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Foliage Plant
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Succulents are a wide-ranging group of plants that cross a number of families and genera and are noted for their thick, fleshy leaves or stems designed to store water. While generally slow-growing, succulents have interesting forms and often showy blooms, making them among plants prized by collectors. Cacti are classified among the succulents. (To learn more about desert cacti, see the March 2006 “Foliage Plant of the Month” feature.) Here we concentrate on others outside the Cactaceae family.

With proper care, succulents can live indoors for years.

Succulents are available year-round.

WATER From spring through fall, water these plants as you would other houseplants, when the soil begins to dry. In winter, when the plants are dormant, water less frequently. Though these plants store water, they can’t survive complete drying out. Good drainage also is essential to avoid overwatering and root rot. Sand, pulverized brick or rock can be added to the soil to achieve the proper consistency.
LIGHT Sunshine is vital to these plants, and a location near a south window is ideal. Some suggest bringing these plants outdoors during the summer.
temperature Average warm indoor temperatures are appropriate; succulents like a marked difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. During the winter, keep these plants cooler (from 50 F to 55 F though they can be kept as low as 40 F).
HUMIDITY There is no need to mist these plants. Fresh air is helpful, so open the windows when possible.
FERTILIZER Feed succulents every several weeks during the growing season. Special cactus and succulent plant foods are available.
PROPOGATION Stem cuttings, offsets or leaf cuttings should root easily, but the cuttings should be left to dry several days before being placed into the compost. Succulents also can be grown from seed.
REPOTTING Ideally, plants should be repotted every year. Many succulents have shallow, fibrous roots, for which shallower pots are suitable.

FAMILY Succulents are members of many families, including Aizoaceae, Amarylli-daceae, Asclepiadaceae, Bromeliaceae, Compositae, Crassulaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Gesneriaceae, Liliaceae, Orchidaceae, Piperaceae and Portulacaceae.
WHAT'S IN A NAME The word “succulent” comes from the Latin “succos,” which means juice or sap.

PESTS AND PROBLEMS Nematodes (microscopic worms) can attack the roots of succulents. Using sterilized potting soil should prevent this problem.
LEAF PROBLEMS Underwatering will cause dry brown spots or may cause the leaves to fall. Soft brown spots on the leaves are a sign of leaf-spot disease, which can be treated with a fungicide and increased ventilation around the plant. Wilted, discolored leaves signal overwatering.

Succulents of varied forms make great pairings in dish gardens. Create a small landscape by using tall forms, low forms and spreading varieties. Leave adequate room between the plants for them to grow. Rocks can be placed decoratively among the plants and removed, as needed, as the plants grow. A shallow earthenware container or glazed dish filled with peat-based compost makes a proper home. To ensure good drainage, the container should have holes in the base or a thick layer of charcoal at its bottom.

• Agave americana (century plant) - has saw-toothed leaves.
• A. filifera (thread Agave) - has leaves that extend upward and are covered with fine filaments (or threads).
• Aloe (For more on Aloe, see the September 2006 “Foliage Plant of the Month.”)
• Bryophyllum daigremontianum syn. Kalanchoe daigremontianum (devil’s backbone) - has triangular leaves with serrated edges that have small plantlets growing along them.
• Crassula argentea, syn. C. ovata or C. portulacea (jade plant) - round-edged, shiny green leaves grown from trunklike stalks.
• C. lycopodioides (rattail plant) - has small, scalelike leaves that grow close together on erect branches.
• C. perforata (string-of-buttons) - paired leaves are spaced along stems that can grow to 2 feet tall.
• Euphorbia obesa (gingham golfball, living baseball) - its form is that of a seamed globe, from the top of which small flowers bloom.
• Graptopetalum paraguayense (ghost plant) - these gray-leaved, low-growing relatives of Echeveria grow rosettelike leaves on small stems.
• Haworthia (wart plant, star cactus, cushion Aloe) - similar to Aloe plants, these species have thick leaves covered in white warts that often form a horizontal stripe pattern.
• Kalanchoe - grown either for their flowers or for their striking leaves, members of this genus often have velvety leaves, many of which have brown tips.
• Orostachys spinosus - The spiny-tipped leaves of this plant are packed into a tight saucerlike rosette.
• Sedum (stonecrop, orpine) - A variety of species and forms are among the Sedum genus, most of which are low growing and have branching stems and either cylindrical or cup-shaped leaves.
• S. morganianum (donkey’s tail, burro tail) grows trailing stems that are closely covered in cylindrical leaves.
• Sempervivum arachnoideum (cobweb houseleek) - a threadlike covering over the dense-packed plant gives it its name. Red flowers appear in summer.

Some information provided by:

Cactus and Succulent Society of America,
Hortus Third, by Liberty Hyde Bailey and Ethel Zoe Bailey
The House Plant Expert Book Two, by Dr. D.G. Hessayon
The Succulent Plant Page,
The Houseplant Encyclopedia, by Ingrid Jantra and Ursula Kr¸ger
Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners, by William T. Stearn

You may reach Foliage Plant of the Month writer Amy Bauer by e-mail at or by phone at (800) 355-8086.

Photos courtesy of The John Henry Company

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