Looking to add texture, color and interest to your home landscape? If you’re looking for a “wow” factor that is hardy and (generally) inexpensive, consider succulents and cacti. These “desert” plants are not just for Arizona and California – they also do well in Florida. Although they do not like our Jun. – Sep. rainy season, they love our Nov. – May sunny dry season. A succulent is basically a “fat plant.”

Some parts of the plant are, more than normally, thickened and fleshy in order to store water. Botanists often disagree as to whether a plant is a true succulent, semi-succulent, etc. A better term is Xerophyte – a plant that has adapted to survive in an environment with little water.

Succulents are found world-wide, mostly in arid or semi-arid climates but they are also found in tropical rain forests. A common example is the Christmas Cactus, which is a variety of Schlumbergera, an epiphytic species found in Brazil. This type of cactus behaves much like an orchid. People are often confused as to cactus or succulent. The easy answer is that all cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti.

The Cactaceae are the most common succulent species with over 2,000 members. There are many other large families such as Euphorbia, Agave, Aloe, Crassula, Kalanchoe, etc. The cactus is distinguished from other succulents by possessing a specific botanical feature called an areole. This is the little dimpled oval on the surface from which two buds protrude. From the top bud emerges the flower, fruit or growing limb of the plant while the bottom bud produces the spine (thorns are for Roses). Spines serve two functions: they protect against voracious Jack Rabbits and other predators and they cut down air circulation near the skin of the plant and prevent it from drying out.

So good news for lazy gardeners and those who would rather spend time on the golf course or playing tennis – succulents will survive without you and, even, despite you. They come in a variety of interesting shapes, sizes and colors. Some mornings, they may even surprise you with a flower seemingly out of nowhere.

Selby Gardens and Sarasota Succulent Society are great resources to learn more and pick up some of these beauties. UP residents can also visit our own beautiful succulent garden in Virginia Water on the Virginia Circle common area for inspiration.