11 Varieties of Tall Succulents and Cacti

Succulents and cacti have a reputation for being easy to care for due to their water-retaining ability. This means they don’t require much watering and can withstand a little neglect provided they have consistently warm and dry conditions.

These low-maintenance plants come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colours and textures which means they can not only add height and drama to indoor and outdoor spaces, but their eye-catching foliage makes an excellent focal point too. 

So, if you’re looking for something unique to add to your plant collection, or you are starting out on your plant-growing journey, why not browse the selection I’ve listed in this article? It covers 11 varieties of tall succulents and cacti, providing details of their growing habits and particular care requirements.

Types of Tall Cacti and Succulents

Choosing the right desert-loving plant for you can seem a little overwhelming because there are so many varieties to choose from. To make this process slightly easier, I have categorized them based on their characteristics. 

Indoor

Succulents and cacti are native to desert and semi-arid regions, mainly Mexico and South Africa. As such, the warm and dry conditions of your home provide the ideal conditions for them. 

They have shallow roots and can be showcased either as individual plants or together in an arrangement. Just keep in mind that they will need a warm and sunny spot so a window ledge or a shelf that gets plenty of direct sunlight works best.

Outdoor

Tall plant structures are a great way to transform your garden into an oasis. To grow best, most varieties of succulents and cacti require full sun and warm, arid conditions. 

Depending on your USDA zone, your cacti or succulents may need to be brought inside during the colder months, as they cannot tolerate frosts or freezing temperatures. 

Flowering

Although mainly grown for their unique foliage, many species are capable of flowering. Often their blooms are not particularly showy, although they do add colour, texture and dimension.

Certain flowers even produce fragrances that can attract pollinators. 

Spines

Cacti are a type of succulent that is renowned for their spines. These spikes may be small or large and are guaranteed to bring a novel to your plant collection.

11 Varieties of Tall Succulents and Cacti

From the plethora of tall succulents and cacti available, I have whittled them down to a list of my favourite 11. Read on to discover which species is right for you. 

1. Desert Rose

Scientific Name: Adenium obesum

Desert Rose
  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Difficulty: Low maintenance 
  • Toxicity: Toxic to humans and animals  
  • Average Mature Height: 4 feet
  • USDA Zones: 10 and 11

The desert rose is a flowering succulent that blooms pink or red flowers. It has tall, sturdy stems and fleshy leaves that hold water and the thick base of the plant is covered in thorns. 

This plant grows relatively quickly and is low maintenance and even though it prefers full sun it can tolerate low light conditions – just don’t expect it to grow as fast or as big. 

If you want your Desert Rose to produce its best blooms, sunny, hot and arid conditions are needed. 

2. Tree Houseleek

Scientific Name: Aeonium arboreum

Tree Houseleek
Credit: Tangopaso by CC: 0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Difficulty: Low maintenance 
  • Toxicity: Non-toxic  
  • Average Mature Height: 3 to 5 feet
  • USDA Zones: 9 to 11

The Tree houseleek succulent has a thick, central stem that has multiple, smaller branches growing from it. The branches end in fleshy leaves that grow in a rosette pattern. The foliage may be plain green or variegated. 

These shrub-like succulents are known to have an invasive growing habit. As such, it’s best to plant them in containers otherwise they can quickly overrun your garden. 

Temperatures lower than 32oF are intolerable to this plant, so it is best to bring them indoors if the weather drops below in winter.  

3. Organ Pipe Cactus

Scientific Name: Stenocereus thurberi

Organ Pipe Cactus
Credit: Ken Lund by CC: 2.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Difficulty: Low maintenance 
  • Toxicity: Toxic
  • Average Mature Height: Up to 30 feet
  • USDA Zones: 9 to 11

The organ pipe cactus is the second largest columnar cactus in the United States. It can reach heights of 30 feet outdoors and resembles a pipe organ due to its slender, green trunks that grow vertically from the ground. 

Between May and June, this cactus produces large, cream-coloured flowers. The blooms open at night and close in the early morning.

An Organ pipe cactus in bloom

Due to its huge size, this cactus is only suitable for growing outdoors. It requires temperatures that don’t fall below 45oF, full sun and sandy soil. 

4. Crown of Thorns 

Scientific Name: Euphorbia milii

Crown of Thorns 
Credit: Agnieszka Kwiecień Nova by CC: 4.0

Ideal Position: Full sun

  • ●  Difficulty: Low maintenance
  • ●  Toxicity: Toxic  
  • ●  Average Mature Height: 3 to 6 feet
  • ●  USDA Zones: 9 to 12

Crown of thorns is a slow and steady growing succulent but can reach up to 6 feet in height. It has thick, woody stems that are covered in spikes, hence the name. Pale green, ovular leaves sit atop the stems.

Under the correct conditions, the crown of thorns will bloom red flowers throughout the year. During the winter, the green foliage becomes orange-red in colour. This plant is tolerant to salt and drought.

5. Eve’s Needle 

Scientific Name: Austrocylindropuntia subulata

Eve’s Needle 
Credit: Liesvanrompaey by CC: 2.0 
  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Difficulty: Low maintenance 
  • Toxicity: Non-toxic  
  • Average Mature Height: 10 to 13 feet
  • USDA Zones: 9 to 11

Eve’s needle is a species of tree cactus that is aptly named due to the long, needle-like spikes that protrude from its branches. 

It has thick, sturdy cactus stems that can grow to 13 feet in height. It’s also decorated with yellow-green leaves that grow to 5 inches in length and resemble spines. 

During the summer, this plant produces vibrant pink flowers on the ends of its stems. Eve’s needle is a hardy cactus that requires minimal care. When potted in a container, it is possible to maintain a more manageable size. 

6. Jade Plant

Scientific Name: Crassula ovata

Jade Plant
Credit: S.G.S. by CC: 1.0 
  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Difficulty: Low maintenance 
  • Toxicity: Mildly toxic to humans and pets  
  • Average Mature Height: 2 to 6 feet
  • USDA Zones: 10 to 12

The jade plant, also known as the money plant or lucky plant, is a popular household succulent. It has small, rounded, fleshy green leaves and a shrubby growing habit. Between winter and spring, it can produce delicate pink or white flowers. 

The jade plant is slowly growing, only adding a few inches to its height each year. This plant should be watered when the top 3 inches of soil become dry. It needs bright, direct sunlight and neutral to slightly acidic soil. 

7. Snake Plant

Scientific Name: Sansevieria trifasciata

Snake Plant
  • Ideal Position: Indirect sun to partial shade 
  • Difficulty: Low maintenance 
  • Toxicity: Toxic to pets  
  • Average Mature Height: 2 to 4 feet
  • USDA Zones: 8 to 12

The snake plant, also called the mother in laws tongue, is an excellent succulent for beginners. Even rare varieties of Sansevieria are typically low maintenance and can tolerate some degree of neglect. Depending on your climate, it can be grown indoors or outdoors. 

It has long, sword-like leaves that grow vertically from the soil. The foliage is variegated green and yellow. 

Unlike the other succulents on this list, the snake plant favours diffused light. They are not tolerant of frosts and cold winds so bring your indoors when temperatures drop below 50F. 

8. African Milk Tree

Scientific Name: Euphorbia trigona

African Milk Tree
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Difficulty: Low maintenance 
  • Toxicity: Toxic
  • Average Mature Height: 4 to 8 feet
  • USDA Zones: 10 to 12

The African milk tree goes by many other names including the candelabra cactus, cathedral cactus and the good-luck cactus. 

It has tall, green stems that are triangular in shape. The edges of the stems are deeply ridged and covered with thorns. This cactus also has teardrop-shaped leaves. 

When grown outside this cactus has a rapid growth rate of between 1 to 2 feet in height. However, when potted inside, it won’t grow as tall. 

The African milk tree favours full sun, and loamy soil and requires little watering. 

9. Ocotillo 

Scientific Name: Fouquieria splendens

Ocotillo 
Credit: Diver Dave by CC: 3.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Difficulty: Low maintenance 
  • Toxicity: Mildly toxic to pets 
  • Average Mature Height: Up to 20 feet
  • USDA Zones: 7 to 10

Ocotillo is also called coachwhip, desert coral or candlewood. It has long, twiggy, unbranched stems that can grow up to 20 feet in height. When there is sufficient moisture, small green leaves cover the branches. 

During spring and summer or in response to plentiful rain, vibrant pink flowers grow. These blooms attract hummingbirds. Ocotillo is low maintenance and drought tolerant. 

10. Soaptree Yucca 

Scientific Name: Yucca elata

Soaptree Yucca
Credit: Dicklyon by CC: 3.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Difficulty: Low maintenance 
  • Toxicity: Mildly toxic if ingested
  • Average Mature Height: 6 to 20 feet
  • USDA Zones: 6 to 11

Soaptree yucca has a singular trunk that grows elongated, silvery green leaves. As the foliage dies, it becomes greyish and covers the trunk, creating a hair-like texture. 

Thin stems protrude from the top of the trunk and are decorated with white, bell-shaped flowers. 

Their showy blooms are the state flower of New Mexico. They are sweetly scented and attract hummingbirds.

The soaptree yucca is so-called because the saponins in its trunk and roots can be extracted to make soap. It grows best in hot and arid conditions. 

11. Foxtail Agave 

Scientific Name: Agave attenuate

Foxtail Agave
Credit: Drew Avery by CC: 2.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun to partial shade 
  • Difficulty: Low maintenance 
  • Toxicity: Mildly toxic if ingested
  • Average Mature Height: Up to 10 feet including blooms
  • USDA Zones: 9 to 11

Foxtail agave is also called a lion’s tail or swans neck due to its bloom. In the summer, thick trunks of yellow-green flowers grow from the centre of this succulent. The blooms grow upright and then curve downwards, resembling a foxtail. Most of this plant’s height comes from the flowers. 

This succulent has large, elongated leaves that are silvery green. 

Foxtail agave favours full sun but cannot tolerate long periods of high heat. It’s drought-tolerant and deer resistant. This plant can be grown both indoors and outdoors. 

Tall Succulent Types Plant Care

To ensure your cacti and succulents stay happy, healthy and looking their best, it’s important you provide them with the correct care and conditions. Below, I have written a care guide that provides with advice on the best way to look after them. 

Watering Requirements

Since succulents and cacti are native to desert environments they are adapted to cope with drought. 

They retain water in their fleshy leaves. This means they don’t require much watering. As a general rule, only water your succulents and cacti once the soil has completely dried out. 

Position

Most succulents and cacti grow best in bright, direct light as they are used to sunny, exposed environments. However, there are some species such as Snake plants that prefer indirect or low-light conditions, so be sure to check your plant’s requirements. 

Temperature and Humidity

Warm or hot temperatures ranging from 60oF to 90oF are best for succulents. Temperatures below 40oF can reduce their growth and freezing temperatures will kill them. 

The ideal humidity levels for these plants are between 40% and 60% because they are adapted to the arid conditions of deserts. 

High humidity can cause stems to become flimsy, squishy and more likely to develop fungal diseases. 

Soil Type

Succulents and cacti require well-draining soil so porous and sandy types are best. Adding mulch can enhance the desert-like look of the plants and prevent damp soil from touching the base of the plant. 

The ideal soil pH is around 5.5 but many grow fine at a range between 5.0 and 7.0 

Feeding

Succulents and cacti don’t require much fertilizing and grow just fine with one round of fertilizing in the spring each year. 

Use a liquid fertilizer with a low NPK such as 1-1-1 or alternatively, it is possible to buy fertilizer specifically designed for cacti and succulents. 

Propagation 

There are a couple of methods you can be used for propagation. You can uproot an offshoot of the parent plant and repot it in some soil. 

Alternatively, you can cut off a healthy leaf and allow it to dry out and scab over. Lay the leaves on top of some soil and the roots should soon sprout. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the tallest succulent in the world? 

The African baobab tree is the world’s tallest succulent. Their thick trunks can grow up to 82 feet in height. 

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.