Difference Between Cactus and Succulent

Difference Between Cactus and Succulent

Echeveria succulent and cactus with pink flower in a terracotta pot.

Cacti and succulents are beautiful plants that are widely appreciated for their features. Many people often use the terms ‘cacti’ and ‘succulent’ interchangeably. This is incorrect, as the two are different from each other. Surprised? Well, if you are a plant lover or a beginner planning to make your collection, this blog will help you distinguish between cacti and succulents, learn how to take care of them, and much more!

What Are Cacti?

A cactus with four pink-colored flowers placed in sun

Most of the time when we think of cacti, we imagine these plants to be full of spines with no leaves or stems. This is only partially correct. You will find many cacti with spines and many without spines. Cacti are succulents with fleshy stems that store water.  A succulent is considered to be a cactus when it features areoles. Areoles are tiny round bumps present on the surface of cacti and not all succulents. Leaves, hair, and spines grow out of these small bumps. Cactus plants originate from deserts throughout the West Indies and Central America. 
Some of the Examples of cacti include:

Cacti Care

  • The cactus plant looks adorable and is very low on maintenance. This easy-care plant needs to be watered during the blooming period. It is advised to let the soil dry out completely. Reduce or avoid watering during the dormant period in the winter.
  • Use a cactus soil mix for your plant. This helps in improving drainage and keeping the soil moist free. Fertilizing once a year is recommended.
  • Place your cactus in full to light sunlight for a few hours daily.

What Are Succulents?

A green succulent with multiple pups looks attractive

Succulents do not belong to their own separate plant family but can be found in nearly 60 families spread globally including cousins Crassula, Haworthia, and Sedum. These are water-storing plants found in dry and arid climates. Most of the plant’s variety is native to Mexico and South Africa. This set of houseplants has gained immense popularity because of its diverse variety in shapes and colors. You can find non-cactus succulents in different areas around the world. 
Examples of succulents include:

Succulents Care

  • Succulents are a delicate and attractive variety of plants that grow best in a well-drained soil mix. Terra cotta and clay pots work well for these plants in providing good drainage and avoiding the chances of root rot. 

  • This plant likes full to partial sun. Place it in a warm setting but don’t expose your succulent to intense sunlight as it may cause sunburn. 

  • Water your plant thoroughly during the growing season. Make sure to not let any moisture sit in the soil and let it dry out completely before watering again. These plants can die if overwatered or kept in soggy and wet soil for too long.

  • Plant your succulent indoors if you live in cold areas with freezing temperatures. You can also check our winter care tips for succulent plants.

What's the Difference Between Cactus and Succulent?

Succulents and cacti placed together in four white plastic pots

Once you learn to identify a cactus and a succulent, the difference between the two can be easily understood. Cacti and succulents may have contrasting adaptations to cope up with their environments. There is a saying, “All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.” This clearly states that cacti are a subgroup of succulents.
Let’s go through a list of differences that would make the concept simpler.

1. Physical Features

A cactus has various physical features that make it different from a succulent. Cacti are identified from their needle-like spines. They have fleshy stems that store water and are capable of performing photosynthesis. A succulent plant, on the other hand, holds water and nutrients in its fleshy leaves. Most cactus plants do not have leaves but some of them do. Additionally, cacti form small white bumps on their surface called areoles. Succulents don’t have areoles. This is the main characteristic that makes the two different from each other. A plant without areoles is a succulent. 

2. Flowering

Both succulents and cacti bloom. However, the flowers of cactus plants are brighter, larger in size, and have complex structures as compared to flowers of succulents. Cactus blooms are pollinated by bees, butterflies and bats. Flowers of succulents are simple and small in size, usually pollinated by bees.

3. Fruit Production

Although both succulents and cacti flower, only cactus plants can grow fruits. The most commonly known cactus fruits are dragon fruit and prickly pear fruit. 

4. Propagation

Propagation is the process in which an element of the parent plant is used to grow baby plants. This easy method helps in expanding plant collection without the need to buy new ones. Cacti are propagated by seeds and offsets. Succulents are most often propagated from stem and leaf cuttings. 

5. First-Impression

The look of cacti is determined by their waxy stems. On the contrary, the look of succulents can be identified from the arrangement and shape of their leaves.

A set of succulents and cacti placed near a window

With many differences between cacti and succulents, still both of them are perfect choices to add a little sophistication to your home décor. 
With so many facts and information shared, we hope this post will help you in some way or another. Give these wonderful houseplants a try! 

And don’t forget to check our other blogs to enhance your knowledge for this beautiful hobby.


  • Mushtaq Ahmad

    Very informative. Cactus is my new found love.

  • Khalid Hasan

    Thank you for your excellent presentation. It’s really helpful and undoubtedly well arranged. Hope for the best!

  • Deb Stanowski

    Just learning and have bought several succulents. Have some cactus as well.

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