Getting Started with Growing Succulent Plants

If you are reading this page, chances are you are new to the hobby of succulent plant collecting. Let's start with some simple definitions: cacti belong to one family of plants, while succulent plants come from many families. To make this more difficult, the definition of what is and what is not a succulent plant is fuzzy and varies considerably among hobbiests and professionals alike. To make the greatest use of our web site, and especially find the plant you are looking for, you need to understand the notion of Latin names for genera and species. Look at our Resources page for numerous books that provide these Latin names.

We ship plants all year, and we have a note at the bottom of our checkout that asks whether you need a heat pack. Heat packs are added for an extra $2 per pack to boxes. You only need a heat pack if you expect your box to be left outside (e.g., on your porch) in sub-freezing weather or whether you think temperatures might be a problem. In the winter, we keep the low temperatures in our greenhouses above 42F, so if you expect temperatures at the time of delivery to be above 42F you would be wasting money getting a heat pack. Heat packs tend to last 72-130 hrs, so we try to ship to our boxes to the East Coast for minimal transit time.

Plant Taxonomy: Why Latin Names?

What we call our plants is important, both for communication across our hobby and with other cultures where the plants grow naturally. You could ask for giant tree aloe, Pillan's aloe, Giant quiver tree, or Reusekokerboom, but you'll only know if we have it by asking for Aloe pillansii. The point is that there are many common names for plants but only one Latin name. Ah, but the discerning among you will say: "those damned botanists keep changing the Latin names!" True enough, see our page Recent Taxonomic Changes. Those pesky botanists do change the names, but still it makes more sense to use the Linnean system, as modified over the centuries, than the completely free-form system of common names. So take a favorite of cactus collectors, one of the Copiapoa. The family is the Cactaceae. The genus is Copiapoa. The species is Copiapoa humilis, a very nice species that stays relatively small and is easily cared for in collections. Another example is the common plant known by the common name of Karoo Rose: the family is the Apocynaceae, the genus is Adenium, and the species is Adenium obesum. When it comes to succulents, we offer species from perhaps 30 families of flowering plants, but the primary ones are the Apocynaceae (Adeniums, Pachypodiums), the Euphorbiaceae (Euphorbia, Monadenium), the Passifloraceae (Adenia), the Burseraceae (Bursera, Commiphora), and the Pedaliaceae (Uncarina).

You don't have to be an expert on botanical Latin to collect succulent plants, and it sure beats memorizing a bunch of common names. One final thing: Latin is a dead language and no matter what anyone says, there is no correct pronunciation of these names. Try pronouncing names phonetically and remember that Pillans was not a Roman, so why would you pronounce his name using Latin rules?

Choices for Beginners

My first succulent plant was Euphorbia grandicornis. While I would not recommend that species for most beginners, I would recommend a number of Euphorbia species as starter plants. For example, try Euphorbia decaryi, an easily grown succulent that stays quite small. If you like spiny plants, try Euphorbia aeruginosa, one of our best selling Euphorbias. It is easy to grow, has a nice form and color for a shrubby Euphorbia, and the flowers are particularly nice. Many like the Euphorbia milii group for its form and prolific flowers, and you could try E. milii var. splendens, which is as good as the name suggests. Most Adeniums are easily grown if you follow one simple rule -- keep them warm and dry in the winter -- and they are a source of enjoyment for many people who are not succulent plant collectors. All the Adenium hybrids are nice and distinctive, but a good old Adenium obesum is pretty hard to beat as a plant to try if you are new to this hobby. You should order Adeniums in the first half of the year to allow them to become established under your conditions. We're really into Aloes at Arid Lands Greenhouses, and if you think all Aloes look alike (and many do, at least superficially), try some of the really distinctive and easy ones like Aloe humilis or Aloe somaliensis. These can be kept contained in pots and are very impressive members of this large and variable genus. Aloes tend to grow spring and fall and can be ordered at any time of the year. Another choice for space-limited collectors just starting out are Gasterias. Try Gasteria glomerata, which can be contained in small pots and is very easy to grow. Tell your friends that the little flowers look like little stomachs, explaining the name of the genus.

Finally, if I had one genus to collect, I'd probably still take Monadenium. I really think Monadenium ritchei is one of the best plants around, particularly if kept contained in small pots. If you want something easily grown and stunningly beautiful, try our Monadenium sp. purple stems. It is more expensive but easily kept in collections.

plant photos