Best Cacti and other Succulents to grow indoors

Plants which can be grown in the home are so varied now that there is no corner of it that will not suit some plant completely. Although there are many indoor plants which will not be happy in the extremely hot and sunny conditions of a south-facing window, there are a few exceptions such as the cacti and other succulents, which revel in this kind of environment and, indeed, without which they will not thrive or flower.

how to grow succulents

However, cacti and succulents cannot, as is so often thought, virtually do without water at all. They have certainly evolved plant forms which can store a great deal of water for long periods, but in their natural habitat they are subjected to torrential downpours of rain for short periods, at very infrequent intervals.

The cacti could be called the stem succulents, in which the stem has swollen, usually so that it is round and thus forms the main part of the plant. The other succulents are the leaf succulents- the leaves contain the water storage cells. Roots of both are developed so that they either spread great distances sideways though shallowly, or are deep rooting and tuberous, so that the maximum water can be absorbed.

A further distinction between the two is that the cacti, and only the true cacti, carry areoles, small woolly ‘cushions’, from which grow spines, bristles or hairs, flowers and occasionally leaves. The cacti come from the New World, that is North, Central and South America, and the West Indies, while the remaining succulents are from the Old World, particularly South Africa. All are found in such regions as semi-desert, prairies, steppes and scrub (the epiphytic cacti live in forests), where there is occasional rain, heavy dew or thick mist. Some grow in the shade of rocks and shrubs, or in thin grassland. All these areas can be quite cold at night in winter, but dry. They are not found in arid deserts, as these will not support any life.

Cacti are grown for their flowers and unusual shapes, succulents for their leaves. The cacti have very pretty, usually stemless flowers in spring and early summer in all colours except blue; many are easily flowered, especially the smaller cacti, and it is certainly not true that they only bloom once every seven years, at night. Some are fragrant. Succulents have highly ornamental leaves, both in colour and shape, and some also flower.

The cacti can be divided into two groups: the desert cacti, which contain most of the genera described, and which grow naturally in deserts, and the forest cacti, the epiphytic or branching types, which live on branches and in forks of trees. The latter include epiphyllums, rhipsalidopsis and schlumbergeras.

Forest cacti come from the tropical rain forests of Central and South America. They are subjected to filtered sunlight and a great deal of humidity. On the face of it, you would think that cacti would be the last plants to find in such conditions, but their roots are anchored in very shallow soil which dries out quickly, and they need to store water as much as any desert cactus. Their stems are flattened and leaf-like, the only cacti like this, apart from the Prickly Pear.

Cacti Growing Tips

The clues to the growing of healthy cacti and other succulents can be found in the description of their habitats: heat, plenty of light, a dry atmosphere, occasional heavy watering, and very well-drained potting mix. The only exceptions to this are the forest cacti.

Succulents can take any amount of heat during their growing season, but while resting (usually November-March in Britain), the temperature can be allowed to drop as low as 4°C/40°F, provided the plants are not wet at the roots. There are many cacti which inhabit the lower slopes of the Andes, where it can be really cold in winter. It is a combination of cold and damp which rots the plant base and roots, and indeed many need not be watered at all during this time. If, however, they are being kept in central heating, it is just as well to give them a little water occasionally, otherwise they shrivel.

On the whole, succulents like as much sun as possible; in fact, it is not possible in the home to give some of them the light they need to flower. However, the majority can be flowered on a south-facing window-sill. There is the occasional exception, mentioned in individual descriptions, where they grow in their natural habitat in the shade of boulders, grass and small desert shrubs, and such species will do best with protection from midday sun, or in dappled shade.

With this need for heat and light, a humid atmosphere can be forgotten; dry air does not damage them, so there is no need for you to spray them, keep them in saucers of water or in any way deliberately moisten the air.

The epiphytic cacti from the forest will need some shade and not such intense heat as the desert cacti in summer. The potting mix should be rich in humus. Rainwater or soft water is best for watering, which will be needed quite frequently while the plants are growing. A little humidity is advisable.

Astrophytum Bishop’s Cap Cactus or Star or Sea-urchin Cactus; 5CC/41CF min; Mexico]

The easiest of these to grow is the Bishop’s Cap Cactus, A. myriostigma, with five very pronounced ribs forming a roughly circular body when young, covered with white scales and topped by small yellow fragrant flowers in summer. A. listerias is the Star or Sea-urchin Cactus, a flattened ball with eight ribs and pale yellow, 2.5cm/lin wide, flowers. It grows to about 10cm/4in wide and 4cm/Hin high in pots, but specimens growim in the wild can be 20cm/8in and more in diann ter. Astrophytums can be grown in the usual cactus potting mix and under normal cactus conditions.

Cephalocereus Old Man Cactus; Mexico

The Old Man Cactus, C. senilis, is well named, as it is a column-shaped plant covered in long white hair, and looks more like some species of animal than a plant. On a good plant the individual hairs can be 12cm/5in long. Plants can live to be very old – the 12m/40ft specimens found growing in Mexico are estimated to be 200 years old. Unfortunately it does not flower until 6m/20ft tall, and is extremely slow-growing, so when grown as an indoor plant, its chief attraction will be its hairiness. Some owners have been known to shampoo the hairs, to keep them a good light colour, but as the change from a clean creamy white to a rather dull beige is due to age, this is not very effective. It should be kept completely dry in winter.

Chamaecereus Peanut Cactus; 2°C/35°F mm; Argentina

C. silvestrii is a very easily grown and commonly seen cactus, with finger-like curving stems 3-8cm/l-3in long lying flat on the soil, produced embarassingly freely. These are easily knocked off or can be taken off and will root readily without any particular treatment, beyond making sure that the base is firmly in contact with the soil mix. Bright red, open flowers about 2.5cm/lin in diameter come in

May, sitting directly on the stems. They will not set seed, however, because all the plants grown in cultivation have been vegetatively propagated. Provided you give it a good rest in winter, without water, and keep it quite cold – down to freezing will not kill it – it will flower all the more profusely.

Cleistocactus 7cC/44 F min; South America

Cleistocactus

The name of this genus refers to the flowers; cleisto means closed and the flowers consist of a narrow, colourful tube, which never actually opens, though the stamens emerge from the end. C. stransii has erect columnar branches from the base, covered thickly with short white, rather prickly, spines, especially on the top of the column, which almost seems to have a topknot. Flowers only appear on well-established plants about 1.5m/5ft tall and are red; they come continuously all through the summer, from the sides of the plant. Offsets are readily produced. During the winter keep the soil mix just moist, not completely dry, unless the temperature goes down to freezing, and give them a slightly richer mixture than the usual.

Echinocactus 15 C/41F min; Mexico

A small genus of about nine species, echinocactus includes the Golden Barrel Cactus, E. grusonii, one of the easiest to grow, provided it has as much sun as possible. It is almost completely round, with numerous ribs, each densely set with bright yellow spines. On top is a tuft of yellow woollike hair. The flowers, which are rarely produced in cultivation, occur in summer and are yellow tubes. It is slow to grow and takes many years to reach 15cm/6in, and will stand a drop in temperature at night, and also near freezing in winter, when it should be kept dry.

Echinocereus 5°C/41CF min; Mexico/Southern United States

E. pectinatus has beautiful pink, tube-shaped flowers, the tube opening out at the end, and the whole flower being about 7.5cm/ 3in long. Flowering goes on intermittently for most of the summer, the flowers starting as small dark woolly buds. Each flower lasts about two days. The cactus body is a semi-prostrate column, with many ribs covered with small white spines. The soil needs to be specially well drained. Echinocereus are slow to grow, but produce offsets at the rate of about four or five to a plant. They can be kept quite dry all winter and will even take temperatures at frost level.

Echinopsis 2°C/35 F min; Argentina

A very easily grown and flowered group of cactus, the echinopsis are small and round, flowering when about 7.5cm/3in in diameter, the flowers almost larger than the plants. E. eyriesii has fragrant, long funnel-shaped white flowers in summer; they open late in the day, and last through the next day. Echinopsis have been in cultivation for a long time, and most plants are hybrids, crossed with lobivias, with freely-produced flowers in shades of pink, salmon, orange and yellow. Offsets are produced readily and are easily rooted when still tiny, about l-l^cm/^-lin wide. No water is needed in winter, and they do not need much heat either.

Epiphyllum Orchid or Water-lily Cactus; 10CC/50 F min; Central and South America

The epiphyllums have the most beautiful flowers in late spring and early summer, and the recently produced hybrids have a second flush in autumn as well. The flowers can be 15cm/6in long and as much wide and are an open-trumpet shape, mostly in shades of red or pink, but with purple, magenta, white and yellow also included in the colour range. The centre consists of long cream-coloured stamens, and some flowers, especially the yellow and white hybrids, have the added attraction of fragrance. The stalkless flowerbuds are produced directly from the edges of the leaf-like stems (epiphyllum means ‘on the leaf), and start to develop two months or so before they actually unfold. Each flower lasts three or four days.

Epiphyllums can grow quite tall, 30-90cm/ l-3ft, and need supporting; they are rather ungainly plants and without their flowers would be distinctly boring. The flattened stems are about 5cm/2in or more wide, with pronounced dark green segments or pads. Stems will carry flowerbuds when they are two years old, and these are generally produced from the upper parts of the plants. There are many hybrids. Some good ones are: the E.xAckermannii range, which includes all the red hybrids, and E. cooperi range, with the snow-white and yellow hybrids, fragrant and opening in the evening; ‘London Sunshine’, yellow; ‘Midnight’, purple and pink; ‘Sunburst’, salmon with red centre; ‘Wanderlust’, dark pink.

The resting period of epiphyllums is mainly winter, after the second flush, but they also have a short resting time in early summer, after the first flush of flowers.

Ferocactus 5°C/41°F min; Central America/Southern United States

Fero means ferocious, and this describes the spines of these cacti exactly. They are long, stout and exceedingly pointed, and some are hooked as well. These cacti are grown for their spines, as flowers are rarely produced. The plant body is round and ribbed until the adult stage when it becomes more or less columnar. It slowly grows to a diameter of about 37cm/15in in the species E. latispinus, whose small, red and scented flowers may be produced in late spring and summer on top of the plant. Some species can be 3m/9ft tall. F. melocactiformis has yellow spines and flowers in June and July, and grows to about 60cm/2ft. Give as much sun as possible, and let the plants dry out between waterings in summer.

Gymnocalycium 5°C/41°F min; Northern South America

You sometimes see, at shows and in nurseries, some extraordinary-looking cacti with bright red scarlet balls on top of fleshy green columns. The red ball is the gymnocalycium which has been grafted on to a stock of Myrtillocactus or Trichocereus. This red gymnocalycium is a cul-tivar called ‘Red Ball’ from G. mihanovichii friedrichii; as it does not contain any chlorophyll, it has to be grafted to grow at all. The plant is cultivated because of its red colour and is unlikely to flower. There is also a yellow form and a red and green striped one.

The ordinary gymnocalyciums are mostly round plants about 5-15cm/2-6in in diameter with a few ribs and spines of varying size. Large flowers come from late spring through June and July; they last for four or five days, and are often bigger than the plant. Colours are in shades of pink or red, but sometimes white and yellow are also seen. No special care is needed beyond the normal cactus cultivation.

Lobivia 2°C/35°F min; South America, particularly Peru

Lobivia

The main attraction of these cacti is their flowers, which are large, up to 10cm/4in across, and brightly coloured pink, red, purple, white, yellow or orange. They are funnel-shaped and occur in summer, and quite young plants of two or three years will flower; an added attraction is the ease with which they can be grown to flowering size. Although the flowers only last for a day, they come in quick succession and fresh buds are constantly appearing. The plant body is small and round, 5-15cm/2-6in in diameter. Some especially good species are L. aurea, bright golden flowers; L. cinnabarina, an almost luminous red; and L. jajoiana, deep red with a black throat. Lobivias will endure frost in winter, if kept completely dry at the roots, which are tuberous and long – they need larger pots than other cacti of the same size.

Mammillaria 5°C/41°F min; Central and South America/ West Indies

Whole books have been written about mammillarias, and there is an entire society for mammillaria enthusiasts. It is a vast genus of over 200 species, very varied in plant forms and with species whose care ranges from easy to very difficult. The small flowers are produced in a ring round the top of the plant, which can be globular or cylindrical; flowering starts in early summer and can continue until autumn. Sometimes brightly coloured fruits follow and last until the new flowers the following season. On the whole, they are small plants, growing to, at the most, 20cm/8in tall, singly or in clusters. All have prominent spines, sometimes prickles, sometimes hair-like.

Some suitable species for a windowsill are: M. wildii, white flowers all through summer, clustered plant body; M. zeilmanniana, red-purple flowers on tiny plants, cylindrical but branching; M. rhodantha, red spines and magenta flowers in mid-summer, cylindrical; M. microhelia, golden spines and greenish yellow flowers, solitary body. M. rhodantha has a cristate or fasciated form, and so has M. wildii, which will also flower quite freely. Plenty of light is important for flower production, and the plants should be turned frequently to prevent them straining towards the source of light.

Notocactus 5°C/41°F mm; Central South America

Notocactus

A large group of vigorous, easily-grown cacti, the notocactus are easy to flower, mainly small (up to 18cm/7in) and round with flattened tops and many spines on the ribbed sides. Trumpet-shaped flowers, opening out wide, are usually yellow and large for the size of the plant, coming either singly or in a circle from the top. N. haselbergii is covered in white spines, so that it looks like a white ball, and has orange red flowers in early summer lasting for several weeks, though it does not start to flower until about five years old. N. leninghausii grows up to 90cm/3ft, has yellow spines and yellow flowers in summer, but these do not come until it is a column about 17cm/7in tall. N. apricus is a name covering a group of plants (height 8cm/3in) whose flowers are large and yellow, appearing on even tiny plants; they have a dense covering of bristly brown and yellow spines. Notocactus need little heat in winter provided they are kept dry. They are easily grown from seed, the young plants flowering quite easily.

Opuntia Prickly Pear; 3°C/37°F min; North, Central and South America

The Prickly Pears have taken to Australia and warmer parts of Europe so readily since their introduction that they have been thought to be indigenous. The fruits of the opuntia can be eaten, and are grown in some areas of America for canning. The best known opuntias are those with flattened pads, but there are also tree-like types with cylindrical, branching stems. The smaller species, with pads, are the easiest to grow in the home. Opuntias are not difficult to grow, but flowers are rarely seen except under greenhouse conditions; the plants are usually grown for their shape and colourful spines with barbed bristles. These can become embedded in the skin and are difficult to remove. Suitable species, flower¬ing occasionally, include O. bergeriana, dark red flowers in summer; O. basilaris, red flowers and purple-blue pads, to 90cm/3ft; O. micro-dasys, yellow-brown and spineless with yellow flowers occasionally, to 90cm/3ft; and O. paraguayensis, yellow flowers, the most easily flowered of this selection.

grouping cacti in a bowl

Rebutia 5°C/41°F min; Mountains of South America

The rebutias are marvellous cacti for flowering; they are small globular plants, maximum height 12cm/5in, producing many offsets, and they bloom freely even when only a few years old. The trumpet-shaped flowers are produced near the base of the plants in great profusion, almost covering the plant in spring. Some species virtually flower themselves to death, but they are so easily rooted from offsets or grown from seed, that replacements are easy. Flower colour can be yellow, red, lilac, salmon, pink, orange and white. The rounded plant is not ribbed and has very few spines. Rebutias need good light in summer, but virtually no heat or water in winter. Some especially good species are: R. minuscula, red flowers and one of the earliest to bloom; R. senilis, red flowered from April onwards with long white spines; and R. xanthocarpa sahnonea, salmon-pink.

Rhipsalidopsis Easter Cactus; 13CC/55°F min; Central and South America

The Easter Cactus, R.gaertneri, was formerly known as Schlumbergeragaertneri, and before that as Zygocactus gaertneri and it may be sold under any of these names. The Easter Cactus is one of the hanging types of cactus, with flattened leaf-like stems about 1-1.5cm/5-1 inch wide, segmented into dull green pads. New growth appears from the tips of the end pad, as do the flower buds. A well grown plant may be 45cm/l5ft high and 45cm/l5ft wide, and when in full flower is extremely attractive. The flowers are trumpet-shaped and pendent with narrow, pointed, red and purple

Parodia 50°C/41°F mm; Central South America

Globular cacti, small and slow growing to 6cm/2in, the parodias’ main attraction is their spines. P. chrysacanthion has long, pale yellow spines covering it, and sometimes smallyellow funnel-shaped flowers. P. faustiana has white spines and brown flowers, P. sanguini flora has brown spines and numerous dark red flowers in summer, and P. mairanana has yellow spines and apricot flowers from summer until autumn. Be careful with watering, particularly in winter, as parodias are very prone to root rot. petals, appearing in April and May, smaller but more numerous than those of the Christmas Cactus.

The Easter Cactus rests from autumn (September) to late winter, then begins to push out new flower buds; after flowering it grows new pads during summer, on which next year’s flowers will come.

Schlumbergera Chnstmas Cactus; 13UC/55°F min; Brazil

Formerly called Zygocactus truncatus, this is now correctly known as Schlutnbergera x buck-leyi but may be sold under either name. Flowering can be between October and late January depending on variety and cultural care, but it will not form flowerbuds unless it is subjected to short days. The drooping, narrow trumpet-like flowers, up to 8cm/3in long, are magenta or rose-pink. If you keep it in the house in the autumn and early winter, it must not be given artificial light when it is naturally dark outdoors; the plant must still be kept in warmth, but in a dark place in the evening.

Habit of growth and flowers are very much like the Easter Cactus, but the larger and fewer flowers are more easily produced. It rests from late winter until late spring, then starts growing again, and in September the flowerbuds should begin to appear. If you delay giving it short days, it will take longer to form buds, and once you are experienced, you can manipulate flower production so that it coincides with Christmas. Warmth (18°C/65CF) also helps to encourage flowering.

Selenicereus 10CC/50CF min; West Indies

Most of the species of this genus are night-flowering and are responsible for getting cacti in general a bad name for flowering once every seven years. S. grandifiorus (Queen of the Night) unfolds its beautiful blooms in the evening and they last all night, but they are produced much more frequently than every seven years. The white flowers are enormous, up to 30cm/1 ft long, and very strongly scented, produced in June or July. The trailing or climbing stems can be 5m/17ft long in the wild, but in a container are less than half that length. The plant must have warmth in winter in order to produce buds.

OTHER SUCCULENTS

Aeonium 7°C/44°F min; Canary Islands/Azores/North Africa

Aeonium

The aeoniums are members of the crassula family, and are small and shrubby, or tree-like, with fleshy leaves in rosettes at the end of shoots. Otherwise similarity ends there and the species are greatly varied in shape and colour; for instance A. arboreum, as it suggests, is like a miniature tree with brown branches bearing shiny green leaves and a main trunk to about 90cm/3ft tall. Its variety A. a. ‘Atro-purpurcum’ has slightly smaller leaves, flushed with purple, which will keep the colour provided it is kept in bright sun.

A. tabulaeforme naturally grows pressed against rocks and is quite flat, the leaves being light green and tightly compacted. A. undu-latum has rather spoon-shaped leaves with wavy margins, in rosettes on top of and around the main stem; it produces starry yellow flowers in clusters in summer. Height is 60-90cm/2-3ft; winter temperature should be 10°C/50°F, unless kept dry, though they tend to lose their leaves if kept too dry. A little water during the winter improves their appearance, as well as their health.

Agave 5°C/41°F min; Mexico

The form of all agaves is a rosette of fleshy, pointed leaves sitting close against the soil, from the centre of which is produced a flowering stem when the plant reaches maturity, sometimes at the age of 500.

The stem can be 7.8m/25ft tall, as in A. ameri-catia, the Century Plant, whose spiny leaves can be 1.8m/6ft long. In a container, however, it is very much smaller (up to 1.2m/4ft) and unlikely to flower. A. victoriae-reginae is more suitable for the home, slowly growing to 50cm/20in wide, height 15cm/6in, with white-edged dull green, very fleshy leaves. It needs a minimum winter temperature of 10°C/50°F. Agaves need more water than most succulents in summer, but need to be sparingly watered in winter.

Aloe 5°C/41°F mm; South Africa

The Partridge-breasted Aloe, A. variegata, is the most popular of the many species in this genus. It has a dark green rosette of leaves arranged in overlapping ranks, variegated with white horizontal bands. It is very handsome, about 10cm/4in wide, and with light red flowers in a loose spike 30cm/1 ft tall in early spring. It does best if kept on the dry side in winter.

Ceropegia Hearts-entangled; 7CC/45CF min; Natal

It is difficult to believe that this genus is classed as a succulent. C. woodii belongs to the same family as Hoya cartwsa, and has purple, long, hanging, thread-like stems, to 90cm/3ft, with small heart-shaped, fleshy leaves marbled white on green. From the axils of these grow greenish-white tubular flowers in summer. It grows from a tuber, and in winter can be kept quite cool and dry. The leaves will be fleshier the drier it is kept.

Conophytum Cone Plants; 5°C/41°F min; South West Africa

The conophytums are one of the ‘living stones’ group, seldom over 5cm/2in high and composed of fused lobes. One of the prettiest in flower is C. jicijortne, with violet-pink, daisy-like nocturnal flowers. It rests from April to August, in as much sun as possible, and should be kept quite dry at that time. Flowers and new plants appear in autumn, and the growing period is during winter and early spring. C. truncatellum is minute and has cream-white flowers which open during the day in October. (See also Lithops.)

Cotyledon 7°C/45°F min; South Africa

One of the most popular species of this genus of succulents is C. undulata, a most attractive plant; the leaves are light green, thickly coated with silvery-white, and waved at the edges. Height is about 45cm/i5ft. It should never be watered or sprayed overhead, otherwise the coating on the leaves is spoilt. The summer flowers are narrow bell-shaped, pale yellow and red; the plant needs a little shade in summer, plenty of light in winter, and a moderate amount of water all year.

Crassula 7°C/45°F min; South Africa

Crassula

The crassula family is a large and varied one, containing shrubs and herbaceous plants. The leaves of some are extremely attractive, and others have good flowers as well. C. jalcata has markedly grey-blue leaves in layers on a stem which can be 60cm/2ft tall, and a cluster of bright red flowers at the top in summer. C. arborescens is often seen looking rather dreary because it is not being given enough water or light; it grows at least 90cm/3ft tall, and has spoon-shaped fleshy grey-green leaves with a red margin; clusters of white starry flowers appear in May if the plant can be kept in a suitably hot and sunny place. C. lactea is also shrubby with dark green leaves and white flowers in midwinter.

Echeveria 5CC/41°F min; Central and Southern North America

All are rosette forming plants, with a single flower stem coming from the centre of the rosette, usually in winter or spring. E. elegans forms rosettes of almost white, translucent green leaves on stems eventually 30cm/ 1 ft tall, with pink flowers. E. gibbiflora is shrubby with blue-green leaves, up to 20cm/8in long, in rosettes flushed with red or purple; red flowers in autumn. The variety F. g. metal-lica has pink-bronze leaves with a pink or red edge, and F. g. cristata has frilled leaf margins. E. setosa has a flat and silvery rosette, with red flowers throughout summer. Give these plants a richer potting mix than usual and keep cool. Give water all year, but keep it off the leaves.

Euphorbia 10deg C/50°F min; Madagascar

Euphorbia

This genus is very large and extremely varied in its forms, from succulents through annual and perennial herbaceous plants to shrubs and trees. The sap is white and milky. The ferociously prickly spines of E. milii (Crown of Thorns) are rather off-putting, though the red flowers dotted all over it in spring and the fresh, light green leaves are pretty enough to make up. The grey stems are thick, fleshy and gnarled, to 1.2m/ 4ft. Its resting time is winter in Britain, but elsewhere it can be in flower for many months. It needs to be kept slightly warmer and moister than other succulents, with some water all year.

Faucaria 5°C/41°F min; South Africa

The leaves o( these are tough and fleshy. F. tigrina (Tiger’s Jaws) are armed with teeth along the edges, and their grey-green colour sets off the bright yellow flowers produced in autumn – they open in the afternoons. The plant is only about 7.5cm/3in high. Keep them in small pots to encourage flowering, and keep dry in the early spring and summer.

Fenestraria Window Plants; 2°C/35°F min; South Africa

Sometimes this is sold or listed under the name Mesembryanthemum, but it is quite different to those plants in its habit of growth, and looks very much more like the ‘living stones’. Fenes-trarias have attained their common name because the surface of each swollen pebble-like leaf is transparent. This allows just enough sun to reach the plant for it to live – the rest of it being buried – but not so much that it is burnt up. F. rhopalophylla forms clumps of cylindrical greenish-white leaves and has white flowers 3cm/i2in wide; the species, F. aurantiaca is similar but with yellow flowers. Plenty of sun, a wide shallow container and a little water throughout the year are advisable.

Haworthia 5CC/41°F min; South Africa

Haworthia

These succulents of the lily family are small plants or shrub-lets, usually rosette-shaped. H. margaritifera has dark green, fleshy leaves, heavily marked with white, in a rosette up to 15cm/6in wide. H. reinwardtii forms a tall narrow rosette of fleshy, keeled leaves, up to a height of 15cm/6in. Haworthias like a good light but not full sun and a little water in winter.

Kalanchoe 5°C/41°F min; South America/China/Madagascar

K. blossfeldiana ‘Tom Thumb’ is a small plant with rounded fleshy leaves and clusters of small, bright red flowers, often for sale at Christmas; there is a variety with yellow flowers. K. tomentosa is quite different, with thick, furry, silvery leaves, edged with chocolate brown hair, and silvery stems, to 75cm/ 25ft; a very handsome plant seldom producing flowers. Other kalanchoes include those formerly known as Bryophyllum’, they produce plantlets on the edges of the leaves in between the serrations, which drop off and root easily into the soil below. K. diagremontiana has pointed leaves, flat and arrow-shaped, and marked with purple-brown. The winter flowers are yellow and pink, and it grows up to 60cm/2ft tall. K.fedtschenkoi has blue-purple leaves fading to lilac-pink, with dark toothed edges, and yellow flowers in winter. Height is about 30cm/1 ft . Kalanchoes are easily grown, needing slightly more water in summer and more food than most succulents; they also like humidity.

Lithops Living Stones; 5°C/41°F min; South Africa

These plants look exactly like the pebbles among which they grow. Only the surface of the plant can be seen; the rest is buried from the hot desert sun. Each plant consists of two extremely fleshy leaves, nearly completely joined, from the centre of which appear yellow or white daisy flowers in late summer and autumn. They rest between December and April, and need a potting mix consisting of almost half coarse sand or other drainage material. When they start to grow again, the dead outer skin will split, and each lobe bursts through it. Keep the plants dry while resting, and water only sparingly even when growing.

Rochea 7°C/45°F min; South Africa

The French botanist La Roche (d. 1813) is commemorated in the name of this succulent. The best known species is R. coccitica, a shrubby plant which grows to about 60cm/2ft tall, with small fleshy leaves arranged in regular ranks up the stem, and a head of red fragrant flowers at the top from May or June onwards. R. jasminea has prostrate stems and white flowers in spring. Take off the dead flower stems to make room for new shoots, which will themselves flower later in the season. Like cotyledon, rochea needs water all year and a little shade in summer.

Sedum 5°C/41°F min; Worldwide except Australia

This large genus also includes small succulent plants and there are many attractive species which grow well in the home. 5. sieboldii ‘Medio-variegatum’ has fleshy blue-green leaves with a pale yellow or white stripe in the centre and red edges; in September it produces clusters of pink flowers, but then dies down completely for the winter. 5. pachy-phyllum (Jelly Beans) which grows to 30cm/l ft, has blue-green fleshy leaves, clubbed and red at the tips and red and yellow flowers in spring. S. rubrotinctum is a small plant (20cm/8in), and has small, thick, berry-like leaves which turn coppery red in the sun; the yellow flowers are seldom seen. Feeding is not required; shallow containers are best and keep the potting mix on the dry side.

Sempervivum Houseleek; 2 C/35 F min; Europe

These succulents are so well known as to hardly need description. Cultivation is easy in the extreme, as they seem able to exist virtually without any water – an occasional deluge every few months is sufficient. The Common Houseleek, S. tec-torum, consists of rosettes 10cm/4in wide of fleshy pointed triangular leaves. S. arachnoidal is the Cobweb Houseleek, with tiny rosettes 2.5cm/1 in wide covered in white webbing, from the centre of which come stems 7.5cm/3in or more tall, carrying pink starry flowers in June.

Stapelia 5°C/41°F min; South and Tropical Africa

Stapelias are unlucky to have a reputation for smelling unpleasant, because it is only a few species which do so; the rest have no odour of any kind. The whole plant is fleshy including the flowers, which have bizarre and spectacular colouring. S. gran di flora has starfish-shaped blooms 15cm/6in wide, dark brown, with fringed and hairy petals. S. revoluta can reach a height of 37cm/15in and has purple flowers; the flowers of 5. verrucosa are saucer-shaped, yellow with red spots – it is a small plant. The most well known one, S. variegata (10cm/4in) has pale yellow wrinkled petals with dark purple spots, but this is one of the evil-smelling species. All flower in summer and rest in winter; they need an ordinary potting mix with extra grit. A larger pot than usual is required as they need plenty of root room, as well as a little shade from sun in summer.

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