The Ultimate Tips on How to Identify Succulents

Identifying your succulents is usually vital for the plant’s survival because you may need to learn more about the best practices when caring for the plant with time. It is easier to find the information you need if you can accurately identify the succulent. In this article, we seek to explain how to identify succulents in detail to help you understand.

Succulent Identification – Why It Matters

Some succulents have a remarkable semblance to each other, but their care regime is different, thus the need for accurate identification. There are even instances where different succulents share a common name, and it is vital to identify which is which. Where they share a name, you need to be able to identify them accurately. Else, you may end up buying the wrong one.

The need for accurate identification is even greater if you intend to keep a nursery or be an authentic succulents connoisseur.

how to identify succulents
Photo by Pixabay

Recognizing Different Types of Succulents

We probably should start the journey by helping you determine whether a plant is succulent or not. A succulent is any plant that stores water in its leaves, stem or roots. From this definition, you can probably tell that there are thousands of succulents on earth. Succulents cover several different genera and can be spectacularly different from each other. There are still other succulents from different genera that could be pretty similar to each other.

The following are some genera that are quite similar to each other.

Echeveria and Sempervivum

The genera Echeveria and Sempervivum are good examples. They look quite similar and are likely to be mistaken for each other. Plants in these two genera appear the same in flowering and foliage. The leaves form rosettes, and they have more or less the exact sizes. Also, it is easy to propagate both of them using offsets because they produce the offsets efficiently. These two succulents also have similar short stems, and their rosettes form close to the ground. Although the two plants have a similar appearance, Sempervivum thrives in temperatures that are way below zero, while Echeverias can quickly die if subjected to a single day of freezing.

You can differentiate the two by the fact that Sempervivum’s rosettes are more compact. Also, Sempervivum has ciliate hairs along the edge of all its leaves. These tiny hairs are a common characteristic of all plants in the Sempervivum genus. They are an evolutionary measure to trap dew in the morning so it can hydrate in its arid environment. Some Echeveria may have these ciliate hairs for the same purpose. However, the hairs on Echeveria leaves cover the entire leaf, not just the margins. You will notice that both of these plants have the same name, hen and chicks, due to their physical similarity.

Sempervivum @Pixabay
Echeveria @Pixabay

Aeonium and Echeveria

These two have some similarities in the shape and size of leaves. They form rosettes, and the color of their leaves are pretty similar. Some Aeonium species have ciliate hairs, just like some species of Echeveria. One of the differences is that Aeonium tends to produce more giant rosettes while echeveria has smaller ones. If you put the two rosettes side by side, you will also notice that Aeonium has a wider rosette with more leaves than Echeveria.

The main difference between the two, however, is their stems. Echeveria’s rosettes form close to the ground on their short stems. On the other hand, Aeonium is taller, and the stems are woodier and long, and they produce different branches, and the rosettes form at the end of these branches.

These genera are just two of the many that look alike, and after discussing them, you may see the need to identify succulents correctly.

Aeonium @Pixabay

How To Identify Succulents – Note Characteristics

The following are some of the factors to consider when identifying the succulent. You may need to look carefully to see the difference between the features because the differences could be subtle. Sometimes the features that make the difference are too small. The following are the considerations:

  • Leaves: Look carefully at the leaf’s shape, size, and thickness. The difference may only be the thickness of the leaves. Look carefully to see the nuances.
  • Color: the color of the foliage, stems, and flowers is a great identifier. Sometimes the difference between succulents is only the color of their flowers.
  • Markings on leaves and texture: plants with significant similarities may have different leaf markings. Pay attention to the differences between the markings. Sometimes the leaves may have bumps and contours that differentiate between two different succulents.
  • Flowers: the shape, number of petals, and the arrangement of blooms is a good indicator of the type of succulents in question. Some flowers form in groups of five; some are all of one sex, while other clusters have a specific number of blooms of different sexes.
  • Stem: look at the length of the stem in a typical plant even when leaves and other features are the same. A case in point is the difference between Aeonium and Echeveria we referred to earlier. The size of the stem is the main distinguishing factor between the two plants. This standard applies to other plants as well.
  • Ciliate hairs: these are the little hairs you find on the plant’s leaves or stems. They are intended to keep the plant hydrated when growing in arid places by trapping whatever little water is in the atmosphere. However, they will appear in some plants and not others.
  • Farina/Epiticular wax: A plant that has this substance on the surface of its leaves is said to have glaucous leaves. It is the whitish powdery layer on the leaves of a succulent, and sometimes it can be waxy. The wax protects the plant from the intensive sunlight to which succulents are often subjected.
  • Spikes or smooth: Some genera of succulents such as euphorbia are usually characterized by spines on the stem and branches. Other succulent varieties have spikes on their leaves.  If you find one of the plants having spines and another without, it is an indication that they are different regardless of any other similarities they may have.
  • Shape and size: the shape of the entire plant and its size are other factors to consider. Similar plants that have vastly different sizes could be different in classification.
  • Cold hardiness: Some succulents can withstand freezing temperatures, and others have a measure of warmth. Two plants that are physically similar but different in cold tolerance will be categorized differently. Other growing conditions are also a factor.

The best way to learn how to identify succulents is the oldest way of learning. This is being mentored by a more knowledgeable person on the same. You can take a photo of the plant and take it to a person you have identified as an expert and have them point out the succulent’s unique features. You could also use effective apps for succulent identification where you can take a picture of the plant and identify it.

how to identify succulents
Photo by Pixabay

Final Thought

To become an expert at identifying succulents, you need to take time with them. After studying them for a long time and taking care of them, you will naturally start noticing the slight differences between the plants. It may be a small variation in the color of the leaves. Different flower arrangements etc. Loving the plants and being with them will increase the benefit of your study and research.


Richard Miller

Salute everyone. It's Richard, the author of this Succulent & Xeriscaping blog. I am a traveler and a nature lover looking for a connection with the wild green. In my journey, I found a love for succulents and xeriscaping. What attracts me is the long-lasting & unique beauty of every plant I have the chance to see with my own eyes. Welcome to my little blog and let's enjoy a good time together!

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Posted in Guides & Care Tips