Differences Between Cacti and Succulents
Cacti and succulents are two types of plants that are often grouped together because of their common ability to store water in their leaves or stems. Although both types of plants have adapted to dry and arid environments, there are some important differences in their appearance, growth habit, and native regions. By understanding these differences, we can better appreciate these unique and fascinating plants and learn how to properly care for them in our homes and gardens.
In this article from thedailyECO, we will explore the similarities and differences between cacti and succulents, including their appearance, leaves, flowers, growth habit, and native regions.
What are succulent plants?
Succulent plants are a group of plants characterized by their ability to store water in their leaves, stems, and roots. In fact, the word succulent comes from the Latin word sucus, meaning "juice" or "sap".
They have thick, fleshy leaves or stems that help them retain water, so they can survive in dry or drought conditions. Not only that, but succulents are able to withstand extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, because they can store water and adjust their metabolism accordingly. To limit water loss, many succulents have reduced their surface area by developing smaller leaves or by growing their leaves close together.
Succulents come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors and are popular as houseplants and in garden landscapes.
It can be challenging to identify plants based solely on their succulence, as many plant families can include both succulent and non-succulent species. Furthermore, there are many genera and families where there is a gradual transition from plants with thin leaves and normal stems to those with thickened and fleshy leaves or stems. This makes it difficult to use the succulent characteristic as a reliable tool for plant classification.
What are cacti?
A cactus is a member of the plant family Cactaceae, a family that includes about 127 genera with about 1750 known species of the order Caryophyllales. In other words, cacti are a type of succulent plant characterized by their fleshy, water-storing stems and spines. Instead of leaves, cacti have modified spines, which help to protect the plant from predators and also limit water loss.
They are native to the arid regions of North and South America, but are now grown as ornamentals in many other parts of the world.
Cacti come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from small, rounded spheres to tall, columnar forms. Some species have apartment pads or branched arms. They are adapted to survive in harsh environments with little water by reducing their surface area to limit water loss and storing water in their thick, fleshy stems.
Cacti have shallow roots that are able to absorb water quickly when it is available, but also ensure that the plant dries out quickly between waterings.
Generally, they are slow-growing plants, with some species taking several years to reach maturity. Cacti are often grown as houseplants or in gardens as ornamentals because of their unique appearance and low maintenance. They can also be used for medicinal purposes, such as treating burns or stomach ailments.
Differences between cacti and succulents
Cacti and succulents are both plant species adapted to dry and arid environments. While all cacti are succulents, not all succulents are cacti. There are some important differences between the two types of plants, including:
- Appearance: cacti are usually distinguished by their spiny stems and leaves, while succulents often have smoother, fleshier leaves without spines. Also, cacti form small white bumps on their surface called areoles. Succulents do not have areoles.
- Leaves: cacti have modified leaves called spines that protect them from predators and reduce water loss, while succulents have thick, fleshy leaves or stems that retain water.
- Flowers: cacti typically have large, showy flowers that bloom for a short time, while succulents have smaller, less showy flowers that bloom longer.
- Fruits: although both succulents and cacti flower, only cactus plants can bear fruit. The most famous cactus fruits are the dragon fruit and the prickly pear cactus fruit.
- Growth: cacti often grow in a particular shape. Some species grow tall and columnar, while others have branching arms. Succulents can grow in a variety of shapes and sizes, but do not have the same distinctive shapes as cacti.
- Propagation: cacti are propagated by seeds and cuttings. Succulents are most often propagated by stem and leaf cuttings.
- Native Regions: both cacti and succulents are adapted to dry environments. However, cacti are primarily native to the Americas, while succulents are found in many parts of the world, including Africa, Madagascar, and Australia.
You may also be interested in this other article, where we talk about xerophytes and their main characteristics.
Similarities between cacti and succulents
While there are some significant differences between cacti and succulents, including their appearance and growth habits, there are also many things that cacti and succulents have in common, including:
- Both are adapted to dry environments: both plants are adapted to dry and arid environments with little water and have evolved to store water in their leaves or stems. They are able to withstand long periods of drought without irrigation because they can store water in their tissues.
- Both are low maintenance: succulents and cacti are highly sought-after plants for both indoor and outdoor gardening due to their distinctive appearance and low-maintenance requirements. They require minimal watering and fertilization, which makes them a popular choice for those who want to add greenery to their living spaces without investing too much time and effort.
- Variety of shapes and sizes: these plants come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some species grow tall and columnar, while others have a more compact or spreading habit.
Do not miss this other article where we talk about the importance of ornamental plants.
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