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Cacti Vs. Succulents: What’s The Difference?


If you’re new to the world of succulents, or are looking to purchase your first piece, it may be helpful to compare the two most common types of juicy stemmed plants.

Cacti and succulents are closely related, though they’re not the same thing as some people believe. While all cacti are considered to be succulents, there are succulents that are not cacti. Though they are similar in appearance, cactus vs. succulent stems have distinct visual differences that set them apart.

Differences Between Cacti and Succulents

Despite their close relationship, there are some important differences between cacti and succulents:


  • Cactus plants generally have few or no leaves.

  • Cacti are distinguished from the rest of the succulents by the rounded indentations along their stems. These are modified buds called "areoles." From the areoles spring the spines (usually) for which cacti are best known.

  • A wide variety of non-cactus succulents are native to different regions across the world. By contrast, almost all kinds of cacti are native only to the American Desserts.


Some succulents are often mistaken for cacti because they have spines. However, most of these succulents still have characteristics that disqualify them from being called cacti. One of the distinguishing factors between succulents and cactus is the areoles. Any succulent that doesn’t have the areoles is not cacti.


Succulents that are not cacti include:

Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre Angelina)

Autumn Joy stonecrop (Sedum Autumn Joy)

Chocolate Drop stonecrop (Sedum Chocolate Drop)

Purple ice plant (Delosperma cooperi)

Hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum)

Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis)

Agave (Agave americana)

Moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora)

Flaming Katy (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana)


Why do Cacti and Succulents look so alike?

Cacti originate from the deserts of America. Succulents originate from different deserts across the globe. This means some succulents have faced the same environmental conditions as that of cacti. When plants that live in environments with similar conditions, they might not originate from the same place, but since the conditions are similar, they’ll still display similar traits.


So when you come visit our succulent exhibitor stands at The Houghton Bonsai & Succulent Show on 5-7 November, remember, all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. With this in mind, you can confidently become a cacti and succulent gardener.



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