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.

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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 cactus plants 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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

Chlorosis: [Klor-OH-siss]
Chlorosis describes the yellowing of leaf tissue due to a deficiency of chlorophyll.

crested austrocylindropuntia subulata showing chlorosis

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.

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 plants 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)!

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.

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.

Cultivar: [CUHL-tih-var]
A cultivar is a plant that has been cultivarted and produced by selective breeding.

Deadheading: [DEHD-HEHD-ing]
Deadheading is the removal of spent flowers from plants. Deadheading gives plants a tidier appearance, denies insects a favorite place to hide, and prevents the plant from putting energy into forming seeds.

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.

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 succulents don’t change their appearance when dormant.

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.

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.

Epiphyte: [Eh-PIH-fite]
An epiphyte is a plant that grows on another plant (typically a tree) but is not a parasite. Some epiphytes have no real roots, while others use their roots primarily to anchor the plant in place. Common epiphytes include bromeliads, tillandsia air plants and orchids.

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.

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.

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

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.

Glaucous: [GLAH-kuss]
Glaucous can mean the dull, greyish green or blue color of some succulents or the whitish film of epicuticular wax.

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.

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 

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.

Honeydew: [HUH-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.

Hybrid: [HI-brid]
A hybrid plant is a result of pollinating the flowers of one species with the pollen of another, then growing out the seeds. This Graptosedum Alpenglow is a hybrid of a Graptopetalum and a Sedum.

Hydrotropism: [Hi-dro-TRO-pih-zum]
Hydrotropism is the growth of plant roots toward water or moisture.

Leaf windows: [Leef WIHN-doz]

Leaf windows are translucent structures on the outside of  leaves that allow sunlight to penetrate the leaf before reaching the chlorophyll that photosynthesizes the light into nutrition for the plant. They are a strategy to maximize photosynthesis while protecting the plant from the sun.  

Leaf windows on Haworthia obtusa venusta

Leggy: [LEG-gee]
“Leggy” is a common term used to describe a plant that has grown tall and stretched as it seeks more sunlight. The technical term is etiolated. May also be used to refer to Graptopetalum hybrids or Aeonium where mature plant has developed a long stem with the rosette at the very tip.

Macronutrients: [MACK-roh-NU-tree-uhnts]
Macronutrients are the primary nutrients an organism uses in the largest amounts for primary biological needs. Plant macronutrients are Nitrogen (N) for chlorophyll and growth, Phosphorus (P) for fruiting and flowering, and Potassium (K) for rooting.

Mealybug: [MEE-lee-bug]
Mealybugs are small, soft-bodied scale insects covered with a white, powdery wax that resembles meal. They leave white, cottony masses on the leaves and stems of plants as they feed by sucking the sap from the plants. Mealybugs often produce honeydew.

mealybug on cactus

Meristem: [MEHR-ih-stem]
Meristem tissue in plants contains undifferentiated cells that can become whatever the plant most needs. Meristem tissue can form roots, stems or leaves, depending upon circumstances. Meristem tissue is found at growth tips of roots, shoots and along the stems.

Mesembs: [MEH-zemz]
Succulent species of the Aizoaceae family that resemble stones are sometimes called mimicry plants or mesembs. Mesembs include Lithops, Fenestraria, Pleiospilos, Anacampseros and more.

Micronutrients: [MI-kro-NU-tree-uhntz]
Micronutrients are specific elements used in small quantities throughout every phase of a plant’s growth and development. Plant micronutrients are Boron (B), Chlorine (Cl), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Molybdenum (Mo) and  Zinc (Zn).

Monocarpic: [MAH-no-KAR-pick]
Monocarpic plants are those that bloom just once in their life cycle before they die. Some bloom within several years, others take several decades. All typically form multiple offsets or baby plants before the mother plant dies.

Monstrose: [MAHN-stros]
The term monstrose describes a genetic defect or mutation that causes deformed. lumpy, knobby growth randomly over an entire plant. Monstrose cactus and succulents are highly sought after.

Mutation: [Mu-TAY-shun]
A mutation is a change in the DNA sequence of an organism. This change can occur internally, within the genes themselves, or from environmental factors like exposure to UV light. Cresting, monstrose and variegation are examples of plant mutations.

Neem oil: [NEEM oyl]
Neem oil is derived from the fruit and leaves of the Azadirachta indica tree.  The oil is typically non-toxic for people, pets and birds, but is a powerful insecticide.
Nematode: [NEE-mah-tode]
Although nematodes look like worms, they are not closely related to true worms. There are nearly half a million species of these tiny insects. Some kill pests, and are called “beneficial nematodes”. Most kill plants, and are “parasitic nematodes”.

Node: [NODE]
Nodes are the small points on a plant’s stems where the leaves attach. A node is a point of cellular activity, where new growth can become roots or branches. It’s important to identify nodes when pruning or rooting stem cuttings.

Offsets: [OFF-sets]
Succulent offsets are the baby succulents that form at the base of the mother plant. The offset may be divided from the mother, or it will eventually separate on its own, to grow into a separate plant. Synonym: pups

Peat moss: [PEET mahss]
Peat moss is dried, dead fibers formed when organic matter decomposes in peat bogs. It is widely used as a soil amendment in gardening. Peatlands store 33% of the earth’s soil carbon. Coco coir is a better choice for gardeners,  succulents and the environment.

Perlite: [PUR-lite]
Perlite is a naturally occurring volcanic glass that is incredibly lightweight. Perlite is often used as a soil amendment to improve drainage. A common issue with perlite is that it “floats” up through the soil with watering. Pumice is a better choice.

Photoropism: [Foh-toh-TROH-pih-zuhm]
Phototropism describes the ability of plants to grow in response to light. Succulents and other plants grow toward sunlight, while their roots grow away from light.

Photosynthesis: [Fo-to-SIN-theh-siss]
Photosynthesis is the process where green plants use sunlight to change water and carbon dioxide into sugars and oxygen. Plants need sunlight, chlorophyll, carbon dioxide and water for photosynthesis. All life on earth is dependent upon photosynthesis.

Plantlet: [PLANT-let]
Plantlets are young plants produced by the mother plant. Typically connected to the mother plant by a stolon, a horizontal, modified root. Some succulents like Sempervivum form plantlets through asexual reproduction.

Plug: [PLUHG]
A plug is a well-rooted cutting that’s been grown in a tray, but is sold without a pot. The soil is encased in roots. This is a safe way to grow healthy succulents. Shipping plugs is generally less expensive than shipping potted plants.

Sempervivum plugs by Mountain Crest Gardens

Polycarpic: [PAH-lee-KAR-pick]
Most succulents are polycarpic, meaning they flower many times in the life cycle of the plant. Monocarpic plants are those that bloom just once in a plant’s life.

Propagation: [Prah-puh-GAY-shun]
Propagation is the process of breeding more plants from one or a few. Succulent propagation methods include sowing seeds, stem cuttings, leaf propagation and division.

Pumice: [PUH-miss]
Pumice is a very lightweight, volcanic rock that is mined for use in farms and gardens. Pumice is naturally rich in micronutrients that are exceptional for healthy succulents. This is my preferred soil amendment for improving drainage.

Pups: [PUPPS]
Succulent pups are the baby succulents that form at the base of the mother plant. The pup may be divided from the mother, or it will eventually separate on its own, to grow into a separate plant. Synonym – offsets

Respiration: [Ress-per-AY-shun]
In plants, respiration is the process where plants covert the glucose formed during photosynthesis into energy that fuels the plant’s growth, flowering, fruiting and propagation. During respiration, plants take in carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen. Roots take in oxygen, releasing CO2.

Rhizome: [RYE-zohm]
A rhizome is a modified stem that grows horizontally, underground. They develop roots and new plants from their nodes. Only some plants, like Sansevieria, form rhizomes. When dividing plants with rhizomes, you may need to cut through the rhizome to separate the plants.

Rosette: [ROH-zett]
A rosette succulent is one whose leaves are arranged in concentric circles around a common center, looking like a rose. The rosette form optimizes each leaf’s exposure to sunlight, while also funneling captured moisture to the center of the root zone.

Scale: [SCAYL]
Scale is the common name for a large, diverse group of insects that feed by sucking on the juices of plants like succulents. Scale are slow moving, with no visible legs or antenna. They form multiple, oval bumps on stems or leaves. Many excrete honeydew.

Scion: [SI-ahn]
In a grafted plant, the top portion that is grafted onto the rootstock of another plant is called the scion.

Slough: [Sluhff]
Sloughing is the natural process whereby plants or animals shed dried, dead material, like leaves or skin. It is normal for some succulents to slough off old, dried leaves.

Soil amendments: [SOYL ah-MEND-ments]
Soil amendments are substances added to soil to improve its qualities like drainage, water retention or nutrition. For succulents, soil amendments like pumice, coco coir and crushed granite are added to improve drainage.

Spines: [SPEYENZ]
Cactus spines are modified leaves that are typically both stiff and sharp. Getting stuck by these spines is painful. Other succulents like Agave and Euphorbia sometimes have sharp, pain-inducing spines, too.

Stolon: [STOH-luhn]
Stolons are modified, horizontal stems that enable a plant to spread and set roots away from the primary plant. Sempervivum offsets are connected to the mother plant by stolons.

Sempervivum stolons

Succulent: [Suck-YOO-lent]
A succulent is any plant that stores moisture in its leaves, stems or roots for the plant’s later use. This is a successful adaptation to dry climates where precipitation is scarce. Succulents come in all shapes, sizes and colors.

Top Dressing: [TAHP DRESS-ing]
In gardening, top dressing is any material spread atop the soil. For succulents, top dressing is a layer of inorganic material like pebbles, seashells, gravel or sand that covers the soil. Top dressing offers a number of benefits for succulents.

Transpiration: [Tran-spir-AY-shun]
Transpiration is the process of water movement through a plant. Water is taken up through the roots, travels to all the cells of the plant, and is released to the environment through the leaves. Plants lose more than 90% of their water through transpiration. 

plant transpiration infographic

Tubercles: [TOO-ber-cuhls]
A tubercle is a naturally-occurring small bump, outgrowth or protuberance. The bright white bumps on Haworthia fasciata are tubercles.

Turgid: [TUR-jihd]
Turgid means something is swollen or filled with water or turgor. In succulents, turgid leaves are well hydrated and firm due to the water pressure. The opposite of turgid leaves are limp and flaccid with too little internal water pressure.

Turgor: {TUR-ger]
Turgor is the water pressure within a plant against the cell walls. A plant full of turgor is said to be turgid or rigid with internal water pressure. As succulents make use of their stored moisture, the turgor decreases, and the leaves become limp or flaccid.

Variegation: [VEHR-ee-eh-GAY-shuhn]
Variegation is the appearance of two or more colors within the leaf, or sometimes stem, of a plant. Variegation is the result of the uneven distribution of chlorophyll within the leaf. Variegation can appear as stripes, spots, margins, spatters, blotches, shadings and more.

Vermiculite: [Ver-MIHK-yoo-lite]
Vermiculite is a naturally-occuring mineral that expands when heated. Vermiculite acts like a sponge, absorbing water and swelling in size. It’s a good additive for plants that must remain evenly moist. Don’t use for succulents.
Water Therapy: [WAH-ter THEHR-uh-pee]
Water therapy is a temporary treatment for succulents to hydrate and rehabilitate them. It suspends a succulent cutting over waster, or submerges the roots of a succulent in water, in the absence of soil.

Whiteflies: [WITE-flyze]
Whiteflies are soft-bodies insects that feed by sucking the juices of plants. Whiteflies are most attracted to leaves and new growth, and can spread plant disease.

Xeriscape: [Zeehr-ih-SCAYP]
Xeriscpaing is creating a landscape or garden that requires little or no supplemental watering. Xeriscaping relies on using native plants, succulents and other plants that will thrive with the natural rainfall in that climate.

I will continue to add terms to this illustrated glossary of succulent terms. I hope it will help you in your succulent journey!

Because life is just better with succulents!

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