Recently I have sparked an interest in succulents—resplendent in all of their haphazard varieties. I created this wreath from nine succulent plants (purchased from the garden department of Lowes Hardware Store) by simply arranging them on a terracotta platter. I have since planted them in a shallow, canvas-lined basket and released them to the outdoors.
After further research into the mysterious, soft plants I was interested to learn that cactuses are in the succulent family, are only found in the United States, and are the only succulents with spines (rigid structure and posture as well as spikes). Douglas Harper explains the etymology of succulent and cactus in The Online Etymology Dictionary:
c.1600, from Fr. succulent, from L. succulentus “having juice,” from succus “juice, sap;” related to sugere “to suck,” and cognate with O.E. sucan “to suck” (see suck).
c.1600, from L. cactus “cardoon,” from Gk. kaktos, name of a type of prickly plant of Sicily (the Spanish artichoke), perhaps of pre-Hellenic origin. Modern meaning is 18c., because Linnaeus gave the name to a group of plants he thought were related to this but are not. (Harper, 2011)
That cactus is a name that was mistakenly given to the spiny variety of succulents does not surprise me. Artichokes are quite succulent, themselves, and seem akin to the structure of some cacti. The flesh of a cactus, where fattest, is waterheavy among the peaks of the spine. The allure of succulents is in their slow, fat fingers and their harmless skin. The “suck” aspect of succulent relates to the juiciness of the plant, as if the entire plant were a living, lush fruit. Aloe, broken open, will leave a sappy, slimy trail of itself. Besides their biology and etymology, their abstract and abundant examples of balance and symmetry amaze me.
Harper, D. “Cactus.” The Online Etymology Dictionary. 2011. Web. 7 Dec 2011. <http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=cactus>.
Harper, D. “Succulent.” The Online Etymology Dictionary. 2011. Web. 7 Dec 2011. <http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=succulent>.