Typically found in regions with little rainfall, succulents are adept at surviving in less-than-ideal conditions. Most varieties display fleshy, water-retaining leaves that are attractive and low-maintenance, making them popular garden plants in dry regions. Succulents come in a dizzying variety of shapes, sizes and colors that work to provide visually interesting, drought-tolerant garden beds.
Agaves are a genus of perennial, succulent plants native to the Americas. There are over 200 species in the genus, most of which are found in Mexico. They are popular garden succulents commonly sold at nurseries. Century plant (Agave americana) is one of the largest varieties of ornamental succulents available, reaching heights of 7 feet with a 13-foot spread. The have thick, spiny leaves with contrasting pale and dark green markings. The "Mediopicta" variety of century plant is especially handsome in gardens, with a broad, cream-colored stripe down each leaf. Caribbean agave (Agave angustifolia) is the key ingredient in mezcal, as well as a common ornamental plant. Its leaves are narrower than other varieties and grow in an evenly spaced, erect fashion. Both varieties need sandy, well-draining soil and abundant warmth to flourish.
Crassula is a genus of succulent plant found around the world, although most ornamentally grown varieties come from South Africa. Jade plant (Crassula ovata) is the most common variety of crassula available, found at most plant nurseries. It is a trunked variety with thick, bright green leaves edged in red. These plants prefer a mixed growing medium of sand and standard potting mix, as well as bright light and temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees F. Lizard's tail (Crassula muscosa) is an unusual species of crassula, with upright, densely-packed green leaves that give it the appearance of twisted rope. Although the plant requires heat and bright light, it will burn if sunlight is too intense or prolonged. Both varieties of crassula need frequent light watering, although soil should be allowed to dry out periodically.
Haworthia is a genus of flowering succulent plants native to southern Africa. They are widely grown for their diverse and eye-catching foliage. Zebra plant (Haworthia attenuata) grows in small, tight rosettes with tapering dark-green leaves that are marked with raised, white bumps. Given its compact nature, it is often grown as an edging plant in succulent beds. It requires coarse soil with excellent drainage and needs filtered sunlight to avoid stress. Haworthia coarctata (Haworthia coarctata) is an unusual-looking variety from the southernmost tip of South Africa. It produces tightly recurved foliage that give the stems a sausage-like appearance. The individual leaves are grayish-green with small white bumps and a pinkish cast when stressed by excessive heat. Both varieties require watering only when their soil is parched.
Kalanchoe is a genus of succulent plants native to tropical regions around the world. The most commonly cultivated varieties are paddle plant (Kalanchoe luciae) and panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosas). Paddle plant has delicate, clamshell-like leaves with a translucent appearance. The leaves are pale jade to bright green in color with a pronounced reddish hue around the edge. The plant can reach heights of 2 feet with a 3-foot spread if given sandy soil, filtered sunlight and protection from snails, which it attracts. Panda plant produces thick, flattened leaves that are grayish-green and fuzzy. It is an easy succulent to grow, requiring standard potting mix or garden soil, average humidity and full sun.
- "Cacti and Succulents: An Illustrated Guide to the Plants and their Cultivation"; Graham Charles; 2007
- "Cacti and Succulents: A Complete Guide to Species, Cultivation and Care"; Gideon Smith; 2007
- Photo Credit succulent image by Keith Pinto from Fotolia.com