Like all succulents, spiky succulents evolved to survive in a variety of harsh climates, and they all have slightly different strategies. But, they can also be hard to tell apart when you’re looking at them. Why? Well, a lot of these succulents are closely related species, and they share similar evolutionary pressures and pathways, which results in a lot of very similar plants. 

How do most people tell them apart? 

Well, the easiest thing to look for is the flower, which is also what botanists and horticulturists use to differentiate species of spiky succulents. 

Just one problem though: succulents rarely flower. 

The good news is that there are other ways to tell spiky succulents apart, especially once you know a little more about them. 

First, let’s talk about some general care and keeping of succulents, and why you might want to keep spiky succulents in your home or garden. Then, we’ll cover a quick profile of the different kinds of spiky succulents, and link to more information if you’re interested in learning about that particular plant! 

Spiky Succulent Basics

The first thing you need to learn to keep spiky succulents is that these plants need a surprising amount of water, but infrequent watering. 

That’s because they need to take up a lot of moisture all at once for storage, but their roots and bottom leaves don’t do well in too much moisture. So, it’s better to let the garden bed or planter dry out completely before watering again. 

A lot of people accidentally water too often, and don’t give their plants enough water in the process. That is a recipe for killing your succulent. 

Why would anyone want to keep a tricky plant like these? 

Well, one thing is that they aren’t actually all that difficult to keep. As long as you give them enough water when you water them, you can actually forget about succulents for a long time without hurting them. 

The other main reason is that these plants are great accents and their dramatic spiked leaves are a good way to bring variety into a landscape or indoor garden. 

Not to mention that succulents are the perfect xeriscape plant. Infrequent watering is just what the climate doctor ordered! 

Be careful though. If you have too many happy succulents close together you might actually wind up with some hybrid plants. That’s because the close genetic lineage of spiky succulents makes it very easy for them to hybridize and interbreed. 

Types Of Spiky Succulent And Key Identification Features

Want to learn about even more types of succulents? Well, we have more succulents for you. This identification article will also give you more information about how to tell succulents apart, and how to identify different members of the same genera.

There are lots of succulents that have distinctive spike type growth. The leaves can be arranged in a rosette form, or in a spiral, or even in a fan type of structure. The leaves are usually similar to grass in the way they grow, and their shape. Here are some that fit this description;

Here are some of the most asked about succulents, or plants that are similar to succulents so you can eliminate them, or add them to your wish list.

Spiky leaved plants add height and drama to a group planting, or make an accent and foil for lower or rounded leaved plants. Combine them carefully for best impact.

Each picture will lead you to more information about the different kinds (or genera) of plants.

Not all plants in any genus are identical – some types of plants show an incredible range of shapes and sizes, which leads you to ask; how on earth does anyone decide to lump these plants all together?

The answer to that is, it’s all in the flower. Blame the botanists, they’re the ones who decide where a plant should fit, depending on their traits.

Even though the plants themselves look different, there are certain characteristics that they all share, but only in the number of petals, the formation of the bloom, and many microscopic details.

Many of these types of plants are closely related, such as Aloe and Gasteria.

Some are so closely related that they can interbreed and form a hybrid plant, in this case, x Gasteraloe, which has many interesting forms and takes the best characteristics of each parent to make a great new plant.

Many different families of plants have one or two spiky characters in among the rest, and except for maybe Aloe and Haworthia, the spikiness is not an identifying characteristic.

Let’s jump into the plants.

10 Kinds of Spiky Succulents

Agave growing above small cactus in Lewis Ginter botanical garden


Agave are known for the fruit they produce just once in their lifetimes, but these large desert succulents are also striking landscaping features. Bigger than most succulents, and rivaling the size of large desert cacti!

Also called the century plant, smaller agave are sometimes kept as house plants, and every species has a very identifiable spike at the end of every leaf. 

aloe growing in gravel


Aloe is one of the best-known succulents, and popular for people with burns and sunburns. It can even be used as food (in the case of edible Aloe, not most houseplant species!), and might be part of your hair or skincare routine too. 

There are lots of types of aloe, but they all have long, narrow, triangular-shaped leaves. Most aloe, though not all, also have small spikes on the edges of the leaves, and white or yellow dots on the leaves. 



Bromeliads are some of the most popular indoor succulents thanks to their dense leaves and the brilliant range of colors, from deep green, to yellow, to red, that help some of these succulents stand out. 

Bromeliads also have some of the flashiest and most identifiable flowers of a succulent. The bright red central spike of a bromeliad is probably the most recognizable, but some can even have blue or yellow flowers. 

Queens Tears

Queens Tears

Queens Tears are an odd succulent, and they look almost like a leafy spider plant than a succulent. 

They are named for the way their flowers, a pink color leading to yellow at the end of each blooming stem, look a bit like a fine lady’s gloved and relaxed hand. That’s because they bend over in a showy spray, usually extending just past the other leaves. 



Cryptanthus plants are as varied as it gets in the succulent world. They usually have thinner waxy leaves, growing in a circular star pattern. But the leaves can very from green and white stripes, to pink and purple stripes.  About the only consistent color pattern you can trust is that there are going to be stripes of at least two colors on a cryptanthus succulent! 

Hawthoria growing next to large grey rock


Some species of Haworthia might be mistaken for cryptanthus at first glance, thanks to their similarly bold stripes, but these succulents have thicker leaves, more like an aloe. 

Haworthia can also look like they have vicious spikes, though those projections are actually soft. They’re all for show, and it’s a beautiful show to see! 



Gasteria are another odd one, and can be particularly prone to hybridizing with other succulents. 

These succulents look very similar to snake plants, but with a dense spray of pots on their leaves, which can also get much thicker at the base than a snake plant. 



Speaking of snake plants! Senseveria are snake plants, or sometimes called African Spear plants. 

There are a lot of different versions of this plant, but all of them are known for their dark green, flat, slightly variated, and sharp-looking leaves! 



Senecio plants are another highly variable succulents. Some are segmented, others have a waxy coating, and still others mimic the appearance of other kinds of leaves, or even discarded antlers! However, one distinguishing feature is that the sap in these succulents is highly aromatic, varying from a pine smell to a more resiny-smokey smell. 



Last but not least, are yucca. Technically not a succulent, they act so much like succulents they might as well be. These plants have long barbs at the ends of each leaf, divide and propagate easily, and have a tall central spike of flowers. Yucca flowers vary from white to pink depending on the type. 

But, like agave, yucca plants get BIG. Give them plenty of room when you plant them. 

Succulent ID Chart

Succulent ID Chart

Want to learn about even more types of succulents? Well, we have more succulents for you. This identification article will also give you more information about how to tell succulents apart, and how to identify different members of the same genera.