Comparison: Air Plants vs Succulent Plants

So you’ve just been at a store and bought a plant but can’t really tell whether it’s a succulent or an air plant. You’re not alone…

Every succulent enthusiast has been there. Hordes of plant lovers mistake air plants for succulents and we totally understand why.

Both have massive decorative powers adding a natural spice to your home décor design. Quirky and unusual in looks, you’d be forgiven to think they hail from a different planet.

Despite the confusion, there is a world of difference between succulents and air plants. Several factors differentiate the two, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, aren’t we? What exactly are air plants and succulents?

Differences Between Air Plants and Succulents

Tillandsia, commonly known as Air plants, get most of their nutrients from the air, which is the origin of their name. They are quite a sight to behold due to their beautiful appearance. They are very easy to maintain and up-keep making them the obvious choice for many environments like offices, schools, homes, restaurants and any other settings at all seasons.

If you want to brighten any area, then these beauties, which grow without dirt and come in various colors and sizes, will come in hand.

Air plants do not need soil to grow or depend on water like traditional plants. These make them a popular choice for indoor plants and home décor.

Air plants have thin, spiky, tendrils. Whereas succulents possess thickened and fleshy leaves or stems, a feature which helps them retain water. If you are a forgetful farmer, then these plants will do you service as they can survive in limited water areas for extended periods. They are easy to care for and to maintain and if well handled, succulents can brighten any indoor space and make it beautiful.

Succulents can be planted alone or with a combination of their peers to bring out a stunning look. They come in a variety of colors and an attractive quality which encourages you to touch them. These beauties do not attract bugs and it is very difficult for most of them to overgrow. Their leaves may be rounded, spiky, needle-like, ruffled or berry-like.

Distinguishing air plants from succulents can be quite confusing. If you’re in a quandary deciding whether to go for the alluring succulents or the delicate and wispy air plants, the following pointers will prove valuable.

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Air Plants

Air plants are a small group of plants made up of one genus known as Tillandsia. The genus has approximately 650 species all showing marked similarities in their phenotypes.

On the other hand, succulents are a much bigger and varied plant group. Although succulents are not recognized as a plant group on their own, they’re part of larger families in the plant kingdom. With about 25 families and tens of genera to choose from, succulents offer a wide variety for gardeners to choose from.

See a wide variety of popular succulent types here or check out the rare ones.

Growing Air Plants

Air plants are epiphytes, which means that they don’t need the soil of any kind for them to grow. Their roots are exposed and their main purpose is to attach or wrap themselves on objects to keep the plant from moving.

Since they do not need soil, all you have to do is soak them in a container of water for 30 minutes, then allow them to dry completely, preferably overnight, while placed upside down. Once dry, flip the plant to its right position then place it in its container.

On the other hand, succulents just like any other plant, need soil and water to grow. When growing them in pots, ensure that the pots have drainage holes to allow excess water to drain out.

Succulents also need direct sunlight to develop their best colors, therefore, ensure that wherever you place them, they can get access to a few hours of direct sunlight. A south or west facing window is your best bet when growing indoor succulents.

Read more in depth about how you can take care of your succulent plants.

Maintenance for Air Plants

Air plants are tough in nature which makes them pretty easy to care for and a good choice for a wide range of people. These low-maintenance plants do not need regular watering, which means you can water them once in a week.

To water them, soak them in water for anywhere between fifteen minutes and an hour, then allow them to dry completely before putting them back to their container. This is done to avoid molds.

On the other side of the ring, to keep your succulents healthy and happy, ensure that they get enough sunlight for about six hours in a day. Rotate them often so as to ensure that they get sunlight on all sides to avoid leaning on one side. They tend to lean towards the sun – a phenomenon popularly known as etiolation.

They do not need to be watered too often since they have water-storage tissues which store water for a long time. However, if the weather is too dry, you may need to increase the frequency of watering. Ensure that before watering, the soil is dry as too much water can kill the plant. The best soil to use is commercial cacti mix which is well-draining to ensure the plants don’t sit on wet soil for a long time. They hate it.

(If you want to see more gold tinted planters like the picture above, view more here).

Colors of Air Plants

Depending on species, air plants come in a variety of colors. A certain species can also have a variety of colors, so the color range is almost endless! Although air plants are typically green in color, they have beautiful multi-colored hues. Some of the colors include bright red color, violet, deep burgundy, deep red and more.

The colors change depending on factors like sunlight and lifecycle.  Indirect sunlight is the best for air plants and the gentle morning sunlight, which is diffused by the clouds, encourage color changes.  These plants change colors during their lifecycle as they bloom and most of them change colors as they start to bloom.

Succulent plants come in a variety of colors and you can mix them to create a stunning appearance in your space. Some of the colors you can find include blue-green, variegated, white, chartreuse, red, burgundy, pink, yellow almost black, and more. To get your succulent plant to produce better colors, ensure that they get enough sunlight.

Watering Air Plants

Contrary to the thought that air plants do not need water, they actually need some water as to have the right moisture for their leaves.  You can water your air plant through misting, where you use a spray bottle to sprinkle water on the plants every two days.

The other method (better) is to soak the air plants in a bowl of water for about 30 minutes.  After watering, allow the plant to dry before putting it back to its container.

While air plants have to be dipped in water and soaked, succulents only take up water from the soil. An excellent way to do this is by using the “soak and dry” method. Simply let loose a deluge and let the excess water drain off. Good thing most pots have drainage holes, so the excess water runs out without much fuss. Do not water them again until they are completely dry.

Houseplants are a great way to liven up homes and while there are many options to choose from, succulents and air plants are top on the list.

They are both low- maintenance, easy to up-keep plants which make them ideal for a majority of people. They are hard to kill and easy to use on a variety of spaces to provide a beautiful look and feel. What’s more, you can have these plants together, as the air plants only require a place to wrap their roots around for support.

Air plants can be displayed is diverse ways like hanging from the ceiling, on branches of larger houseplants, on driftwood, on the walls like art, and many more ways. Succulents can only be grown on soil which means they have to remain upright, though you can place them in different parts of the house.

Whether you’re an air plant or succulent plant fan, we hope you realize some of the major differences between these two plants now after reading this article.

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Enjoyed learning about Air Plants vs Succulent plants? If so, you’ll really enjoy the ebook about All the Types of Succulents for Indoor & Outdoor. With this ebook you’ll find yourself more detailed answers that’ll help your succulent grow even better! With thousands of succulent lovers enjoying our ebooks, you don’t want to miss out on what works the best to grow your succulents.

Please let us know what you’re favorite is. And like always, happy planting!

Succulents vs Cacti— What’s the Difference?

We’ve all heard the phrase “all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.”

It’s often used to explain the difference between cacti and succulents. But that simple saying doesn’t tell the whole story or help you classify your own plants. If you’re wondering whether or not one of your succulents is a cactus or you’d just like to learn the differences between these two awesome types of plants, then read on!

“Succulent” isn’t a scientific term, but “cactus” is

You may be surprised to hear this, but “succulent” isn’t a real scientific classification or plant family. It’s just a nickname for plants that have certain characteristics, like drought tolerance and thick, fleshy leaves.

Most succulents don’t belong to the same plant family, so they’re a very genetically, visually, and geographically diverse group of plants. The term “succulent” encompasses everything from the tropical Zebra Plant that’s 5 inches tall to the towering Joshua Tree that lives in the desert and can grow to be a massive 40 feet tall.

Cacti are considered succulents because they have many adaptations that make them drought tolerant, like shallow roots that soak up rainfall quickly and waxy, fleshy stems that store water. But cacti are pretty different from other succulents for a few different reasons.

For one, “cactus” is a scientific term. The word “cactus” describes a much smaller group of related plants. Unlike succulents, all cacti are part of one family, the Cactaceae family. They share similar genes and are almost all native to the same region, the Americas.

Cacti have a number of physical characteristics that further distinguish them from other succulents. Most cacti don’t have leaves, while the vast majority of succulents do. Cacti evolved this way in order to retain more moisture. Leaves cause plants to lose a lot of water through tiny openings on their surface called stomata. Cacti are better able to survive in harsh desert environments because they don’t have traditional leaves.

Cacti also bear fruit and have a special structure that other succulents don’t, called areoles.

All Cacti Have Areoles

Because cacti are genetically related, they all share one defining characteristic—areoles. Areoles are round, white bumps on the bodies of cacti that look like cotton balls. Their main purpose is to fend off critters who like to eat cacti for their water content, which is why you’ll often see spines and prickles growing from them.

Sometimes flowers sprout from areoles as well.

Any plant that doesn’t have areoles is only a succulent, so look for these small, white bumps when you’re trying to tell the difference between these two plants.

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Don’t be fooled by succulents that look like cacti

Some succulents are confused for cacti on a regular basis. Aloe and Haworthia are commonly mistaken for cacti because of their spiky, spiny leaves. Agave is also on this list because its leaves have sharp tips that look similar to the spines on a cactus.

The trickiest succulents to distinguish from cacti, though, are Euphorbia. Many species of Euphorbia have long, cylindrical stems with lots of prickles. If you saw the Sullu Spurge or Canary Island Spurge in person, you’d probably think they were cacti, and rightfully so! One of the only things that differentiates these Euphorbia from cacti are their lack of areoles.

Why do some succulents and cacti look the same?

Some succulents and cacti look nearly identical because they share characteristics such as a cylindrical shape and spines. How can Euphorbia and cacti look so much alike if they’re not genetically related?

The answer is convergent evolution. Convergent evolution is a type of evolution that causes genetically unrelated plants and animals to develop similar traits. This usually happens to plants and animals that live in environments with comparable conditions.

Cacti are native to deserts throughout the Americas. Quite a few succulents besides cacti call deserts their home, too. This means that a portion of other succulents face the same environmental challenges that cacti do, like arid climates and thirsty predators. Those succulents have developed the same adaptations as cacti in order to cope with their environments, such as cylindrical shapes that give them extra room to store water and spines that ward off predators.

Some succulents and cacti look so similar that it’s nearly impossible to tell them apart. So don’t sweat it if you mistakenly call a prickly succulent a cactus. It happens to the best of us!


We hope that this article has taught you a thing or two about the differences between succulent plants and cacti and armed you with the information you need to distinguish them. If you discovered that one of your spiky succulents isn’t a cactus after all, let us know in the comments below!

Be sure to let your friend know that succulents and cacti aren’t the same thing. Happy planting!?

If you’d like this read you’re going to love our full in-depth ebooks! With so many of our succulent lovers asking for more, we listened and can’t wait to share it with you here! With our very detailed ebooks, you’ll get more information than these short articles, some ebooks are 30+ pages, perfect for a weekend read.

Summer & Winter Succulents: What’s the Difference?

Spring is right around the corner! The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, the bees are busy pollinating and the days are getting longer. A lot of your succulents should be getting ready to wake up, while some are getting ready to slow their growth down as it gets hotter. But why do some of your succulents look great in summer, while others look great in autumn?

During the hottest parts of the year, Echeveria and Lithops get ready to put on a show, while in February your Kalanchoe are growing like crazy. Why is that exactly? Well, it’s because succulents, like all plants, have different growing seasons. (Even spring has it’s own uniqueness too)!

We refer to these as “summer growers” and “winter growers”, and knowing the difference can not only help you to better care for your plants, but it’s advantageous when potting arrangements to get a flower show year round from your succulents!

So what exactly are the summer growers and winter growers, and how should you care for them? Let’s find out!

Succulent plant rainbow
Succulent Plants@tudoparasuculentas

Summer Dormant Succulent Species (Winter Growers)

These are a few popular succulents that love it when the temperatures drop! While no succulent appreciates true winter and lots of snow, these generally start to wake up around September and grow until snowfall, then rest a bit until February and continuing to grow vigorously until May.

  • Aeonium
  • Aloe
  • Anacampseros
  • Cotyledon
  • Crassula
  • Dudleya
  • Gasteria
  • Graptopetalum
  • Haworthia
  • Kalanchoe
  • Pachyveria
  • Sansevieria
  • Sedum
  • Senecio

Popular Winter Growers

Aeonium— “Kiwi”

Aeonium ‘Kiwi’ is an essential winter grower! With striking, vibrant pink and yellow rosette’s, they are easy to grow and multiply quickly during their growing season.

Graptoveria— “Opalina”

‘Opalina’ is a common hybrid between Echeveria ‘colorata’ and Graptopetalum amethystinum. With chunky, opalescent, powdery leaves, they are an easy growing succulent that will reward you with lots of babies when cared for properly.

Sedum Morganianum— “Donkey Tail”

Arguably one of the most popular succulents in the world, these trailing Sedums are essential for everyone’s garden. Almost resembling long, chunky hair, these Sedums will grow fast and long, and are very easy to propagate.

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Donkey Tail Succulent Plant @plant.heart.city

Winter Dormant Succulent Species (Summer Growers)

These are just a few of the more popular succulent species that thrive in warmer temperatures, usually going dormant from late October to mid February. It’s important to note that when succulents go “dormant”, that it’s more of a slow growing period than a true dormancy. So while you may see growth year round, the specific growing season of certain species determines how much growth you see as well as blooming periods.

  • Agave
  • Echeveria
  • Euphorbia
  • Lithops
  • Monadenium
  • Pachypodium
  • Stapelianthus

Popular Summer Growers

Echeveria Lola

Lola’s are a gorgeous, easy-to-grow succulent that will give you gorgeous colors year round! With a compact rosette, bright pink tips, and pastel pink on the underside of their leaves, they’re a great addition to anyone’s garden!

Agave Attenuata— “Variegata”

Agave attenuata ‘Variegata’ is a striking addition to anyone’s landscape. This is one of those succulents that you can truly let nature take care of, especially in warmer climates. They shoot out large, towering blooms that more closely resemble an alien planets landscape than a succulent bloom!

Agave Attenuata “Variegata” @twigtrunkandleaf

Euphorbia Trigona

An extremely common Euphorbia, they are very tolerant of extreme sun and temperatures. Take care when repotting/propagating, as the white sap they released when damaged can lead to skin irritation and potentially blindness! It is recommended to repot/propagate with gloves and goggles.

How to Care for Summer & Winter Succulents

So what does this mean in terms of caring for your succulents? Well, it’s fairly simple. Whether you have a winter grower or a summer grower will determine how much you water and when.

For summer growers like Echeveria, they prefer a lot more water during the hotter months, and very scarce amounts during winter. On the contrary, Sedums, an extremely popular succulent and winter grower, will need a lot more water during chillier months, and less when it’s hot out.

Not too hard to care for right? Now here’s where things get interesting. When it comes to succulent arrangements, mixing and matching winter growers and summer growers can result in a year long psychedelic show of colors and blooms, especially when you throw some cacti in the mix! But since summer and winter growers require different watering schedules, how do you keep them together and alive?

Well, it’s important to look at exactly HOW you water your succulents. Do you hose them down, soaking them fully? What about watering around the base of each succulent with a pipette or small watering can? Do you just let nature take care of them?

When it comes to succulent arrangements, whether they have drainage or not, it’s always best to water around the base of each succulent, as compared to soaking the entire arrangement. That way, you’re able to meet the needs of each individual plant more precisely.

Read how you can repot your succulents so that no matter if it’s summer or winter, your succulent can grow healthily and vibrant.

When arranging summer and winter growers in a singular arrangement, it’s often times a lot easier to separate them, giving you the ability to water one side more during summer, and one side more during winter. This will also make it easier to fertilize, as you can simply inoculate one side with nutrients, letting the other side stay relatively unfertilized until it’s time for their growing season.

Growing Succulents in Winterless Climates

So you’ve read through everything so far, but you’re confused because you don’t get winters colder than 45℉. Don’t worry, the same rules still mostly apply! Except you will have to pay closer attention to watering your succulents.

If you live in a place where sometimes January or February can reach 60℉ or more, a lot of your succulents will grow and bloom all year, just slowing down a bit during hotter or colder months.

Often times, master succulent or cactus growers will separate summer and winter growers into greenhouses with differing environments, only keeping them outside during spring and fall! However, if you don’t have access to heaters and coolers and greenhouses, a simple fix can be to bring some summer growers inside during the winter, to be placed in a bright window or under grow lights, so they can still experience a simulated winter!

Conversely, the same can be done for winter growers during the warmer months. Just pay close attention to their lighting needs, as succulents always prefer bright light! Here’s a great and highly rated indoor grow light if you’re growing your succulents in doors.


With all this new information under your belt, it’s time to start planting! Look at what you have, what care you can give, and start planning your succulent garden today! It’s always helpful to figure out what plant hardiness zone you live in, and go from there.

Calling all succulents lovers— rookie or veteran! Succulent City has developed a line of 12 ebooks (see here), ranging on topics from indoor & outdoor succulents, essential tools, the best soil to use, and more! We even threw in a complimentary ebook to help get your succulent journey started you just have to insert your email on our front page for this. With our ebooks you’ll be a succulent guru in no time, have fun!

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