Is An Aloe Vera Plant A Cactus or Succulent: Demystifying the Aloe Plant

When it comes to classifying plants, I once wondered: is an aloe vera plant a cactus or a succulent?

i an aloe vera plant a cactus

To me, the plant seems to tilt towards the former side from its appearance… Yet, it has thorns (weak tiny thorns)!

So here’s what my research concludes: while every cactus falls under the broad category of succulents, the reverse is not true—succulents encompass a diverse range that goes beyond cacti.

Cacti, specifically, represent a subset of succulents easily identifiable by their distinctive thorns.

Interestingly, aloe vera, despite featuring small leaf thorns, doesn’t fit the cactus classification.

Instead, it belongs to the Asphodelaceae (Liliaceae) family, standing out as a shrubby, evergreen perennial succulent with its own set of distinctive characteristics.

Aloe Vera vs Succulent

i an aloe vera plant a cactus

An essential trait shared by aloe vera, typical of succulents, is its capacity to store water within its leaves.

This unique water-retention feature serves as a survival strategy, enabling aloe vera to endure arid conditions and prolonged droughts.

During these dry spells, the plant strategically taps into its stored water reserves, allowing it to not only endure but thrive in environments where water is scarce.

This adaptive mechanism underscores the resilience and resourcefulness of aloe vera in challenging ecological settings.

This ability to withstand water scarcity has made aloe vera plants popular for cultivation, particularly as potted plants.

With proper care, aloe plants grown indoors can survive for extended periods without direct sunlight, making them a low-maintenance choice for plant enthusiasts.

Aloe Vera vs Cacti

i an aloe vera plant a cactus

Now, let’s delve into the distinctive features that distinguish cacti.

Belonging to the Cactaceae family, these plants are naturally distributed across arid climates spanning North, Central, and South America.

Their unique adaptation to dry environments showcases their remarkable resilience and specialization in thriving under conditions that might be challenging for other plant species.

However, some species of the Rhipsalis genus can also be found in North Africa.

Cacti differ from other succulents in that they primarily store water in their stems. This is why they are referred to as stem succulents.

Additionally, cacti have areoles, which are characteristic places on their stems where thorns, shoots, flowers, and fruits grow.

Cacti develop shallow and extensive root systems that enable them to search for moisture in the soil.

The roots of cacti grow horizontally, increasing their chances of obtaining sufficient water from dew or rainfall.

Cacti vs Succulent

i an aloe vera plant a cactus

Unlike other succulents, cacti have reduced leaves, which results in a smaller transpiration surface.

In cacti, the fleshy stem takes over the assimilation function after leaf reduction.

However, within the genus Pereskia, there are some plant species that retain leaves with typical leaf blade structures.

Now that we understand the differences between aloe vera, cacti, and succulents, let’s take a look at some popular examples from each category:

Most Popular Cacti

  • The old man cactus (Cephalocereus sinensis)
  • The golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)
  • Monstrose apple cactus (Cereus peruvianus ‘Monstruosus’)
  • Pincushion cactus (Mammilaria)
  • Red cap cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii friedrichii “Rubra”)
  • Bunny ears cactus (Opuntia microdasys)
  • Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata)
  • Mistletoe cacti (Rhipsalis)
is an aloe vera plant a cactus

Most Popular Succulents

  • Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis)
  • Century plant (Agave)
  • Jade plant (Crassula ovata)
  • Mexican snowball (Echeveria)
  • Spurge (Euphobia)
  • Ox-tongue (Gasteria)
  • Haworthia
  • Lifesaver cactus (Huernia)
  • Kalanchoe
  • Stonecrop (Sedum)
  • Groundsel (Senecio)
is an aloe vera plant a cactus

Are all cacti succulents? Without a doubt.

The unique anatomical features of cacti firmly position them within the category of stem succulents.

However, it’s vital to recognize that while all cacti are succulents, the reverse isn’t a universal truth—numerous succulents may bear similarities to their spiky counterparts but don’t share the official cactus designation.

Now, let’s illuminate some key distinctions between cacti and other succulents in the fascinating world of plant diversity:

Leaves Versus Spines

The most noticeable difference is the lack of thorns in succulents.

Cacti have thorns that grow from areoles on their stems, while succulents do not produce areoles or thorns.

is an aloe vera plant a cactus


Cacti frequently boast sizable, fragrant flowers that unfurl during the night, strategically attracting moths and bats to facilitate pollination.

In contrast, the flowers of succulents are generally smaller and less conspicuous, with bees playing a predominant role in their pollination process.

This difference in floral characteristics reflects the distinct pollination strategies employed by cacti and other succulents in their respective ecosystems.


Cacti have fleshy stems adapted for water storage and photosynthesis. In contrast, succulents have thick, fleshy leaves that store water.

is an aloe vera plant a cactus

To summarize the key differences between cacti and succulents, here’s a comparative table:

LeavesStrongly reducedPresent
Root systemExpansive, shallowThe roots are deeper than in cacti
StalkStrongly thickenedVariable for individual species
Type of flowersBright, large, complexSimple, small in size
PollinatorsButterflies, bees and batsUsually pollinated by bees
Growth heightVaries from a few centimeters to several meters3 cm – 150 cm
BreedingLeaf and stem cuttingsSeeds, offsets
Water preferenceLowLow, but succulents are more sensitive to water loss
Light preferenceFull sunIndirect light
Soil preferencePermeable, airy soilPermeable, airy soil
Fertilization needsLittleLittle
Type of photosynthesisCAMCAM
Ease of cultivationEasyEasy
Differences Between Cacti and Succulents

Final Thoughts

Concluding our exploration, despite the visual resemblance to a cactus, aloe vera belongs to the succulent family, specifically as a leaf succulent that adeptly stores water in its leaves.

Yet, it’s crucial to bear in mind that within the succulent realm, not all share the title of cacti.

Cacti stand out as a distinct category, representing a unique type distinguished by their specialized stem succulence.

is an aloe vera plant a cactus

In the captivating realm of plants, these distinctions weave an enchanting tale of succulents and cacti.

From their unique structures and diverse sizes to the intriguing ways they bloom, these plants become prized treasures, adding charm to both outdoor gardens and indoor spaces.

Their low water requirements and easy cultivation make them ideal for beginner gardeners.

So, whether you choose aloe vera, a cactus, or any other succulent, you can enjoy the beauty and resilience of these fascinating plants in your own little garden.