You’re researching different types of succulents and learning their specific needs. But there’s one issue — sometimes the plants are just called “succulent variants” in the shop, or you get some cuttings from a buddy who doesn’t know their name. Distinguishing succulents can be a challenge — so many look almost identical! I’m going to show you how to tell the difference between similar succulents and how to identify them. I have also created a succulent classification map which leads to detailed information on how to take care of different types of succulents.
Succulent Identification – Why Would It Matter?
When you absolutely adore succulents, there’s a point where it’s important to know them by name. As I have already claimed, good succulent recognition will actually be the difference between winning and losing! Different types of succulents may have the same common name or identical description with very different appearances and characteristics. Sometimes the distinction is the hardness of the winter. A mistake in recognizing succulents could lead to dead plants massacred in the cold. However, some succulents are toxic to both pets and children. Take care to know how to identify the succulents you need to ensure the safety of your plants and your relatives.
Every plant that retains moisture in its leaves, stems or roots shall be known as a succulent. Many varieties look shockingly different from one another. But there are some types of succulents that look very similar. Echeveria and Sempervivum are two genera which are often confused. They both have the same common name of hens and chicks. Both look alike, with each plant creating a broad rosette. They reproduce in a similar way, each forming offset that grows next to the primary rosette. Yet one of them thrives at temperatures well below zero and the other dies with a single freeze.
Over a period of time, you will be able to identify more than one type of succulent just by sight. Even if you can’t tell a sempervivum from an echeveria now, if you keep looking for distinctions, you can quickly notice their variations. Sounds strange, I get it.
In the photo above, you can see a clear distinction between sempervivum and echeveria. Do you see a lot of tiny hair all along the leaf edge of the sempervivum? Those are known as ciliate hairs. They’re gathering dew for the crop in its arid habitat. Sempervivum has all these ciliate hairs, but few echeveria have them. If your crop has tiny fibers all along the margin — it’s probably not an echeveria.
Another common question of succulent classification is how to differentiate between aeonium and echeveria. Some aeonium might also have ciliate hairs. But their stems are another distinction between aeonium and echeveria. Like sempervivum, echeveria rosettes usually grow near to the soil surface. Aeonium, furthermore, grows long, curling, woody stems that branch, with rosettes at each tip.
Search for details to distinguish between different types of succulents. As we have seen, some varieties have ciliate hair along the leaf margins, others have smooth leaves. Also look for the leaf thickness. For particular, echeveria has thicker leaves than sempervivum or aeonium, but not as dense as graptopetalum. Here are some of the characteristics of the plant to look for when recognizing succulents:
- Leaf – shape, size and thickness
- Color – of leaves, flowers or stems
- Marking or bumps on the leaves
- Flower – shape, color, number of blooms and petals
- Stem – color, texture, length
- Ciliate hairs
- Epicuticular wax
- Spikes, spines or smooth
- Overall size and shape of the plant
- Cold hardiness*
- Growing conditions
Even though learning the cold hardness of succulents and how to take care of them are important reasons for identifying succulents, you can also use the information in your name search. For instance, if you live in the Midwest and have a rosette succulent growing outdoors year round, you can rule out many lookalikes that die if they freeze.
There are a number of good, succulent identification strategies that are open to you. Despite today’s high-tech world, observing other gardeners is still the best way to learn. Take a good picture of the succulent that you want to classify. Be sure to capture the different characteristics listed above, or include those you know in your description with the photo. People who are working at the local nursery are happy to take a look at the image and help.