February 07, 2018 2 min read

Do you know the difference between a cactus and a succulent? Although we often use the terms succulents and cacti interchangeably, that is scientifically incorrect.

Read on to understand the difference between the two so you can better identify and care for them.

What is a Succulent?

Succulents are a group of plants that store water in their leaves, roots or stems. Some plant families within the group of succulents include aloe, haworthia, sedum, sempervivum, and of course, cacti. 

What is a Cactus?

Cacti are fleshy plants that store moisture and are a sub-category of the succulent plant family. In order for a succulent plant to be considered a cactus, the plant must have areoles. Areoles are small, round, cushion-like mounds of flesh where spines, thorns, hair, leaves, or flowers grow from the cactus. Areoles are only present on cacti, not all succulents.

Photo © WallyGrom/Flickr

 The Rebutia senilis features the clusters of small cacti and flowers that are typical of older, established Rebutia. These excellent cacti are great for beginners. Photo © WallyGrom/Flickr

 Key Takeaway

To recap, all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti!


Can you plant succulents & cacti together?

Whether you decide to adopt a giant spined cactus or a tiny succulent, the way succulents and cactus are potted can mean the difference between failure and success.

Since most members of both cacti and succulent families are native to dry, low- moisture environments, they both require very bright light, well-drained garden sites or container potting soils, and only occasional watering. Although there is one slight caveat: If you plant succulents and cacti together, keep in mind that cacti need to be watered less often than other succulents!

To enjoy your succulent, cacti or combination of both for years to come, Denise Levine, U. C. Master Gardener suggests not to water a newly repotted cactus or succulent immediately. Give it at least a week before you water unless you are repotting a very young plant. Then dampen the soil, but don’t soak, and remove any standing water that has developed in the bottom of the stalk, pot, or container.

 Key Takeaway

Yes, you can plant succulents and cacti together, just remember that cacti need to be watered less often than succulents.


So, the next time you look at a succulent, look to see if they have areoles. If it does, it’s probably a cactus!

Want more advice on potting your succulents? Check out our complete guide to plant and maintain a succulent container garden for more tips and resources.

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