Sun-loving succulents are hardy perennial plants that store water for use during times of prolonged arid conditions. A perennial plant is a plant that lives for more than two years. Succulents may store water in their stems, leaves or roots, bulbs, tubers or rhizomes. Worldwide, there are more than 10,000 different species of flowering cactus, sedum and other succulents. The size, shape and color of the flower are important elements in succulent plant identification.
Succulent leaves may be round, oblong, long and narrow or short and stubby. Succulents have thick-skinned fleshy leaves that are used to store moisture. Leaves are often colored a deep blue-green, tinged with shades of red, orange, burgundy or brown. Crassula argentea f. variegata exhibits varigated green and white patterned leaves. Cacti (Cactaceae) do not have leaves and store water in their stem or trunk as well as in their roots.
Many succulents, although similar in size and leaf shape, can be identified by their unique flowers. Examine the flowers, making note of the amount of flower petals, shape of the bloom, color and scent. Succulent flowers appear in every color of the rainbow. The majority of sedum plants present small starlike flowers that grow in wide, flat clusters. For example, Autumn Joy sedum exhibits starlike pink flowers that grow in flat clusters, 4 to 6 inches wide. The flowers turn a deep burgundy shade in late fall.
Crassula alpestris is a tiny, low-growing succulent in the plant family Crassula. The plant presents masses of tiny white flowers. Spring Time exhibits thick plumes of bright-pink flowers. Black tree aeonium (A. arboreum) displays dark, blackish-green foliage and brilliant yellow flowers.
The size and growing habit of succulents are useful plant identification. Many succulents are low-growing ground cover plants while others are tall and stately. Pachycereus pringlei, also known as Cardon or Sahueso cactus, grows to a mature height of over 60 feet. The plant presents multiple branches that grow in an upright, candelabra form. The plant exhibits 4- to 6-inch-wide white flowers that bloom only at night.
An unusual shape or form helps identify succulent plants. The Impala Lily (Adenium obesum multiflorum) has a thick swollen trunk, stubby branches, spiral shaped brilliant-green leaves and brightly colored funnel-shaped flowers. Alluaudia ascendens, a hardy cacti, displays a thick pear-shaped trunk, leatherlike inverted heart-shaped leaves and ranked spines.