What is the difference between cacti and succulents?

Succulents, cactus, false cactus, we get lost, we hear everything and its opposite! We help you to find your way:

Cactuses and succulent plants, what is the difference ?

The answer to this question is actualy simple : none ! 😁

Definition of a succulent plant

Succulent plants, also known as succulents, are plants that have adapted, with parts that are thickened, fleshy, and engorged, to fight against arid climates.

How do succulents adapt?

They fight against drought by storing water in their leaves, their stems or their roots.

They know how to capture the slightest drop of water passing within their reach, even in fine morning fog.

This storage of water to be able to resist the driest days gives them this particular appearance of thick leaves, often coated with wax or hairs to avoid evaporation.

succulents detail of hairs on leaves
Succulent plants detail of leaves

Where does the term 'succulent' come from?

Sève de l'Aloé

The word “succulent” comes from the Latin word for “sap”, because succulent plants store water in the form of sap.

It is not a botanical family, but rather an adaptability.

For example, the juice of the Aloe Vera plant is well known and can be consumed.

L'Aloé véra est une plante succulente, aussi appelée plante grasse.

Are cacti succulents?

The adaptation of cacti

The cactus is a member of the succulents family because of its adaptation to dry climates. It has, as for him, opted for the reduction of the size of its leaves to fight against evaporation, even their transformation into spines, or even their total disappearance.

Fields of cacti

How to know if a plant is a cactus?

Aréole d'un cactus, plante grasse ou succulente

To recognize a cactus for sure, it is necessary to be able to observe the presence of “aeroles“, which are these small characteristic excrescences which will carry the spines.

They have multiple functions, from capturing dewdrops to protecting the plant against wind and sunlight, to defending the plant against predators.

Aréoles de cactus qui portent les épines

Do cacti have leaves?

But as nature is not as Cartesian as we are, it has obviously made exceptions to the rule! Thus, the genus Pereskia gathers primitive cacti, which are cacti without really being cacti. They do have spines and the famous aeroles, but they also develop leaves and have kept the shrubby aspect! And unlike other more classic cactus varieties that need to be watered sparingly, Pereskia love water..

Pereskia, plante grasse, feuilles sur tronc
Pereskia bleo, succulent plant, flower
Pereskia, succulent plants, with spines and aeroles

In short, succulents store water and are adapted to drought. Cacti, which can be recognized by their aeroles that carry their spines, are succulent plants, but not all succulent plants are cacti. In addition, some cacti have kept the characteristics of cacti while retaining the characteristics of a classic plant.

Nature is complex and does not easily fit into specific categories, but we hope that these terminologies are now clearer for you!