Plant and Garden

Sempervivum Succulent Care and Information

Sempervivum (sem-per-VEEV-um)are beautiful outdoor succulents prized for their beautiful appearance and extremely resilient nature. Sempervivum literally means “live forever”. Sempervivums were considered sacred to Jupiter in Roman and Thor in Nordic mythology. The flower was said to resemble the beard of the God.

Sempervivum is a genus of hardy monocarpic alpine succulents in the family Crassulaceae.

Their natural habitats are typically 3000 to 8000 ft above sea level in mountainous regions of central and southern Europe and Mediterranean islands. In fact, these plants thrive in lean, fast-draining, gravelly or rocky soils.

Other names include thunder plant, liveforever, Jupiter’s eye, Thor’s beard, Aaron’s rod and hens & chicks.

With over 3,000 named sempervivum cultivars, these succulents are available in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Their colors change drastically throughout the season due to maturity, temperatures, sunlight exposure, and other factors.

Growers Hint:

Succulents need a lot of light, but for Hens and Chicks, there is such thing as too much sun. They are hardy outdoor plants that, once established, can tolerate an amazing amount of climatic extremes and neglect.
  • Acclimate by gradually move into bright shade, then partial sun, then direct sun over the course of 2 weeks
  • Try to plant in a location with morning sun and afternoon shade
  • Use trees or other landscape elements to filter light and shade succulents when temperatures exceed 80F
  • Water deeply in the morning or evening to cool the soil
  • Try to avoid excess winter moisture

 Where Can Sempivivium Grow?

Hens and Chicks are hardy and can be grown throughout the USA. Sempervivum like cool nights and need a cold-dormant season to be healthy.

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They prefer growing zones 4-8. In colder areas, it may be beneficial to move the plants into a greenhouse or cover them during severe winter weather.

Sempervivum are most vulnerable to sunburn under the following conditions:

  1. Sunlight exposure increases drastically over a short period of time
  2. Plants are young and/or roots have not yet established
  3. Air temperature is high
  4. Soil moisture content is low

Hen & Chick Plant Propagation

Sempervivums reproduce vegetatively by offsetting around the base of the rosette. The quantity and speed at which babies are produced depend on the variety.

Sempervivums can be divided anytime during the spring/summer growing season. The baby chicks can be re-planted elsewhere or left to grow around the mother hen.

Growing from the offsets preserves the characteristics of each cultivar.  Each offset will develop roots of its own and become independent of the parent plant as the connecting stolon withers. Some Sempervivums produce offsets on the end of long stolons and this root down at a distance from the parent plant, rather than producing a dense clump.

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Offsets can be removed when root development has begun and grown on separately as a method of propagation. This method preserves the characteristics of a named cultivar, which will not come true from seed. The stolon should be cut off just below the base of the offset to encourage roots to develop from the base of the rosette.

Sempervivums have star-shaped flowers with 8 – 16 petals, typically in pink or red although a few species have pale-yellow flowers. Sempervivum flowers often contain fertile seeds which can be easily be collected and grown. The fruit should be allowed to dry, crushed and the debris sieved to separate the seed.

Stratification after sowing by chilling in the fridge at 39 degrees Farenheight for a few weeks, or outdoors during the winter to improve germination. As hybridization is very common, seedlings are unlikely to breed true to type. However, this provides an opportunity to look for new and unusual forms among the progeny

Sempervivum Life and Death Cycle

Once a hen produces a chick, that chick will begin producing its own babies after only 1 season.

You should water regularly during the first growing season to establish an extensive root system. Once established you can reduce the frequency.

Sempervivum plants generally only live for 3 years, so the plants have 2 productive years before they die. After 3 years and having produced many baby plants a Sempervivum grows a tall center stalk that blooms before the plant dies. Unfortunately, cutting off the center stalk will not prevent the plant from dying.

Just Eat It!

Common Houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum) young shoots and chubby leaves are edible raw.

They are crunchy and similar to cucumbers in taste and texture. The leaves can also be juiced to make a drink. This plant stores water in the leaves in a similar way to the aloe vera plant.

In fact, it can be used on sunburn or for other accidental burns in the same way. It is a good aloe vera substitute. Sempervivum leaves and their juice is used for their cooling and astringent effect, being applied externally to soothe many skin conditions. As with many other remedies that are both astringent and soothing, houseleek simultaneously tightens and softens the skin.

Sempevivium Is Medicine?

The fresh leaves are astringent, diuretic, odontalgic, refrigerant and vulnerary.

They are used as a dressing in much the same way as Aloe vera. It is a great treatment of many skin diseases, burns, scalds, bites and stings etc and has also has used to get rid of warts and corns.

The plant is also sometimes used internally in the treatment of shingles, skin complaints and hemorrhoids, though some care is required since in excess the plant is emetic and purgative. The leaves are harvested as required and used fresh.

Be careful! In large doses, the houseleek can be purgative and upset the tum so take it easy if trying it for the first time.

Say What???

  • This European native plant was introduced to North America as a garden plant over 200 years ago.
  • In some places, Sempervivums are traditionally grown on roofs between thatching, tiles or timber.
  • A firm in Germany exports Sempervivums as rolled up carpets of roofing material.
  • Folklore tells us that it has the ability to protect a house from lightning and fire. Since it contains a large cache of water, there may be some truth in this.
  • In ancient times, this was thought to guard against thunderbolts, storms, and sorcery and ensure the prosperity of the occupants.
  • Traditional medicinal uses described by Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 AD) in his Naturalis Historiae include use of the juice from crushed Sempervivum leaves to treat skin complaints such as burns, scalds, corns, calluses, warts, ringworm, shingles), insect stings shingles, itching, and burning of the eyes, and earache.
  • Discorides (40 – 90 AD) wrote in his Materia Medica that Sempervivum leaves crushed with wine would eliminate intestinal worms and flukes.
  • The Romans also consideredSempervivum juice to be useful against caterpillar infestation of crops.
  • Scientists at Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge University have found that the mineral vaterite, a form (polymorph) of calcium carbonate, is a dominant component of the protective silvery-white crust that forms on the leaves of a number of alpine plants. Naturally occurring vaterite is rarely found on Earth. Small amounts of vaterite crystals have been found in some sea and freshwater crustaceans, bird eggs, the inner ears of salmon, meteorites, and rocks. This is the first time that the rare and unstable mineral has been found in such a large quantity and the first time it has been found to be associated with plants.

There are three common types of Sempervivum Hens and Chicks… but each type produces offspring in a different manner.

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These grow babies on runners. Just pull off the chicks and plant elsewhere. It is best to remove the babies when the runner has begun to wither.

Offsets root quickly and contact with soil is enough for them to start growing.

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Jovibarba heuffelii

This species does not produce “chicks” on stolons. Instead, the offspring of this plant are produced within the mother plant.

To propagate it must be split with a knife.

Jovibarba Rollers

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These types of Hens and Chicks produce lightly attached “chicks” that easily pop off and roll away from the mother plant.

Echeverias, share the common name “hens-and-chicks.”

Another group of rosette-forming succulents from Mexico.


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