If you just started collecting succulents, you may find it difficult to identify them, since most of them are alike. However, you can learn to differentiate them based on physical traits such as leaf shape, color or flowering period. Continue our series on how to identify succulents, this article will give you some tips on how to identify some closely related succulent types: Aloe, Agave, Gasteria and Haworthia.
When it comes to determining Aloe, the main feature that sets them apart is the shape and the flesh of the leaves. Aloe leaves are thick and fleshy, triangle-shaped. The color can be light to dark green and Aloe are generally smaller in size compared to Agave leaves. The edges are covered by prickles but they feel quite soft to the touch.
Aloe Brevifolia Short Leaved Succulent in Clay Pot
Aloe is one fast growing succulents that can reach up to several feet, not just in height but also in diameter. Some species of Aloe are arborescent, which means that the plants have a tree-like appearance, due to their long stems.
The leaf features are sufficient for beginners to spot an Aloe but might not be enough to differentiate Aloe and its closest relative, Agave. Since the appearance of both Aloe and Agave can be misleading, it takes one more step to confirm your succulent identification: do the “snap” test.
The inside of Aloe leaves is full of slimy, water-filled tissue, which enable them to store water for long-term use. Due to this gelatinous texture, they can be easily snapped in half by hand. The gel inside Aloe leaf contains multiple antioxidants, making them a popular ingredient in the beauty and cosmetic industry.
Short Leaved Aloe <Image: homeguides.sfgate.com>
Since Aloe are polycarpic plants, you can expect to see them blooming every year between December and May. The three most common color of the Aloe flowers are yellow, orange and white.
Agave, in most cases, have same triangle-shaped leaves but are larger than Aloe. The size of them can vary between a few inches and 20 feet in diameter. They have similar leaf shape but the edge of Agave is spikier. The spikes in Agave’s leaf margin are painfully sharp and also tougher, while Aloe’s spikes are softer and less dense.
Butterfly Agave Potatorum
To further confirm your plant identification, perform the “snap” test: snip a leaf, bisect it, and examine. If you find fibrous tissue inside, the succulent is agave. The fibrous texture make Agave leaves super sturdy and required the use of sharp tools to cut them open.
Fun facts: Other than being used to make ropes, Agave nectar is the base ingredient in making your favorite Tequila.
The blooming habit of Agave is also different from Aloe. Most Agave are monocarpic and they only bloom once in a lifetime. After blooming, your plant will die as their reproduction circle complete. However, you don’t have to get so worked up about this since Agave bloom only happens after 10 or 20 years of growth.
Another member in the Asphodeloideae family are Gasteria. This succulent has pretty distinctive trait on the leaves that allow us to identify it easily. Unlike Aloe and Agave, Gasteria have thick and fleshy, long but round-edged leaves. Moreover, they are heavily speckled with white stripes and the edge are spikeless.
Compared to Agave, Gasteria is pretty much a wimp in size. It can reach a maximum of 20 inches depending on the variety and environment.
Gasteria Little Warty
Generally, Haworthia are slow-growing succulent. When fully mature, Haworthia stays small, just a few inches in diameter. In comparison with the other three, Haworthia is the smallest in size.
The most common type of Haworthia have round, spoon-like leaves that are densely stacked together. The leaves often have paler green color covered with darker vertical stripes. One typical example of this Haworthia is Haworthia Window. A small number of Haworthia have thick, dark green pointy leaves covered with bumpy, white bands. Both types have smooth leaf’s margin, which set Haworthia apart from Aloe and Agave.
Types of Haworthia Succulents
Below is a summary of physical features and growth habits mentioned above:
Now that you have come across the notable differences among Aloe, Agave, Gasteria & Haworthia, you can easily identify the succulents growing in your garden.
Check out this quick video to identify 13 most common types of succulents:
See more about How to identify succulents I: Echeveria, Sempervivum and Aeonium.
How to identify succulents III: Cactus, Senecio, Crassula, Sedum, Kalanchoe and Cotyledon
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