This illustrated glossary of succulent terms is intended to be a practical guide for succulent-growers. This is not an exhaustive botanical dictionary, but a list of terms and definitions to aid you in your succulent journey. Click an image to see more detail.

Aerial roots: [AIR-ee-yal roots]
Aerial roots form above the ground and may appear on the stem or the leaves of a succulent. 

Areole: [Air-ee-ol]
A defining characteristic of cacti, an areole is a modified branch that appears as a small round bump that produces spines, blooms and shoots. All cacti have areoles.

Bonsai: [BAHN-zeye]
Japanese art form growing an ornamental plant in a small pot, shaping and dwarfing the plant to resemble a mature, windswept tree. Some woody succulent like Portulacaria and Crassula ovata are particularly well-suited to bonsai.

Bonsai Portulacaria afra

Bottom watering: [BAH-tum WAH-ter-ing]
Bottom watering is when you set a succulent container with drainage holes into a saucer of water. The soil in the container wicks up the water. This watering practice can be useful in some circumstances.

bottom watering succulents

Butt chugging: [BUHT-chuh-ging] This is a dangerous fraternity hazing stunt and a crude term some use for “bottom watering” (see above). For the sake of accuracy, clarity and inclusivity, please use the term bottom watering.

bottom watering succulents

Cactus: [KACK-tuhs] plural Cacti [KACH-teye]
A cactus is a succulent plant with a thick, fleshy stem, no leaves, with areoles that usually produce spines and dramatic flowers.  All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.


Caudex: [KAW-dex] plural Caudices [KAW-diss-eez]
A caudex is a stem, usually referring to a distinctive, swollen stem or even aboveground roots from which new growth arises. 

caudex of adeniumobesum by marycarol chapman c

Chlorophyll: [KLOR-uh-fill] Chlorphyll is the pigment in plants that gives them their green color. Chlorphyll absorbs sunlight, so the plant can photosynthesize light, water and carbon dioxide into sugars and oxygen. All life on Earth depends upon photosynthesis, which requires chlorphyll.

kalanchoe leaf green with chlorophyll

Ciliate hairs: [SILL-ee-uht hairs]
Ciliate hairs form a fringe of tiny hairs along the margin of leaves. All Sempervivum and some Aeonium have ciliate hairs.

ciliate hairs on sempervivum

Coco Coir: [KO-ko coyr]
Coco coir is a natural byproduct of harvesting coconuts. It is the coarse fiber removed from the outer coconut husks. An exceptional soil amendment, it both holds and releases moisture well and lasts longer than peat moss.

Cold hardy: [KOHLD HAR-dee]
Cold hardy refers to a p[l;ants ability to survive the cold, typically below freezing temperatures. Some succulents are so cold hardy, they can survive temperatures of -30°F (-34.4°C)!

hardy sedum in snow

Corking: [KOR-king]
Corking is the appearance of brown, woody stems at the base of cacti and some succulents. It is a natural occurrence as the plant hardens the tissues to hold more and more weight. Corking typically begins at the base of the plant and travels upwards and out along the stems.

crassula ovata stem showing corking

Crested: [KRESS-ted]
Crested succulents and cacti exhibit unusual folding and undulating growth along a single line. Crested growth results from an injury or genetic defect at the apical meristem where new growth forms.

Cristata: [KRISS-tah-tah] Cristata is a Latin word meaning crested. It is part of the scientific name of any crested succulent. For instance, this cactus is a Mammillaria elongate cristata ‘Copper King’.

Cryoprotectants: [KRI-oh-pro-TECK-tants]
Cryoprotectants are specialized proteins some plants and animals produce that prevent moisture within their cell walls from freezing. In cold-hardy succulents, these are often colorful pigments.

sedum-spurium fuldaglut in fall colors

Death blooms: [death bloom]
Some succulents are monocarpic, meaning they bloom just once in their lifetime. Some people refer to these blooms as “death blooms”, however, the mother plant that dies is usually replaced by many pups.

sempervivum flowers

Dormant: [DOOR-ment]
Many succulents go dormant in either summer or winter. Dormancy is a time of minimal metabolic activity, similar to hibernation in bears. Some dormant succulents look dormant like this Aeonium arboreum. Most look normal.

Aeonium arboreum in dormancy
Drought tolerant: [DROUT TAHL-er-ent]
Drought tolerant plants, like succulents and cacti are naturally adapted to surviving long periods of dryness. Drought tolerant gardens are designed using these plants, so as not to rely on heavy irrigation.
drout tolerant garden of alowes and senecio - Huntington Desert Garden

Epicuticular wax: [Ep-i-cyoo-TIH-cyoo-lar wax]
Epicuticular wax is a natural, waxy coating some plants develop on leaves, stems and fruits. It provides protection from water, insects, dirt, moisture loss and UV rays. It appears as a whitish film, sometimes called farina, farina bloom or glaucous leaves.

Echeveria_Perle_Von_Nurnberg showing epicuticular wax
Epiphyte: [Eh-PIH-fite]
An epiphyte is a plant that grows on another plant (typically a tree) but is not a parasite. Common epiphytes include bromeliads, tillandsia air plants, hanging cacti and orchids.
ephiphyte cactus growing on tree limb

Etiolated: [EE-tee-oh-late-ed]
A plant is etiolated when it grows very tall, thin and stretched as a result of getting insufficient sunlight. It is stretching to reach the sunlight.

etiolated succulent

Farina: [Fah-REE-nah]
Farina is another word for epicuticular wax, a natural, whitish film on the leaves of some succulents. It provides protection from water, insects, dirt, moisture loss and UV rays.

Echeveria_Perle_Von_Nurnberg showing epicuticular wax

Fasciated: [FAY-shee-ay-ted]
Fasciated is another term for a crested succulent, describing the flattened, ribbon-like growth of the crested plant.

crested succulent

Genus: [JEE-nuhs] plural Genera [ JEH-ner-uh]
A genus of plants is a taxonomic category of related plants broken down further by species and cultivar. This plant is a Crassula perforatas. The genus is Crassula with a capital letter, the species name is perforata, lowercase.

Geotropism: [JEE-oh-TROH-pih-zuhm]
Geotropism is the growth of a plant in response to gravity. Plants sense gravity, causing top growth to grow away from gravity and roots to grow toward gravity. If a plant is turned on its side, it will turn to grow upright. This is geotropism.
geotropism bending kalanchoe copper spoons
Glaucous: [GLAH-kuss]
Glaucous can mean the dull, greyish green or blue color of some succulents or the whitish film of epicuticular wax.
glaucous echeveria
Glochids: [GLAH-kids] Glochids are short, find, hair-like spines on the aereoles of Opuntia or prickly pear cactus. Most glochids have backward barbs that resist removal.
closeup of glochids on Opuntia

Grafting: [GRAFF-ting]
Grafting is a horticultural procedure where the tissues of two unrelated plants are joined to grow together, creating a single plant. The upper part of the combined plant is called the scion. The lower part is called the rootstock. Some succulents, like moon cactus are 

grafted cactus

Hardy: [HAR-dee]
A plant’s hardiness describes its ability to withstand harsh conditions. When applied to succulents, a “hardy succulent” is typically one that can survive below-freezing temperatures. A succulent’s hardiness rating tells you exactly how cold the succulent can survive.

winter hardy sempervivum royanum in snow
Honeydew: [HAH-nee-doo]
Honeydew is a sugary, sticky liquid excreted by aphids and some scale insects on the leaves and stems of plants as they eat. Honeydew attracts ants and ants even “farm” aphids and scale for their honeydew. Finding stickiness on your plants is an indication of insect activity.
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