Flowering Succulents

Succulents are not only popular landscape and container plants with exotic forms and leaf shapes, but they also often produce amazing, unusual flowers with brilliant colors.

Blooming Cactus

Blooming Cactus

Beautiful blooming cactus

Photo by: © iStockphoto/Nekan

© iStockphoto/Nekan

Unique Flowers

Taxonomists categorize flowering succulent plants by blossom shape and details. A succulent flower can be star-shaped, bell-like, tubular, or frilly; some point upwards for easy pollinating, others hang down to protect tender parts.

Fleshy-leafed succulent plants, which are native to arid climates but have become popular potted houseplants as well as dependable landscape beauties, are fascinating enough with assorted sizes, unique shapes, and foliage colors; few gardens are complete without succulents. Flowers, however, are intensely beautiful extras.  

Stunning succulent flowers can be found in every color of the rainbow, often in striking combinations on each bloom or between flowers and flower stems, and many are strongly perfumed for attracting pollinators in the dark of night. Some complex shapes can be pollinated only by very specific creatures including hummingbirds, bees, pollinating flies, beetles, and even bats.

Different types can flower any time, from spring and summer to fall and even mid-winter. Flowering cactus plants, renowned for their vivid colors and frilly, almost satiny blossoms, often bloom right after spring rains.

Palette of Flowering Succulents

There is no way to satisfy all succulent collectors with a simple list of great flowering kinds, but here are a few to get started:

Aloes are among the most stunning flowering succulents, with great displays of short stems topped with masses of bell-like red, yellow, or orange flowers. Same with the Kalanchoes grown as popular florist plants, and their weird Bryophyllum cousins which, besides producing entire plantlets growing from leaf tips, are often topped with stems of small tubular flowers.

Euphorbias with outstanding flowers include poinsettia with tiny flowers in the centers of exaggeratedly large red, pink, or white bracts, and crown of thorns, a bush with sometimes leafless upright stems topped with colorful, leaflike pink, red, orange, or pale yellow flower bracts

Carrion cactus (Stapelia and others) have jointed, finger-like leaves and open, leathery, star-shaped flowers that emit an incredibly foul smell, like rancid meat, that attracts flies and beetles. Devil’s backbone (Pedilanthus) is often called red bird cactus or slipper plant for its small, bright red flowers which from the side are shaped like perched birds or ladies’ slippers.

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Jade and other Crassula plants produce clouds of tiny white or pink flowers, while the black rose (Aeonium ‘Zwartcop’) has brilliant yellow flowers that contrast strongly with its rosettes of nearly black leaves. The vine-like wax plant (Hoya) produces clusters of artificial-looking flowers appearing as if made of wax.

Super cold-hardy Yuccas are well-known for spikes of thick white flowers, which depending on the species can bloom in spring, summer, or fall; the flowers are perfectly edible. The small red yucca (Hesperaloe) sprouts multiple spikes of red flowers all summer and can survive for many years after flowering, unlike Agaves which die after producing small flowers atop tree-like spires fifteen or more feet tall.

Flattened-leaf prickly pear cacti (Opuntia) are often topped in spring or summer with masses of stunning, rose-like yellow, red, or orange flowers, followed by edible fruit. And groundcover Sedums and Hardy ice plant (Delospermum) become masses of colorful flowers that all but hide their colorful foliage.

Popular Christmas and Easter cacti (Schlumbergera and Hatiora) have astonishing masses of stem-tip flowers in fall or spring, triggered by day length. Both landscape specimen and sprawling, container-grown night-blooming cereus (Epiphyllum, Hylocereus, and others) have large, frilly, glorious white, yellow, orange, or red flowers that open at night and shrivel the next day, leaving just interesting plants to enjoy the rest of the year. 

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