many people assume. It’s more often poor drainage that causes their demise. Consider some of the less cold hardy varieties as care-free houseplants. I’m starting to use succulent plants, primarily Sedums and Sempervivums, in my deck and patio containers; very few have survived my wet soil.

Here’s a sneak peek at a hardy (Zones 5-9) Delosperma called Fire Spinner™ that will appear in this year’s New Varieties Showcase at the OAN-produced wholesale Farwest Tradeshow. I can’t wait to see it! It was discovered by Panayoti Kelaidis of the Denver Botanic Garden. It seems to be available in limited quantities from some online specialty nurseries.

Do you find succulent plants garden/houseplant worthy?

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Succulent_plant and www.succulent-plant.com/succulent-plant-families.html


  1. Oh wow...that Delosperma could unite my chaotic pink/orange color scheme! (orange flowers I love, pink flowers that just happen to show up on foliage I love)

    And yes, of course, succulents are at the top of my list of worthy plants!

  2. All of these are absolutely lovely! Of course, we gravitate towards the more colorful plants. We are in the midst of making updates to the Munsell plant tissue color charts, if you or anyone you know is using these charts for identification of plants, we would love to hear about their experience!