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Cactus vs. Succulent: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on January 18, 2024
Cactus is a family of spiny plants that store water in stems and are native to the Americas. Succulent is a broader category of plants that store water in various parts, including leaves, stems, and roots.

Key Differences

Cacti are a specific subgroup within the larger category of succulents. All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Cacti are characterized by their unique feature of areoles, small rounded cushions from which spines, branches, or flowers grow.
Succulents encompass a wide variety of plants from different families that have adapted to store water in their leaves, stems, or roots. This feature helps them survive in arid environments. Unlike cacti, succulents don't necessarily have spines or areoles.
The stem of a cactus plant is its primary site for water storage and photosynthesis. This adaptation allows them to thrive in desert conditions. Succulents, however, can store water in various parts of the plant, not limited to the stem.
Cacti are known for their spines, which are modified leaves that reduce water loss and protect the plant from herbivores. On the other hand, succulents may have leaves that are thick, fleshy, and often without spines, adapted for water storage.
Geographically, cacti are predominantly found in the Americas, with a vast diversity in arid and semi-arid regions. In contrast, succulents are distributed worldwide, thriving in various environments, from desert to rainforest climates.

Comparison Chart

Water Storage

Primarily in stems
In leaves, stems, and roots

Defining Feature

Areoles and often spines
Thick, fleshy parts for water storage

Geographical Origin

Mostly in the Americas

Plant Family

Various families

Typical Environment

Arid and semi-arid
Diverse, from deserts to rainforests

Cactus and Succulent Definitions


A member of the family Cactaceae, native to the Americas.
He photographed a variety of cactus species during his trip to the desert.


A diverse group of plants adapted for water storage.
She enjoyed collecting succulents for their easy care and varied forms.


A plant with thick, fleshy stems that store water, typically covered in spines.
The cactus in her garden bloomed with vibrant flowers in the spring.


Plants with thick, water-retaining leaves, stems, or roots.
The succulent in the window sill brightened the room with its plump leaves.


Desert plants known for their spiny, water-storing stems.
The cactus stood resiliently in the harsh desert climate.


Plants typically found in arid climates, storing water in fleshy tissues.
His garden of succulents required minimal watering.


Plants with areoles from which spines or flowers grow.
She carefully pruned the cactus, avoiding its sharp spines.


Water-efficient plants, often with swollen leaves or stems.
The succulent's vibrant, fleshy leaves caught her eye at the plant store.


A type of succulent with adaptations for arid environments.
The cactus collection at the botanical garden showcased their ability to thrive in dry conditions.


A broad category of plants including cacti, known for their water-holding capacity.
The arrangement of succulents created a stunning display of textures and colors.


Any of numerous succulent, spiny, usually leafless plants of the family Cactaceae, native chiefly to arid regions of the Americas, having variously colored, often showy flowers with numerous stamens and petals.


Full of juice or sap; juicy.


Any of several similar plants.


(Botany) Having thick, fleshy, water-storing leaves or stems.


(botany) Any member of the family Cactaceae, a family of flowering New World succulent plants suited to a hot, semi-desert climate.


Highly interesting or enjoyable; delectable
A succulent bit of gossip.


Any succulent plant with a thick fleshy stem bearing spines but no leaves, such as euphorbs.


A succulent plant, such as a sedum or cactus.


Non-functional, broken, exhausted, dead.


Juicy or lush.


Any plant of the order Cactacæ, as the prickly pear and the night-blooming cereus. See Cereus. They usually have leafless stems and branches, often beset with clustered thorns, and are mostly natives of the warmer parts of America.


Luscious or delectable.


Any spiny succulent plant of the family Cactaceae native chiefly to arid regions of the New World


(botany) Having fleshy leaves or other tissues that store water.


A succulent plant.


Full of juice; juicy.


A plant adapted to arid conditions and characterized by fleshy water-storing tissues that act as water reservoirs


Full of juice;
Lush fruits
Succulent roast beef
Succulent plants with thick fleshy leaves


Do all cacti have spines?

Most cacti have spines, but there are a few species with reduced or absent spines.

Can succulents grow in cold climates?

Some succulents can tolerate cold climates, but most prefer warm, dry conditions.

What is a succulent?

A succulent is a plant adapted to store water in its leaves, stems, or roots.

What defines a cactus?

A cactus is defined by its thick, water-storing stem and presence of areoles, often with spines.

Are all cacti succulents?

Yes, all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.

Can cacti flower?

Many cacti produce flowers, often brightly colored and large.

How often should succulents be watered?

Succulents should be watered infrequently, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings.

Is sunlight important for cacti?

Yes, cacti typically require plenty of sunlight to thrive.

Are there medicinal uses for cactus?

Some cactus species have medicinal properties and have been used in traditional remedies.

Why do cacti have spines?

Cacti have spines for protection against herbivores and to reduce water loss.

Are succulents easy to care for?

Yes, succulents are generally low-maintenance and suitable for dry environments.

Do succulents need special soil?

Succulents prefer well-draining soil to prevent root rot.

Are succulents suitable for terrariums?

Succulents can be used in open terrariums but may not thrive in closed, humid environments.

Do all cacti live in deserts?

While many cacti are desert plants, some species grow in other environments, like forests.

How long can succulents live?

Succulents can live for several years with proper care.

Can succulents purify air?

Some succulents can help purify the air by removing toxins and producing oxygen.

What is the largest type of cactus?

The Saguaro cactus is one of the largest types, growing up to 60 feet tall.

Are all succulents drought-tolerant?

Most succulents are drought-tolerant, but some species may require more frequent watering.

Can succulents survive indoors?

Many succulents can adapt well to indoor conditions, provided they get enough light.

Can cacti be grown from seeds?

Yes, cacti can be grown from seeds, but they typically grow slowly.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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