People often use ‘native’ plants in their garden as they are native to their Country and grow in the conditions typical of their area. So it makes sense to know the conditions that succulents grow in, in their native countries as this can help understand the needs of that particular succulent. Succulents have adapted and survived in many other countries but they will grow better if they are grown in conditions similar to the ones of their country of origin. Knowing where a particular succulent plant originates provides two significant insights into its needs: its growing season and its range of acceptable temperatures.
Most of the commonly grown succulents originate from areas that receive very sporadic rainfall. Contrary to popular belief, succulents do not only originate from deserts. Few plants actually survive in a true desert (with less than 25cm of annual rain). Most grow in semi-deserts which have poor soil (not just pure sand), sparse vegetation and rocky outcrops. Succulents can survive in varying conditions from humid dark jungles to the desert with scorching days and freezing nights.
Succulents are found primarily in Mexico, South America, Central America, East Africa, Arabia, Madagascar, India, South Africa and parts of Europe.
Here are a few examples:
Echeveria / Graptopetulum / Sedum / Agave
Of the 154 species of Echeveria around 130 of them originate from Mexico. Agave is native to the hot and arid regions of Mexico as are Sedum and Graptopetulum.
Most Mexican succulents that grow at altitudes of 1200 m (4000 feet) will survive some sub freezing weather, however the succulents that originate from coastal Mexico can rarely tolerate frost. So make sure that you know which part of Mexico they originate from.
Mexican winters are mild, temperatures average around the 20 -24 Celcius (high 68 to 74° Fahrenheit) and in summer the average temperature is around 28 degrees Celsius (83° Fahrenheit).
This does not mean if your succulent comes from Mexico you have to re-create the exact conditions so that the succulent survives. Succulents are very adaptable and will adapt to the climate they are living in. It just means their natural habitat will give you an idea of the conditions that they will do well in.
If your succulent hails from Mexico then it will like lots of sunshine,will probably be quite hardy, not require a lot of water and can grow in a rockery.
On the other side of the coin…..
Sempervivum / Sedums
Sempervivum – also known as house leeks and hen and chicks, survive from Morocco to Iran, through the mountains of Iberia, the Alps, Carpathians, Balkan mountains, Turkey and the Armenian mountains. Their ability to store water in their thick leaves allows them to live on sunny rocks and stony places in the mountain, sub- alpine and alpine belts.
Their natural habitats are typically 3000 – 8000 ft above sea level in mountainous regions of central and southern Europe and the Mediterranean islands. They would be used to summer rain and humidity and not cope so well in dry heat with intense sun, they are more used to hazy sun.
Sempervivum growing in their natural habitat in Italian Alps
Kalanchoe growing in their natural habitat
How can I find out where my succulent originates?
There are 1000’s of succulents species/varieties, sometimes its hard enough to identify the plant. There are ways that you can find out the identification of your succulent first. (see post: Where can I identify my Succulents?) or (An easy way to identify your succulent variety!)
Then to find out where the succulent originates I use a great website called http://www.worldofsucculents.com
It has a tab called ‘Succulentopedia’. You can then browse by Succulent Scientific Name /Common Name /Genus/ Family or Origin. You can then search by the succulent Genus – ie Echeveria and it will tell you the origins or that Genus or you can search by the particular scientific name of the succulent.
You can find a lot more than just the origin of succulents on this site. There are also ‘how to care guides’ and some amazing photos too.
If you find a particular succulent that survives and thrives in your garden, find out the origin of the species and see what other succulents are from that area and they should also do well.