Plant and Garden

You Don’t Gotta be a GENIUS to know Succulent GENUS Identification!

The hierarchy of biological classification's eight major taxonomic ranks. A family contains one or more genera. Intermediate minor rankings are not shown.

Succulent identification confusion exists even amongst experienced horticulturalists, and plants often leave a nursery mislabeled or even unlabeled.

It isn’t uncommon to see a succulent marked by its genus followed by sp. (an abbreviation for species, and a clever way of saying “I don’t know”).

We often have growers tell us not to bother trying to identify all the succulents we grow and carry. Persumably because it is so easy to make mistakes.

To further add to the confusion, unlike with many other plant types, there are very few common names attributed to succulents, therefore consumers must rely on botanical names for most succulents they purchase and/or collect.

In most cases, the first name one encounters on a nursery plant label is the genus, which, if written correctly, will always begin with a capital letter and be italicized.

The taxonomic rank of genus exists between family and species and is based on several criteria, but generally, a genus encompasses a group of structurally and genetically similar plants. After the genus name comes to the species name, also italicized, but with no part of the name capitalized.

A species name might be altogether absent if the plant is a hybrid or cultivar. Most often, species are members of a genus that can interbreed with one another but possess enough physical differences to warrant further classification.

Species names are usually either Latin or Greek adjectives, describing some physical characteristic of a plant species (grandifloralarge-flowering, sexangularesix-angled, farinosapowder producing, etc.), or a Latinized name in tribute to its discoverer, a famous botanist, somebody’s favorite dog, etc. (palmeri, laui, bainesiietc.)  

In biology, species is considered to be the most fundamental taxonomic rank, yet in the horticultural world, there are further classifications of subspecies, variety and cultivar.

While most avid succulent collectors are familiar with genus and species names, confusion abounds when it comes to distinguishing between these three sub-ranks of taxonomy.


The rank of subspecies exists beneath a species and above a variety. A subspecies designation is applied to a plant that is geographically isolated from other members of its species in habitat and therefore does not interbreed for this reason (although genetically possible).

Because of this geographic isolation, subspecies can often take on different physical characteristics from other members of the species. One example from the succulent world is Crassula pubescens ssp. rattrayi and Crassula pubescensssp. radicans.

The former possesses fuzzy leaves, while the latter does not. Sometimes the terms subspecies and variety are used interchangeably, though this is not technically taxonomically correct.

sspnotation is placed between the species and subspecies names and never capitalized or italicized.


variety is a naturally occurring variation of a plant within a species. One classic succulent example is Cotyledon orbiculata.

There are many naturally occurring varieties of this species, including the round-leaf Cotyledon orbiculata var. orbiculataand the oblong-shaped Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga.

The physical characteristics are usually reproducible through sexual reproduction.

In other words, seedlings sown from a plant will possess the same (or only slightly different) physical characteristics as the mother plant.

var. notation is placed between the species and variety names and never capitalized or italicized.

This is a Cotyledon orbiculata.

Click To Purchase Cotyledon orbiculata.

This is a Cotyledon orbiculata var. orbiculata

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Cotyledon orbiculata var. orbiculata.

This is a Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga.

Click To Purchase Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga,


The term cultivar is an abbreviation of “cultivated variety”.

As its name suggests, a cultivar is a variety cultivated by humans, and one not found anywhere in natural habitat (with only a few exceptions: for instance, a fascinated plant can be considered both a variety and a cultivar, as fasciation can occur in nature).

Cultivars include all hybrids, both intergeneric and interspecific, as well as sports and mutations. Seedlings from cultivars usually do not come out true to type and are therefore propagated via vegetative means.

One example of a cultivar from the succulent world is Echeveria ‘Etna’.

Click To Purchase Echeveria ‘Etna’

This plant is a hybrid of Echeveria gibbiflora.

Cultivar names are usually noted after the genus name (unless detailed hybrid information is included), never italicized, and surrounded by single quotation marks. The first letter of the cultivar name is capitalized. Such as AEONIUM ‘kiwi’.

You Can Make Your Own Hybrids!

You Can Play God!!! (Not Really)

Step 1

Pull a flower off of the pollen donor plant as soon as the anther is laden with pollen.

Step 2

Remove the petals from the flower to expose the pollen-covered anther on top of the long, slender stigma. Pull off the stamen and anther.

Step 3

Rub the anther’s pollen on the receptor flower’s stigma as soon as it becomes sticky. The stigma is the bumpy, rough protrusion in the exact center of the flower. If the stigma is not accessible, remove the flower’s petals to reveal it.

Step 4

Tape the receptor flower’s petals closed (If present. If not, tape a small bag over the exposed stigma)if present) if the succulent is growing outside. This will prevent cross pollination by insects. If the flower is indoors where no insects can access it, there’s no need to tape the flower closed. Mark the flower you pollinated by writing on the tape or a tag. If the pollination is successful, the base of the flower will swell in a few weeks to a few months depending on the succulent.

Step 5

Collect the seeds in fall once they mature.

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Let us know your ideas and comments below!

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