Succulent Definition and Identification
Have you ever noticed how vague the definition is for the word succulent? What exactly is a succulent? Why are they called Fat Plants? Here is the short answer. A succulent is a plant that has the ability to survive long periods of time in areas without precipitation because they have a water-storing organ in their leaves, stems or roots. They are also called fat plants because of their swollen leaves and stems. Juicy is one word that seems to be quite repetitive in defining what a succulent is. Juicy as in water filled as in plump.
There are several plants that are not typically classified as succulents that have the “succulent” characteristic of storing water for future use. A bromeliad, for example is a plant that most botanists don’t consider a succulent. It holds water between it’s tight leaves in its center. A cactus is most always a succulent but most succulents are not cacti. Most of our plants are succulents here at Fat Plants. You will hear cactus mentioned every now and then however.
Roughly 60 plant families have succulents in them and there are more than 300 genera. I feel confident that I have almost all of my plants classified into the right genera, however getting the correct species/cultivar of many of my succulents has proven difficult.
Before I figured I was wasting valuable time trying to identify each and every succulent in my yard unless it has flowered (and even then I struggled)
I could have given you three or more different names for some of the same plants in my garden, just doing a general google image search. What I mean is that I saw 4 pictures identical to an Aeonium in my yard with 4 different names. At least they were all Aeoniums.
My succulent mentor Tina told me that one of her best practices has been to refer to scientific books rather than what other collectors, growers, businesses etc. say on their blogs or websites. She makes me earn my knowledge and gave me a list of books to use instead of answering my question directly. I will share that list with you here as well as my favorites when I get through reading them (probably sometime in 2050)
Tell us how you define what a succulent is. How do you identify your fat plants? We will be posting some of our favorite places that help us identify plants soon. As always, we appreciate any knowledge you can share with us.