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Are Cacti and Succulents the Same?

By Lesley Wilson October 23, 2023

Are Cacti and Succulents the Same?

Cacti and succulents are not completely the same, although they are related  and there is some overlap between the two.

What is the difference between Cacti and Succulents?

Cacti and succulents share several similarities due to their adaptation to arid environments. Some ways in which cacti and other succulents are similar include:

  1. Water storage: Both cacti and succulents have specialized tissues, such as thickened leaves, stems, or roots, that allow them to store water. This helps them survive in dry and arid conditions by enabling them to withstand periods of drought.

  2. Drought resistance: Both cacti and other succulents have evolved to be highly drought resistant. They can tolerate extended periods without water by using the stored moisture efficiently.

  3. Reduced leaf surface area: Many cacti and succulents have reduced or modified leaves, which helps reduce water loss through transpiration, a process by which water evaporates from the leaves.

  4. CAM photosynthesis: Both cacti and many other succulents utilize Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) photosynthesis. This is a unique type of photosynthesis that allows them to open their stomata (small pores on the surface of leaves) at night to take in carbon dioxide and close them during the day to minimize water loss.

  5. Adaptation to arid environments: Both cacti and succulents are well-adapted to thrive in dry and hot environments, making them suitable for desert landscapes and other limited water regions.

  6. Low-maintenance plants: Due to their ability to store water, both cacti and succulents are generally low maintenance plants, requiring less frequent watering compared to many other types of plants.

While cacti and succulents share these common features, it's essential to remember that cacti are a specific subset of succulents, distinguished by their unique areoles and spines, which are not found in all other succulent species.

Succulents are a broad group of plants that have evolved certain adaptations to store water in their leaves, stems, or roots. This helps them survive in arid or semiarid environments.

Some popular examples of succulents include aloe vera, echeveria, and jade plants.

 Aloe Vera Succulent PlantsEcheveria Succulent PlantJade Succulent Plant

Cacti, on the other hand, are a specific group of succulents belonging to the family Cactaceae. They are characterized by their unique structures called areoles, which are specialized pads or bumps from which spines, flowers, and new branches grow. Cacti are native to the Americas, particularly the arid regions of North and South America.

Cacti have distinctive features that set them apart from other succulents, such as their areoles and spines. However, both cacti and other succulents share the ability to store water and have adapted to arid environments.

Some popular examples of cacti include Christmas cactus, claret cup cactus and mammillaria cactus plants.

Christmas Cactus PlantClaret Cup cactus PlantMammillaria Cactus Plant


Are Cacti and Succulents the Same? While all cacti are succulents, not all succulents are cacti. 

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