When you envision a succulent, you probably think of a small house plant. If you believe that succulents are only tiny little green plants, you are mistaken.
Succulents come in a vast variety of sizes and shapes. Many people are surprised that in addition to the tiny green potted succulent they have on their windowsill, succulents can also be nearly ninety feet tall and wider than a minivan.
Succulents are native to many different countries and thrive in various environments in addition to coming in many different sizes. In order to discuss all the different sizes of succulents, I will first provide additional insight into what defines a succulent. After we have a fuller picture of what classifies a plant like a succulent, we will look at some of the largest and smallest succulents in the world and where they thrive.
I have spent several years traveling the world and have seen the most oversized succulents up close and personal and have grown some of the most petite succulents. I am excited to share with you all the surprising research that I have found on what you might have never heard about succulents.
What defines a succulent
Succulents are not just the tiny houseplants that we all love or the desert-loving plants like Aloe.
Succulents are a wide range of plants that are defined as a family of drought-resistant plants. Succulents are drought resistant because they store water inside of them. Some hold their water in the leaves or stems, while others keep their water in their trunks.
A few common characteristics of succulents are; having thick, engorged, or swollen stems. Succulents also are very hardy plants that can survive long periods without water. These plants
usually grow in hot and dry areas, but some are also known to grow in rainforests.
There are many different types of succulents. Some research suggests there are over 10,000 varieties of succulents across the world. Although we don’t have time to talk about every
type of succulent today, we will discuss some of the largest and most surprising varieties as well as some of the most common.
Succulents are not a distinct species of plants. Many plants that are known as trees or cacti are also considered succulent. Succulent is an additional characteristic that is tacked onto a species name of a plant that carries water. Many people do not think of all cacti as succulents, but most are because they hold water to survive in the dry and hot desert climate.
What is the world’s largest succulent?
While many succulents are the size of your typical houseplant, several varieties get exceptionally
large. The Baobab tree can reach 80 or more feet high and nearly 90 feet in circumference; They are native to Africa, Madagascar, and Australia. I have observed these mammoth trees specifically in dry, hot regions such as Tanzania. The Baobab is not just one tree but nine different species in the Adansonia genus.
These massive trees thrive in some of the world’s most challenging regions for a plant to survive in. They produce thick leaves and foliage during the rainy months but shed all their leaves
during the dry months to store water. These trees can live to be thousands of years old and support all of the life around them.
These succulents are so large that they sometimes turned into tiny houses. One 6,000-year-old Baobab tree in Australia was even turned into a pub. The trunks of these massive succulents can hold thousands of gallons of water and form their own ecosystems with their wildlife. Monkeys live in the Baobab and drop food for creatures below while birds live higher up in the branches and elephants use the trees as a spot to rub against.
While not as impressive as the Baobab tree, many other types of succulents are much larger than what you may imagine. The Echinocatus Grusonii or “The Golden Barrel Cactus” can be up to 3 feet wide, about 2 feet tall. They look like giant spiked balls, and each plant can grow multiple pods of these. While the Golden Barrel Cactus is, just as its name says, a cactus, it is also succulent because it stores water. Beneath its spikes and thick skin, it can hold a significant amount of water to protect itself from drought.
These spiky cacti do not grow indoors but will grow well in your yard if you live in a hot, dry climate. These cartoonish succulents do not like to be overwatered, which means that they do not enjoy rainy environments. They also are not the hardiest of plants and cannot tolerate severe cold. If you live in the Southwest United States or another part of the world with a hot, dry climate, this might be the perfect addition to your yard décor.
Agave Gentryi’ Jaws
The Agave Gentryi is another succulent that can grow pretty large. This plant is a type of Agave and can grow 5-8 feet wide and several feet tall. Along with other species of Agave, this plant is a large succulent that stores water in its very long leaves. The leaves of certain Agave plants are used to make Agave nectar, a substitute for Honey, and can be used to treat skin conditions.
This plant looks very similar to an Aloe plant. With long, sharp foliage with serrated edges, many people mistake the Agave for the Aloe plant. Both are very similar, but while the Aloe plant is known for treating sunburns, the Agave produces a sweet, honey-like edible substance.
Another type of succulent that can get very large is the Snake Plant. Snake plants are a common house plant that is known for their hardy nature. Snake plants need very little water and can
survive on low amounts of light and care. They store water in their long, pointed foliage and are also popular for their air-purifying qualities. A typical house Snake Plant may not seem very big, but this succulent can reach up to 12 feet high with enough light. Snake Plants only need water every few weeks because they store water.
If you have a Snake plant, it is important not to overwater. A typical issue for succulents is root rot. If overwatered, root rot can kill your succulent. Another typical mistake when caring for a Snake Plant is not giving it enough light. While this plant can survive on low light, they actually prefer medium to high light. If you want a very large Snake Plant, it prefers six or more hours of sun every day, and you should rotate it every few weeks so that all of the foliage is getting light.
Aloe is a popular succulent that is grown in households all over the world. Known for its healing effect on sunburns, Aloe has a sticky substance that forms insides its stems and is used for health and healing in many different cultures. The sticky substance inside is mostly water and is where a succulent stores its reservoirs for the dry season. The Aloe sitting in your kitchen may not be a giant yet, but Aloe can get up to several feet tall when adequately cared for and can store a significant amount of water.
Aloe is another plant that does need and cannot tolerate a lot of water. If overwatered, Aloe will get root rot and can die. Aloe enjoys high light, so make sure that it is near a window if you keep it indoors. Aloe does not enjoy the cold. If you live in an environment that gets below 40 at night, you need to keep your Aloe indoors and far enough from the window, so it does not freeze. Because Aloe is full of a liquid, its leaves can actually freeze solid, killing the plant. In order to have a very large, healthy plant, give your aloe lots of sun, heat, and minimal water.
Trichocereus Terscheckii or Argentine Saguaro can reach over 10 feet tall. These tall cacti are known for their traditional three-pronged, desert cactus look. They are able to survive months without water due to their enormous water reservoirs and can grow the largest in full sun. These succulents are low maintenance and can survive temperatures as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
What is the world’s smallest succulent?
In addition to the very large and medium-sized succulent above, there are a large variety of small and tiny succulents. These plants are more commonly seen in people’s houses in pots. Although succulents are supposedly easy keepers, they also have a great deal of light and water requirements that can make them a challenge for some people to grow them. Smaller succulents are also typically found in front yards and arranged plant displays in warm and dry climates. In the United States, states such as Arizona and New Mexico are ideal for growing succulents outdoors.
Blossfeldia Liliputana is a variety of tiny succulents. They grow to smaller than the size of a quarter and grow in groups. They are traditionally known as a species of cacti but because their
leaves and stems get swollen with water, they are also known as a succulent.
Echeveria is another extremely common succulent that is sold at most plant stores, and you can even find it in grocery stores across the US. This succulent typically has a rose-like shape and comes in green to light purple shades and even pink, orange, or white. It is native to Mexico, Central America, and South America, and there are 150 known varieties of the species. It can grow to the size of a cereal bowl.
Echeveria is a slow-growing type of plant that stores water in its leaves. It produces pups or tiny Echeveria alongside the mother that can be propagated to produce more mother plants. This
succulent is much stronger than most and can withstand frost during the winter months meaning that it can live outside in most places year long. It does not like to be overwatered, however, and needs direct light to survive.
Kalanchoe Tomentosa, more commonly known as Chocolate Soldier or panda plant area vertical growing succulent Native to Madagascar. This succulent has plum leaves covered in a soft
fuzz. They often come in shades of green with dark brown tips on their leaves. These succulents only get 6-8 inches tall and 4-6 inches wide. They are another prevalent house succulent and grow well in pots, indoors in the United States. They are sun-loving succulents that need highlight and low water to survive.
Lithops, more commonly known as living stones, are a fun house succulent that grows in groups. This small succulence species only gets about the size of a quarter wide and only about a half an inch tall. They come in a variety of colors but are known to catalog to their surroundings. During the summer they can produce flowers. This succulent stores water inside of its tiny mound and does best with dry soil and six or more hours of light per day. This is a heat-loving succulent that will not grow if it is overwatered.
Sedum is a tiny succulent that is a tiny 3 inches tall at full maturity. While it may be petite in height, it makes up for its sprawling nature. Sedum is a trailing succulent that is great for ground coverage. This plant is tolerant to shade but grows faster and will produce flowers if it is given adequate light. This succulent grows well in outdoor gardens as well as pots due to its small size. Like most succulents, Sedum needs well-drained soil in order to grow to full size.
What factors affect the size of a succulent?
As seen above in our tour of different-sized succulents worldwide, there is no baseline for how large a succulent can be. Succulents grow in all shapes and sizes, and their growth depends on a number of factors.
The first factor that determines a succulent’s size is its species. Some succulents are simply larger or smaller than others. A Lithops is never going to reach the size of a Baobab tree or even an Agave succulent. The main factor in size is species. Those in the same species or classification will generally be about the same size. Some across species will be similar in size, but it largely depends on each type of succulent.
The next determining factor in how big a succulent will get is light. Most, if not all, succulents need six or more hours of light a day to thrive. Succulents enjoy direct light and will grow
larger if they get a significant amount of light. Succulents who do not get enough light will grow extremely slowly, and some will die. Succulents like the snake plant will see huge growth with proper amounts of light. A Snake plant with low light will have skinny foliage that does not grow in height, while a Snake plant that gets ample light will have thick foliage that will grow tall.
In the same way, a Baobab tree grows to such heights because it is in its ideal environment. It requires ample light to be able to grow, and its environment provides that. A baobab tree would not be able to grow in New York because of the rain and snow that block light.
Water is another large component of a succulent’s growth. An overwatered succulent is unlikely to grow and will often die due to root rot. A succulent that is significantly under-watered will have shriveling leaves or leaves that turn brown or yellow. While succulents often need less water than other types of plants, they still require some water to grow.
Ensuring that your succulent has the optimal amount of water will help it grow to its full size. Check the watering requirements of each of your succulents or before you buy a succulent to make sure you are providing it with the proper amounts of water. If you have outdoor succulents but live in a dry area, make sure to water them consistently.
This also applies to rainy climates. If you live in a region where it rains a significant amount, you need to be mindful of your outdoor succulents. Possible solutions to help your succulents thrive and grow large are to put your succulent outdoors but undercover from the rain or to keep your succulent indoors during the rainy season. If you keep your succulent indoor during the rainy season, it may be able to grow significantly and still be able to be outside during the drier months.
Your succulents soil will impact how big it grows. Succulents enjoy well-drained soil. This means that you should have rocks, moss, or perlite beneath your soil to ensure that water drains out. If your succulent sits in water, it will suffer the same effects as overwatering. You should also make sure to have the right mix of soil. Soil mix is important because the soil is too hard for your succulent; it will be unable to grow extended roots that help to support growth above the surface.
Succulents need to be at the proper temperature in order to grow. If your succulent requires warm temperatures to thrive, it is unlikely that it will grow large if it is consistently in 50
degree weather. Succulents such as a Burritos tail, Aloe, Agave, and others with large reservoirs of water stored in their leaves will freeze solid in cold weather. If you live in a cool climate, you will need to keep your succulents inside during the cooler months.
Cold hardy succulents may be able to be outside year-round in mild climates, but that does not mean that they will thrive. All succulents prefer warm weather. They need their preferred temperature to grow to full size.
If your succulent lives in a container, you need to monitor its size and adjust its container when necessary. When plants get too large for their container, they get root-bound. Rootbound means that the roots have taken up all available space and have started to overlap and wrap themselves around in circles. This is an issue for growth because if the roots are unable to grow, the succulent will be unable to grow.
In order to avoid root bound, you need to replant your succulent as it grows. If your succulent appears to be getting too big for its pot on top of the soil, then the roots beneath the soil have
probably already run out of room. Typically it is best to re-pot succulents in the spring when they are growing the most. Put them in a pot one size up and leave them in that sized pot until they outgrow it.
Succulents are from a mostly hot and dry climate. Succulents thrive in their native environments. If a succulent is native to the desert, it will grow the largest in the desert. While you can try to mimic the climate in your own home, succulents can feel the difference. Some species of succulents simply do not grow in environments different from their native ones. They will stay dormant for years and not produce any new growth.
If this is happening to your succulent, consider doing some research and finding out how to make your home more like its native area. Some plant owners add mini-greenhouses to their homes to increase the heat for their succulents or create humidity for plants who enjoy that type of atmosphere. If you live in a cold, snowy place with limited light year-round, it might be best to steer clear of succulents native to the desert who enjoy six-plus hours of sunlight a day. While we can create environments to some extent within our homes, a succulent will be larger if it is able to enjoy all of the benefits of where it is originally from.
About THE AUTHOR
As an experienced gardener & landscaper on my own property over the last 20 years, I'm excited to share the things I've learned along the way, as I continue to learn.Read More About Elsie Moore