If you came here wondering whether aloe vera was a cactus, I’ll cut to the chase and let you know that, no, aloe is not a type of cactus, but also – this isn’t a strange thing to think, suspect, or have believed.
Off the top of my head, there are two different reasons you might have thought an aloe vera plant is a type of cactus:
Firstly, both aloe vera and cactus plants are succulents – so they have a loose relation after all. Although aloes and cacti are different kinds of succulents (just like cats and dogs are different kinds of mammals), the confusion makes sense if you felt they were somehow related, but weren’t quite sure how.
Secondly, aloe vera leaves have spikes on them, which look a lot like cactus spines, although they’re not actually cacti. This visual similarity may have led you to believe aloe very might be a type of cactus.
Let’s break these two reasons down a little further, shall we?
Aloe Vera Isn’t a Cactus, but Aloes & Cacti Are Both Succulents
Succulents are very unique types of plants. Wikipedia defines succulents as “drought resistant plants in which the leaves, stem or roots have become more than usually fleshy by the development of water-storing tissue.”
Succulents adapted very well to their environments – which typically get very little water in comparison to most environments. As a result, they store water far easier for longer periods of time, to be able to withstand drought in ways other plants often cannot.
Cactaceae (cactus) & Aloe (which are classified as Asphodelaceae under the subfamily Asphodeloideae) are both succulents, and as such, share similar features (of thick, fleshy, stems and/or leaves) and are able to grow in relatively dry environments in comparison to most plants.
Aloe Vera & Cacti Both Have Spikes, Thorns, Prickles, or Spines on Them
Visually, the presence of those prickles and thorns on aloe vera makes them look a lot like cacti.
Cacti are obviously not the only plants around with these thorny features – but no one is going to mistake a rose for a cactus because of how very different roses look overall from cacti.
Since aloe vera has a succulent appearance, which is not exactly the same as a cactus, but is relatively similar aesthetically, it makes a lot of sense that spikes on an aloe might make you think of spines on cacti, and thus might lead you to believe these plants are in fact cacti although they’re not.
In terms of being able to visually distinguish cacti from other succulents, like aloes that might have spikes on them but are not cacti, David Beaulieu for The Spruce points out these helpful differences,
- Cactus plants generally have few or no leaves.
- Cacti are distinguished from the rest of the succulents by the rounded indentations along their stems. These are modified buds called “areoles.” From the areoles spring the spines (usually) for which cacti are best known.
So cacti have few to no leaves – which is certainly not true of aloe vera. There are plenty of leaves, although they don’t look like traditional leaves at all; they are succulent, fleshy leaves. These still, however, count toward the quota, so any time you see leaves you can assume what you’re looking at is not a cactus.
The second part – about the areoles – which are rounded indentations along cactus stems is also incredibly helpful to pay attention to when identifying cacti.
Take a close look at a cactus and you’ll see these areoles. They’re like little circles where often many more than one spine comes out of. That’s very different from the thorny-looking edges along the aloe vera plant’s leaves look like. So again, super helpful to look for and creates a really clear indication visually of whether you’re looking at a cactus or some other thorny succulent, like a part of the asphodelaceae family.
Other Plants Sometimes Mistaken for Cacti or Aloes
There’s a type of plant that looks ridiculously similar (in my opinion) to aloe plants that’s also mistakenly thought of as being a cactus sometimes. These plants are called agaves, and they are different from both aloes and cacti – they are neither, although, as I’ve said, they look really visually similar to aloe plants.
How do you tell the difference between an aloe and an agave visually? As Susan Peterson for Home Guides points out,
The leaves of the aloe are fleshy. For example, if you break open one of the leaves of an aloe vera plant, it will ooze its valued clear gel. Agaves, by contrast, are more fibrous. Though they do store water in their leaves, as do all succulents, agaves are shot through with tough, stringy fibers.
It’s definitely not an easy thing to spot, especially in comparison to telling the difference between cacti and aloes, but it’s possible to tell the difference.
Just thought I’d mention that one extra often-mistaken for a cactus plant!
Your Thoughts on Aloe Vera Seeming Like Cacti?
Did you believe aloe vera could be a type of cactus? Did you get that sense for one of the reasons I described above? For both? Was there another reason that led you to believe aloe vera might be a cactus?
Are there any other plants you feel like are often mistaken for a cactus? Which and why do you believe they’re often thought of as being types of cacti?
Please take a moment to share your thoughts in the comments down below!