How to Identify Trailing Succulents

Updated February 21, 2017

Sun-loving succulents are ideal plants, requiring little care or maintenance. They are hardy, fleshy perennials (plants that live for more than two years) that have the ability to store water for use in times of prolonged water shortages. Drought-tolerant succulents grow in almost any type of well-drained soil. Succulents, sedum and cacti provide visual interest and colour to home gardens and urban landscapes. They are well suited to container planting. More than 10,000 species, subspecies and hybrid cacti, sedum and succulents are found around the world in both tropical and arid climates. Identifying trailing succulent plants can be difficult. Careful observation of the plant's characteristics and growing location are key elements in succulent-plant identification.

Examine the leaf. Leaf shape, size and colour are key elements in succulent-plant identification. Succulents and sedum have fleshy, thick-skinned leaves and stems. Leaves may be round, oblong or long and narrow. Some succulent leaves are straight, while others are spiral shaped, twisted and curling. Leaves may be green, purple or tinged with brown or red. Leaf patterns may include dots, stripes, swirl or coloured edging.

Agave, a member of the plant family Amaryllis, presents sturdy, swordlike leaves that may be serrated or have smooth edges. Cotyledons exhibit thick, fleshy leaves, often covered with a white powder. Gasteria, a member of the lily family, presents blunt, fan-shaped leaves.

Closely examine the stem. Determine if the plant presents multiple stems or is a single-stemmed variety. Note if the stem is upright, branching or trailing. Stem formation provides valuable clues that will help you identify the species. Agave Montana, also known as mountain agave, grows in dense clumps. The leaves are pointed and serrated, with thorny points. The flower stem grows up to 15 feet tall.

Consider the size of the plant. Many varieties of sedum, cacti and other succulents are low-growing ground-cover plants, just inches high. Others are tall and stately, often reaching several feet in height at maturity. Hylocereus undatus, also known as dragon fruit, is a tropical jungle vining cactus that presents large white flowers and a tasty, edible fruit. The flesh of the fruit is comparable in taste and texture to a kiwi fruit.

Take note of the flower size, shape and colour. The majority of sedum plants exhibit small starlike flowers presented in wide, flat clusters of white, yellow, pink or red. Cactus flowers may be tiny and insignificant or large and showy. Cactus flowers may be red, yellow, white, orange, pink or purple.

Take a photograph of the plant in question for future reference. Make notes of the flower-growing site, time of the year the plant was observed and any unusual features or characteristics of the plant that aid in identification.

Trailing cactus plants may have thorns or sharp spines. Note the size and density of cacti spines. Ariocarpus, a member of the plant family Cactaceae, includes seven different species of very low-growing spineless cacti. The plant grows flush with the ground in gravel, coarse sand and rock outcroppings. Succulents flourish in full sun and well-drained locations.


Be careful not to over water succulents, cacti and sedum. Excessive watering can lead to root rot, falling and yellowed leaves.

Things You'll Need

  • Plant identification guide book
  • Notebook
  • Camera
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About the Author

A passionate writer for more than 30 years, Marlene Affeld writes of her love of all things natural. Affeld's passion for the environment inspires her to write informative articles to assist others in living a green lifestyle. She writes for a prominent website as a nature travel writer and contributes articles to other online outlets covering wildlife, travel destinations and the beauty of nature.