Succulents are not “succulent” in the sense of “delicious.” Ill.:, montage:

Beginning gardeners are often confused about succulent plants, often just called succulents. “They must taste scrumptious!” some probably think, because the word succulent is most often used to refer to juicy, tasty, tender food.

But not in this case.

The world “succulent” has another meaning and that’s the one used in botanical circles. It refers to a plant with thick, fleshly leaves or stems used for storing water, a group that includes cactus, crassulas, sedums and many euphorbias.

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Succulent leaves and stems are often filled with thick sap. Photo: Raul654, Wikimedia Commons.

The word derives from the Latin “succus” (juice or sap) and refers to the fact that the thick leaves and stems of succulent plants contain copious stores of often thick, gooey sap. Succulent plants are from arid climates and have learned to store water in their stems or leaves.

So, don’t eat your succulents, unless you’re sure they are edible (and indeed, a very few are, like “nopales,” which are opuntia pads). Most though have a bitter taste that makes them unpalatable and some are even poisonous.

In general, therefore, it’s better to admire succulents than to eat them!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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