Succulents are a popular type of desert plant that adapts well to various growing conditions. These hardy plants are renowned for their ability to absorb and retain water, allowing them to survive for extended periods without water. Their leaves are imperative to their health, so it makes sense that they don’t shed their leaves as deciduous plants do.
Most succulents are evergreen plants, but not all of them. While some succulents only drop leaves under stress, others lose their leaves seasonally. Baobab trees are deciduous, but ponytail palms are evergreen. Other succulents, like echeveria, can be either deciduous or evergreen.
In this article, we will discuss different examples of evergreen and deciduous succulents. We’ll also examine the differences between the two species of plants so that we can get a better grasp of how succulents fall into these categories.
The Difference Between Evergreen and Deciduous
An “evergreen” is defined as a “plant, bush, or tree [that] has leaves for the whole year.” Think of pine and fir trees that hold onto their needles throughout the winter. These plants might become snow-covered, but even then, they’ll hold onto their leaves.
A deciduous plant, on the other hand, “loses its leaves in autumn and grows new ones in the spring.” Think of maple trees that turn golden in the fall before dropping their leaves to the ground. These are the trees that you have to clean up after every year, raking up the fallen proof of their deciduousness.
What Makes a Succulent a Succulent
Various parts of a succulent hold the juices necessary for the succulent to survive long periods without water. The function of holding water is what makes a succulent a succulent. The name itself is derived from the Latin word sucus, which means ‘juice’ or ‘sap.’ Some succulents store their water in their leaves, while others store it in their stems or even roots.
Most succulents that store water in their leaves are evergreen. These plants usually only drop their leaves when they’re put under some type of stress. Overwatering can cause leaves to swell and burst or turn mushy and drop off. Repotting a succulent can disturb the root system and upset the plant so that it may drop some of its leaves then as well.
Other succulents are deciduous, and they drop their leaves seasonally. These are often stem-type succulents, but not always. Let’s take a look at some examples of deciduous succulents.
As mentioned above, there are some succulents that are deciduous. These are often tree-type succulents that have large trunks that hold massive amounts of water. Here are a few examples of these unique succulents.
The African baobab tree is probably not what you picture when you think of a succulent. These trees are strong staples of the African continent. The boababs grow in the dry, hot savannahs and can live as long as 1,500 years.
These trees store a large amount of water in their thick trunks that can grow as wide as 4 meters in diameter and reach as tall as 25 meters. They aren’t the type of succulent that you’ll find featured in your neighbor’s rock garden anytime soon.
Boababs fall into the category of deciduous succulents. Baobab trees lose their leaves annually and spend more time leafless than they do bearing leaves. In the dry season, the baobabs drop their leaves and remain bare for eight months of the year.
Namibian Phantom Tree
The Namibian Phantom tree, or the Moringa ovalifolia, is a tree-like shrub that is classified as a deciduous succulent. Not as large as the baobab tree, these plants can grow up to one meter in diameter and up to 10 meters tall. The Namibian Phantom tree produces white flowers yearly, with which it releases its seeds into the wind.
The leaves of this succulent are few and clustered at the top of the tree. They are slightly drooping, and the tree also drops them seasonally, usually in the dry season like the baobab.
Echeveria is one of the most recognizable types of succulents. They are small, rosette-shaped plants that grow well in rock gardens and high mountain areas. These succulents are often seen crowded together in a shallow dish or along a garden bed. They enjoy being crowded and like a lot of sunlight.
Some of these succulents have thick, fleshy leaves. Others have thin leaves that grow in a spiral pattern. The thinner-leaved echeveria is the ones that are more likely to be deciduous. These plants store most of their moisture in their stems and use their green leaves to collect and process sunlight. They can shed their leaves seasonally and also often drop older leaves as new ones are developed.
This is where you will find most of the succulents categorized. It’s important to note that not all tree-type succulents are deciduous. The ponytail palm is a massive succulent that can grow nearly 5 meters tall and is an evergreen. Let’s take a closer look at this and other evergreen succulents.
Ponytail Palm Tree
Starting with the succulent mentioned above, the Ponytail palm tree is an evergreen succulent that doesn’t look like a succulent at all. Like the baobab and Namibian Phantom trees, the Ponytail palm tree is a giant in the succulent world.
These happy trees can be grown in pots in your home and can stay there for many years. Ponytail palms grow relatively slowly, so you could enjoy your palm for 10-15 years before it needs to be moved outside.
The Ponytail palm is a stem-type succulent, meaning it contains all its juice in its large trunk. On top of this thick base is a collection of long curly leaves that bounce out and hang around the crown of the tree, looking much like a ponytail on top of its “head.”
These trees are native to Mexico, where the seasons don’t vary much. The trees carry their leaves year-round, and, even having been taken up as a decorative tree throughout the US, they remain evergreen.
Aloe vera is a popular type of succulent, being used worldwide as a decorative plant and a commodity. These plants have thick leaves that grow outward and have slight spines along the edges. The leaves are full of a nutritious sap that has been long touted for its healing properties.
Aloe gel is used to soothe sunburns and rashes, but it is also used as an ingredient in beverages and foods. The thick leaves remain on the plant year-round, making this one of the most common types of evergreen succulents.
There are many types of deciduous and evergreen echeveria. The evergreen varieties of echeverias are usually thick-leaved, holding their precious juices there. As a general rule of thumb, thick-leaved succulents are more likely to be evergreen, as their leaves are more valuable to them.
However, many thin-leafed types of echeveria are also evergreen. Take, for instance, the “Afterglow,” a delicate evergreen echeveria. This succulent boasts lavender-pink leaves that it holds onto year-round.
So, “are succulents evergreen?” Yes, some of them are. There are many varieties of succulents, however, that are deciduous and lose their leaves seasonally.
There are also hundreds of succulents that have no leaves at all, only spines. These plants usually fall into the category of cacti. They have thick trunks which store large amounts of water and don’t easily fit into the evergreen or deciduous conversation.