Is a Cactus a Succulent? Cactus Vs. Succulent

Okay, this question keeps popping up by our customers. So, we decided to give our Plantly friends a complete answer by comparing the cactus plants with succulents.

The reason is that we continuously hear people saying that all cacti are succulents. Still, not all succulents are cacti. Yet, this simple saying does not classify your plant family.

Hence, if you are wondering if your indoor plant is a cactus or would like to know the difference, then keep reading.

Cactus Plants What Are They

cactus family

When you think of the cactus outdoor plants, you see a species growing spines with thorns, and it has no stem or leaves. Well, it is partially correct as most of them have spines. But you can find cacti species without spines.

Most cacti are considered succulents as they have fleshy foliage to hold water. A cactus is also regarded as succulent when it grows areoles. These are tiny round bumps found on the surface, and still, not all are succulents. Out of these round bumps grows hair, leaves, and spines.

Furthermore, most cacti grow in deserts and have a high drought tolerance as they are water-storing plants. Hence, the one common thing that all cactus plants share is the areoles, and you sometimes see flowers blooming from them.

If a plant family does not have them, they are just succulents.

The Succulent Plant Family?

succulent family

We said it on purpose in the heading, but the term succulent is not a scientific classification or even a specific family of plants. Instead, it is a nickname for plants all having particular characteristics. So, for example, looking at the cactus or another type of plant, they are succulent as they share the same traits.

These plants are drought-tolerant, with thick fleshy foliage to store water. You will find that most succulents do not belong to one genus. They are genetical, geographically, and visually diverse.

So, the term succulent can be from your Zebra tropical plant growing five inches tall to a 40 feet tall towering Joshua tree in the desert. Hence, when we refer to succulent cacti, they have the same adaptations, making them drought-tolerant from their shallow roots to waxy fleshy leaves to store water.

Still, there is a difference as the term cactus is scientifically describing a group of plants. Unlike your succulents, a vast group, the cacti belong to one family known as Cactaceae. These plants share similar genes and are native to mostly dry areas.

The Difference Between Succulents and Cacti

Okay, this is where the saying comes in cacti are succulents, but not all are cacti. To understand the term, you need to look at other characteristics these plants offer. You may find that one defining feature in cacti is the areoles and thorns.

But then you can find succulents that also produce areoles but is not cactus. Another way to look at it is the plant’s native range. Cacti you find confined to North America, South America, and other desert areas.

While other succulents grow in the West Indies and tropical parts of the world. So, how do you identify the difference between succulents and cacti?

Cactus and Succulent Identification

cactus and succulent identification

You are a plant lover, and you want to know the difference as you will see what you are getting when buying one. Yet, you do not want to be tricked, as you can find cactus look-alike plants in both the Didiereaceae family and the Euphorbia genus. Each is a striking replica of cacti.

Another reason it helps to know the difference has loads to do with the blooming. You can find cactus plants with lavishly large flowers and unique colors. Now, imagine buying a cactus and waiting for it to bloom, and oh my word, you find out it is just another succulent that does not bloom.

Physical Features Not All Succulents

When you look at cacti and succulents, each has physical features that differ from another. For example, you identify a cactus as it has spines with juicy stems, and they can perform photosynthesis. Nevertheless, when you look at a succulent, it also holds water but has fleshy leaves.

Cacti do not have leaves but guess what some do. Furthermore, cacti have small white bumps, while non-cactus succulents do not have them. So, if your plant you think is a cactus does not have areoles, it is succulent. Yes, we know it is confusing but bear with us.


cactus flowering

Both the plant types can bloom, but the cactus blooms with huge bright flowers with complex structures. Cactus plants need pollinators like bees and butterflies to bats. While succulent flowers look simple and small and are pollinated mainly by bees.

Fruit Production

cactus fruit

Cacti and succulents can both bloom, but only the cactus grows fruits. You find different cactus plants that provide edible fruits and pads. Popular ones are the prickly pear and dragon fruit.


leaf propagation

Great, as with most plant species, you want to ensure you always have a beautiful plant available. Hence, propagation allows you to use the parent plant to grow a new plant. You can use the offsets or seeds for cacti propagation, while for other succulents, you can use leaf or stem cuttings.

Differences in Caring for Cacti and Succulents

cactus and succulent

Great, now that most differences are sorted with the two terms, even taking care of them has some differences to survive.

Cacti Care

cactus care

Even with the defining characteristic of the cacti, it is low maintenance. It needs more water during the blooming period, but you still need to let the soil dry between watering. Your plant prefers well-drained, sandy soil, and it is best to let the excess moisture drain out. Then, you only need to fertilize them once a year, and they flourish in full sun to partial shade.

Succulent Care

succulent care

Succulents shout attractive and delicate growing well in fast-draining soil. Nonetheless, they prefer clay to terracotta pots similar to cacti species to prevent root rot.

The same rule applies to light as they flourish in full to partial sun, but the difference is they do not do well in intense sunlight.

It needs good drainage to remove excess water and prefers the soil to dry between watering. Lastly, as you can see, the two plant types have the same abilities for caring for your cacti.


Great, we have reached the end and hope that the air is cleared concerning the difference between cacti and succulents. It is not one if a succulent plant looks like cacti but lacks the areoles.

Whether you want to buy, sell or simply reach out to other plant enthusiasts, Plantly is the right place to be!

Plantly Menu


Feedback / Request Feature

Need more Attributes/Categories/Tags/Genus

Enter attributes separated by comma like “attribute 1, attribute 2”

Enter categories separated by ‘,’.

Enter tags separated by ‘,’.

Enter genus separated by ‘,’.

Others / Suggestions


This helps us prevent spam, thank you.

What Plant Are You Looking For?

Our team of plant finders is ready!