Top Ten Myths about Succulents

Find out the truth behind the rumors

Succulents have a mystique about them, and it's hard to separate the truth from the fiction; here are ten myths about succulent plants, and the truth behind the rumors and misconceptions:

Top Ten Myths about Succulents

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These incredibly interesting plants have only recently become the latest and greatest, so there is a lot of information about them floating around that may or may not be true.

I aim to dispel the myths about them, and set the record straight. 

Whether you're new to growing succulents, or you're experienced and knowledgeable about these cute plants and their funny little traits you may start to recognize some of the myths.

Have fun with my list - don't take it too seriously, because these plants are forgiving of all our mistakes...

  •  Succulents need a lot of water, and need to be kept damp at all times:

In fact, succulents resent wet feet - they require water when the soil is totally dry, but can go months, in some cases years without a drink. 

The ability to withstand drought is legendary in some wild populations of cacti, which after many years of dry conditions, plump up and bloom in eyepopping displays after a rainfall.

  • Succulent plants have a high nutrient requirement:

Actually, most succulents prefer a 'lean' soil, or one which isn't high in organic matter or fertilizer. 

The growth of plants that are fed too much will be sappy and prone to rotting or worse; insect infestation.

  • Growing succulents in cold climates is impossible:

There is a big difference between tender and hardy succulents; tender succulents originate in warm climates, in areas near the equator - they seldom receive any frost or even cold temperatures, so they're grown as house plants in many northern climates, and go out only when the weather is settled in the summer for short vacation outside on a porch or patio. 

Some epiphytes originate in jungle tree tops, so they have different requirements.

Hardy succulents are tough creatures; Sedum, Sempervivum and Jovibarba are three genera that are among the hardiest of plants, with some relatives in the same family (Crassulacaea) that are even more resilient and can withstand even colder temperatures; Orostachys and Rosularia are two of the most well known, although rare in the industry.  They are grown by specialists and hobbyists in rock gardens, troughs and crevice gardens for their beauty and unusual characteristics.

Edible? Or not?
  • Succulents can be cooked and eaten, like greens.

Many succulent plants are poisonous, and this is not recommended. 

The only succulent that does appear on menus in Africa is Stapelia, where the roots are cooked like potatoes. 

Sedum is known as 'bittercress' - wonder why?

Another succulent that can be served up as a meal is the lowly weed, purslane.  In France it's known as 'pourpiere'.

  • There are no poisonous succulents.

Generally, succulents are not terribly toxic; however, there are a few that are extremely toxic, both to cats and other pets, and to children.  It's not recommended that you eat any of the parts, and if a pet or child eats any succulent plant, it's important to seek medical attention; some succulent plants if eaten can cause renal (kidney) failure.

Other succulents can cause contact dermatitis (rash) or even blindness from the caustic sap.

See more about poisonous succulents here.

  • Succulents can grow in any light levels, no matter how dim.

In fact, due to the origins of many species, they need very bright light.  As desert or mountain plants, they are acclimated to intense ultraviolet light, and have ways to protect themselves; in some plants, it comes in the form of a waxy coating called 'pruinose' or 'bloom'.  Others actually burrow down into the soil, leaving only a tiny window to collect light to keep photosynthesizing.

Because they have originated close to the equator, they require 12 hours of daylight every day.  You can give them the right photoperiod with grow lights; they don't mind the source, just the intensity and length.

  • Succulents can grow for years in a terrarium or other enclosed container.

These plants need fresh air and good ventilation.  Growing them in a brandy snifter or other open glass container may be okay for short periods, but the risk is that the air inside it will be stale, over saturated with moisture and the soil become water logged, or not allow air exchange. 

By all means display your succulents like this for a while, but plan on exchanging them for new ones on a fairly frequent basis to give them time to recuperate. 

Above all, don't display this type of container in a window sill in full sun; the leaves will scorch as the sunlight is intensified by the glass. 

Look at this page for other ideas to display your collection in containers for succulents.

  • Succulent plants need lots of root run, and a larger pot is better.

Many succulents perform better in a small pot, just large enough for the top growth to appear balanced.  The risk here is that the top growth can be top heavy, and topple the pot; use a heavier type of pot, either terracotta clay, or hypertufa to give it more heft.

Many succulents are quite happy crammed in to a group container, where they flourish in close contact with each other.

  • Succulent plants should never be pruned.

Succulents, like all other plants, like to be pruned; by removing the top of the plant, this releases other buds lower down the stem, which then grow and the plant becomes more compact and bushier.

  • Succulent plants are hard to grow.

Succulents need certain conditions; well drained soil, that doesn't get water logged; bright light; water when they are dry. 

Trying to grow them in manure based potting soil, overwatering them and putting them into a dim situation will not give them the best chance of survival. 

They are among the easiest plants to grow, because of their ability to thrive in benign neglect, with little fuss.

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Find other Myths about Succulents...

See them here;

Mystical, Misunderstood and Mistaken 
Fortunately, succulents as a whole are relatively easy to grow; however, there are cases where information is passed along that makes it really difficult …

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