Cactus, agave and euphorbia are just a few of the plant types that fall under the blanket term "succulent." Succulent plants are those that have adapted to extreme environments such as the desert, where water is scarce and sunlight is fierce. Succulents are characterized by the ability to store large amounts of water in their leaves, roots and stems. These fat, fleshy plants are commonly cultivated as both outdoor and indoor plants.
A native of Africa, aloe vera (aloe vera) is a lush succulent plant that sports long, spiked succulent leaves and a tall stalk of tubular yellow or orange flowers. Also commonly referred to as medicinal aloe, the soothing gel-like sap of aloe vera is used to treat sunburns and other ailments. Aloe vera is a warm weather plant best suited to cultivation in USDA zones 8 to 11. Full sunlight and extremely well-drained soil are essential to the well being of this plant. Ideal for a rock or cactus garden, or for a large ceramic pot, drought-tolerant aloe vera is a low maintenance, useful succulent that requires almost no attention.
A native of the Southwestern United States, as well as Mexico, barrel cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus) is a large, cylindrical cactus that's covered in a dense layer of spines. The fat succulent is notable for its brightly colored flowers, which bloom in a thick crown on the top of the plant in the spring. Barrel cactus is a hot weather lover that does best in full sunlight in USDA zones 9A to 11A. Grow barrel cactus in a pot or in the garden in well-drained sandy or rocky soil, and withhold watering. Too much water can swiftly injure this drought-tolerant succulent.
South American Air Plant
Despite its common name, South American air plant (Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi) is a perennial succulent native to Madagascar. The low-growing plant sports grayish blue succulent leaves and sprawling habit. The succulent blooms with somewhat unremarkable small flowers, which are a brownish purple. Commonly used as a ground cover, South American air plant is also popular as a container or house plant. The succulent grows best in partial sunlight in USDA zones 9B to 12, in well drained, rocky or sandy soil. Unlike many other succulent species, South America air plant is only moderately drought tolerant, and the plant should be watered occasionally during the growing season (though water should be withheld during the winter).