Over the years, I bought/was given a few succulents and cacti, which I basically let grow by themselves because they had a great position in the Sun (a Southern-facing window without blinds, in Northern Italy), simply working on replanting them or cutting off parts that would then grow in other pots.

They grow fast and well, but I would like to take better care of them. That includes (but is not limited to):

  • Right shading
  • Optimal soil composition
  • Propagation
  • Times of the year for cloning, replanting, etc.
  • Flowering (Only one or two bloom, so I can't use flowers for identification)

I could take pictures of each and post them here, but I would like to do my own research and resort to that for those I cannot properly identify. I have look around but many suggested websites are about wild plants or plants in the ground, which I'm guessing grow a little differently than succulents in a pot.

Which resources can I use to identify succulents?

2 Answers 2


I don't know of a really good dichotomous key or similar... what I would do, is to learn the basics of most commonly kept succulents, then look at pictures of those families to see if you can narrow it to genera...

main families of succulents (at least house plants)

Cactuses (Cactaceae):

  • almost all have leaves modified as woody spines... majority of the plant is made of a stem.
  • often segmented.
  • often cylindrical.
  • typically large colorful single perfect flowers with radial symmetry, flowers are usually grown right from the stem, not on a long panicle.
  • often spines are born on raised ridges the length of a segment
  • only a few genera have anything that seems like fleshy leaves (see Leuchtenbergia principis, Mammillaria longimamma)


  • APG 2,3 put a lot of formerly separate families into this family
  • monocots
  • most of the succulents grow with long thin fibrous leaves around a stem as a rosette.
  • flowers borne on long racemes (panacles).
  • often will only branch after flowering.
  • some grow to be trees.
  • important genera include Agave, Yucca, Hesperaloe.
  • succulent genera mainly distributed in the new world.


  • called stone crops

  • contains many different forms

  • most have fleshy leaves like jade plants

  • dicots

  • flowers borne on panicles.

  • often as rosettes like houseleeks (hens-n-chicks)

  • important genera: Kalanchoe, Crassula, Cotyledon, Sedum, Sempervivum.


  • monocots

  • sort of like succulents in Asparagaceae, except they are usually fleshier and the spines are typically a little less hard and woody, leaves less sinuous.

  • center of diversity is in Africa.


  • dicots
  • can look a lot like cactuses
  • easiest way to distinguish from cactuses is the poisonous / irritant milky juice (latex) that exudes from wounds.
  • in the species with spines, the spines are usually very dark red to black, and are shinier than cactus spines, they are often also borne in pairs (cactus spines are usually in small groups or single, not as regular)
  • mainly in the genus Euphorbia (very diverse genus, over 2000 species)
  • strange flowers with separate male and female flowers.
  • fruit often are explosively dehiscent capsules. euphorbia spine close up...


  • Portulaca, looks a lot like it could be in Crassulaceae
  • Stapelia, looks like a cactus... except cacti are almost entirely confined to the new world and Stapelias are from africa, and don't have spines... their flowers are not pretty, and smell like rotting flesh.
  • 1
    That is a very good place to start! I guess genera are specific enough for my purpose. I will definitely ask for a scientific name from now on instead of just buying them. Thank you! Oct 24, 2015 at 9:49

One place to get assistance with Cactus and Succulent ID is Cactiguide.com

Cactiguide Forums

In the forums, scroll down to the Help with Identification section. There is one forum for cactus and one for succulents. Post clear pictures and don't post too many plants per post.

If you click on Home at the top of the page it will show you a list of genera on the left side that you can explore to try to ID the plants yourself. Try to do some of the work yourself and get validation from the forum.

If you are willing to expend some effort you can get all your plants ID'd.

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