What Exactly is the Difference Between cactus and succulents?

The sweep of minimalist millennial house decoration has brought into the picture the use of tiny cactus like plants to be placed around one’s room to make the room look organized. While some purchase these cactus like plants with no further interest, some buy them for the true purpose of growing and nourishing them.

It is a very good affliction to be inclined towards growing these tiny cacti but there are a few things you need to know. Like for example, what are these tiny cacti like plants actually called? Are they succulents? If they are, then what is the difference between cactus and succulents? To find out, keep reading.

What are succulents?

Succulents are a type of plants that store water in their roots, stems and leaves. They have thick leaves that are fleshy for this very same reason. Some succulents have thicker leaves than others. These plants thrive in climates that are dry and have an aversion towards humidity.

Like any other plant, succulents require regular and adequate watering that will allow them to grow and flower healthily. But their attribute lies in the fact they can even survive long periods without water by making use of the water stored in their leaves.

However, they also cannot survive over watering either. If their roots are soaked in water for way too long then they will begin to rot and eventually, die as would be the case with any plant.

Succulents can survive in warm temperatures as opposed to cold temperatures. This is because there is a chance of them freezing up due to the water stored in their leaves.

However, there are a few species of these plants that can withstand below freezing temperatures but would do better in arm ones anyway.  Succulents are known for being able to slightly changing colors due to extremities in temperatures.

When the amount of sunlight they receive becomes too much, they tend to turn green or dull. And when they “blush”, they range from a variety of colors. Their most notable attribute is their capacity to propagate at lightning fast speed so much so that new plants can arise from leaves that have fallen off the plant.

What are cacti?

When the word cactus comes to mind, it’s always a picture of a tall green plant with thorns sticking out of it, standing in the middle of the dessert. However, there’s so much more to know than just this.

The first surprising and mind-blowing thing to know is that a cactus is part of the succulent family. That’s right; a cactus is a type of succulent. But it’s often referred to as a type of plant that is separate from this.

So everything you know and have read about succulents, equally applies to a cactus because it is a succulent. And cacti come in various forms, shapes, sizes and colors too. So there’s no one way in which a cactus looks. And as known, it can withstand long periods of drought using its stored water.

Cacti usually have no branches or leaves. But what really makes a succulent a cactus is areolas. These are small mounds that are round and from which flowers, leaves, spines or hair grow.

So if a succulent has areolas, then it is most definitely a cactus, because all succulents do not have areolas, only cactus. Sometimes, some succulents that have spines or thorns are recognized as cacti but that isn’t true. It is only when there’s areolas that succulents can be cacti.

Some common succulents.

Burro’s Tail – Sedum Morganianum

Native most commonly to parts of Southern America. It is a perennial succulent that can produce stems that grow up to 60 cms. In the summer, the plant gives rise to red to pink flowers.

Aloe VeraA

It is an evergreen perennial succulent that has originated from the Arabian Peninsula. It grows wildly in tropical climates. It is known for its medicinal and agricultural uses.

Crown-of-Thorns – Euphorbia Milii

It is a succulent commonly known as the Christ plant. It is a flowering plant and is native to Madagascar.

Snake Plant – Sansevieria

It is a flowering plant commonly used for decoration. It originates from tropical West Africa. It has many names which include Snake plant, Viper’s Bowstring Hemp, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue among others.

Pincushion Cactus – Mammillaria

It is a succulent and comes under the cactus family. It is the largest genus under cactus with around 200 known varieties. This plant is more commonly native to South America.


It is a small genus under succulents and has its origin in South Africa. These plants resemble aloe plants except their leaves have other characteristics. They are known for their garden presence.

Sedum – Stonecrop

It is a large genus of succulents and is known to contain at least 600 known varieties.

Houseleek – Sempervivum

It comes under a common succulent genus with common names such as houseleek, hen and chicks, liveforver among others. They are perennial succulents.

Why grow succulents?

Succulents have recently become a popular choice for houseplants. But why exactly is that?

  • One of the main reasons for this is that they are easy to grow, so much so that gardeners with no complex knowledge of gardening can easily grow them.
  • They have an aesthetic appeal and are very striking to look at.
  • They require very little care in terms of pruning and especially, watering.
  • They are of a compact size which means that they can be placed in small pots and be put anywhere.
  • They require low maintenance because of which their transport cost is very little.
  • They are not choosy. So you can either plant them all by themselves or among many other plants.
  • Succulents do not attract many or sometimes, any pests.
  • Most genus of succulents have various medicinal values that you can make use of.

Reviewing all the mentioned reasons it is safe to say that succulents are a safe and easy plants to grow that are worth growing for their visual appeal.


It’s simple: all cacti are succulents, but all succulents are not cacti. And that is the difference; or rather the realization that cacti are plants under succulents and the difference between them is that people are not aware of the fact mentioned previously. So now you know and you’re aware of their lack of difference and will be able to clear it up for anyone else who may be confused.

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