Succulents are some of the most versatile species in the whole plant kingdom. The shape and design of succulents gives them the ability to store water. Originating in often arid, desert conditions, they are uniquely adapted to the toughest of spots, and there is a succulent for almost every possible space in your home. Sun tolerant aloes and agaves through to shade tolerant Sansevieria (Mother in Laws Tongue) and prickly Cactus like the Golden Barrel (Echinocactus grusonii) and the Monkey Tail (Cleistocactus colademononis) all form part of this fascinating family of plants.
Most commonly used as an ointment or gel, the sticky sap that comes from the leaves of this plant can relieve pain and inflamation of the skin. Simply by snapping off a leaf, and rubbing the gel on the area in discomfort, this handy plant can provide more than just pain relief. It grows easily in most conditions. It tolerates sun and shade, cool and warm weather. It wont survive freezing soil temperatures, or heavy frosts. There is a huge variety in leaf size, shape and texture, as well as patterns, spiked and non spiked varieties and a large variety with showy flowers, in warm colours, like orange, yellow and red.
A subspecies of aloe, the Haworthia family, are an interesting arid landscape plant. They mimic the shape of the rocks and pebbles they hide amongst, to avoid predators. They have a semi translucent cap that diffuses sunlight in harsh conditions, allowing a unique type of photosynthesis uncommon in the plant kingdom.
One of the more desirable aspects of growing Succulents, is their ability to adapt, and tolerate extreme conditions. Needing limited water, and some species requiring little light, allows gardeners to fill those hard to grow spaces, with colour and form. One particularly hardy and tolerant plant is the Sansevieria trifasciata, also commonly known as ‘Mother In-Laws Tongue’ as its sharp, pointed leaves, symbolise the sharpened tongue of the mother in law.
The String of Pearls, Senecio rawlyanus, is another shade loving succulent. Pictured here with flowers, its string of bead like leaves, grow as a chain, that can look very appealing in a hanging basket, or cascading in a rockery garden. Other subspecies, include, the String of Bananas, Senecio radicans. As well as the always popular, String of Dolphins, Senecio peregrinus, whose leaves mimic the shape of a Dolphin.
Within the family group of succulents, falls the spikey cacti. A very drought tolerant plant, all Cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. They come in all shapes and sizes, and are not all as spikey as you might think.
The Golden Barrel Cactus, Echinocactus grusonii, is an incredible specimen, storing what little water it gets, in this large barrel shape. It is sometimes, unkindly referred to as ‘Mother in Laws Cushion’. I’m sensing a pattern here, perhaps the early botanists had difficult relationships with the matriarchy.
As succulents and cacti are famous for their water storage capabilities, they need a very free draining mix. There are specific premade mixes here.
But you can also easily make your own. A chunky mix of organic material, with pearlite, vermiculite and gravel, creates the free draining conditions that succulents require. Potting into terracotta is also a hot tip, as the unglazed pots absorb and hold water. There are specific shaped bowls that suit succulents. Providing a wide area for spread, with a shallow bowl to minimise water storage, and root growth.