What Succulent Do I Have? How To Correctly Identify Your Plant

If you’ve been given a succulent (or have bought one without knowing what it is) you might find yourself wondering exactly what type of succulent you have. This might sound like an easy question to answer but with so many of them looking similar it isn’t always the case which is why I decided to write this article. 

How do you identify a succulent? The shape, size, and color of the leaves, as well as whether or not they have any spines or spikes are the biggest factors in determining what genus of succulent you have. After that, the presence of flowers or needles and even the height and width of the plant can also play a role.

While I’d be the first to admit it can be difficult to establish what succulent you have sometimes, armed with a little bit of knowledge this is so much easier to do. Read on to find out what you need to look out for when identifying your plants.

Why is it important to identify a succulent?

You may be thinking that a succulent is a succulent and that they all require the same sort of care but while there may be some truth in that there are also some crucial differences. Winter hardiness is one of those differences that can really be a matter of life or death to your succulent. For example, echeverias and sempervivums may look very similar but while the latter is happy living outside in the winter, leaving echeverias outside in a frost could kill them.

Then there’s the question of whether your plant is safe or not for pets. Getting this wrong could have very serious consequences for your pet.

Succulents come in a huge range of shapes and sizes

How to identify a succulent yourself

When it comes to identifying succulents yourself there are a few characteristics that you need to look out for to help give you an idea of what type of succulent you have. Things such as the shape of leaves, any flowers, the color of the plant, and even its height can all help.

Leaves

Believe it or not but the leaves of your succulent can tell you a lot about the genus of your plant. The appearance of the leaves will vary greatly between different types and this can be a real help if you know what to look for.

Things you should be looking out for are the shape and size of the leaves (including their thickness), do they have tiny hairs (and if so do they cover the whole leaf or just the edges), is there a waxy coating to the leaves and do they have any spikes or spines?

For example, both the aloe vera and gasteria have similar looking leaves but while aloe veras have spikes along their edges, gasterias don’t. 

The leaves of the aloe vera are very different to those of the gasteria
Aloe vera leaves have spines
The leaves of the gasteria are very different to those of the aloe vera
Gasteria leaves are smooth

Another thing to look out for is how the leaves grow, do they grow in a rosette-like pattern from a central point, do they grow upwards or hang down? Combining this with the shape of the leaves can really help to pinpoint your succulent. For example, echeverias, graptoverias, and sempervivums all grow in rosette formations but the shape of the leaves will tell you the genus. As you can see in the images below. 

The leaves of the echeveria are very different to those of the graptoveria and sempervivum
Echeveria leaves are thick and pointed at the end
The leaves of the graptoveria are very different to those of the echeveria and sempervivum
Graptoveria leaves are rounded with no points or teeth
The leaves of the sempervivum are very different to those of the echeveria and graptoveria
Sempervivum leaves are thin and pointed, and have teeth

The table below will give you an idea of how different characteristics of the leaf can be used to help identify the succulent genus.

Leaf ShapeLeaf SizeLeaf ThicknessRosetteEdge
AeoniumRoundedSmallThinYesAlmost invisible spikes
AgaveNarrowVery LongNormal – ThickYesSpines on the edges
Aloe VeraTriangualLongThickYesMainly spines
CrassulaRoundedSmallThickNoSmooth
EcheveriaRounded
Pointed tip
SmallThickYesSmooth
HaworthiaGenerally rounded
Can be pointed
Small – MediumNormalYesVaries by species
SedumRoundedSmallNorma – ThickYesSmooth
SempervivumNarrow
Pointed
SmallNormalYesTiny sharp spikes
Snake PlantNarrow
Pointed
LongThinNoSharp
String of PearlsPea shapedSmallVery thickNoSmooth
How the leaves can be used to identify the type of succulent

Spines

The appearance of leaves can tell you a lot about the type of succulent but the lack of leaves can tell you a great deal too. While some succulents don’t have leaves the presence of of needles growing from areoles is a dead giveaway to the fact that you’ve got a cactus.

Color

While the color of the plant isn’t so important in identifying the genus (it’s more helpful when trying to find the species) it can still give you an idea as to the plant. Plants like haworthia (or zebra plant as it’s sometimes called) may look similar to aloes but the white stripes on their leaves help to tell them apart.

Flowers

The size, shape and color of the flowers, as well as where they’re growing from can all help to identify your succulent. Even the number of flowers the plant has can help, ie is there a single bloom, or are there multiple flowers?

The flowers of a succulent can help to identify the genus

Size

Of course, different succulents grow to different heights and at various rates but the height of a plant can sometimes give you an idea of the type of plant, or at least tell you what plant you don’t have. For example, an echeveria will never reach the same height as an agave. With this in mind if your succulent is 36 inches tall then it’s definitely not an echeveria.

Other ways to identify a succulent

While it can be rewarding to successfully identify what type of succulent you have yourself there may be times when you’re not able to, or you just want somebody to confirm what you think. This is where technology and online resources can help (as well as asking at your local nursery).

Start by taking a good photo

If you’re going to ask other people what type of succulent you have it’s going to be far easier to take a photo of it and show them that rather than carry the plant with you wherever you go. 

Of course, you can take a quick snap and hope that somebody can tell you what it is, or you could maximize the chances of it being correctly identified by taking a good, clear photo. Make sure there’s plenty of light and photograph the plant as a whole as well as any defining features, such as a close-up of the leaves or the bloom if it’s in flower.

Facebook groups

Believe it or not, Facebook can be a great way of finding exactly what type of succulent you have. While Facebook may have originally begun as a way for college students to keep in touch, today it’s full of specialist groups for just about everything and succulents are no exception. 

I know from experience that a lot of the groups on Facebook are full of people who are more than happy to help you identify your plant.

One thing I will say though about posting to groups on Facebook is don’t just post your questions and then disappear until you want to ask something else. You’ll get a far better response if you’re involved in the group and engage with other members. Respond to other member’s questions, comment on their posts, and just be an active member.

Google Lens

A few years ago Google launched Google Lens but it’s recently been added to their mobile app which means you can easily use it to identify any plant you want to, whenever you want. After all who doesn’t carry their smartphone with them all of the time!

Using AI and machine learning (that doesn’t mean anything to mean but I’m told that’s what it uses) to identify the content of a photo can be a great way of at least getting an idea of what sort of succulent you have. I say it’ll give you an idea because it’s not always accurate, especially if you don’t use a good picture. For example, I uploaded this picture, but Google Lens suggested it could be a jade, pigmyweed, or even an adromischus. Luckily I knew it was a jade plant but you see what I mean.

Identifying a jade
A Jade identified with Google Lens

Conversely, this photograph was correctly identified as an echeveria.

Identifying a echeveria
An echeveria identified with Google Lens

Apps

If you don’t like the idea of using Google to identify your succulent then there are a number of other apps out there that also do the job, sometimes even better. Again these aren’t perfect either but be warned though, while they may be free to download some may have in-app charges.

I have to be honest and say I’ve never used an app to identify my plants but I know plenty of people who have and swear by them.


I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

Recent Posts