Sempervivum in Latin means “always alive” tectorum means “on roofs. That being said they will be called Hen and Chicks in this article. Hen and Chicks are succulent evergreen perennials, which store lots of water in their leaves. If left alone they grow as a mat. The rosette you plant(the hen) will produce baby rosettes (the chicks) around the hen. Some chicks grow in a perfect circle around the hen, Some a little distance away and take root, while others will grow on long stolons and take root far from the hen. There is no way to describe the variety of colors. Greens (all shades), Reds (all shades), lavender (dark and light) etc. Some will bloom, others will not. You can gather the seed if you leave the blossom alone until it dries, then shake the seed out. They are very tiny and the chicks produce what may not be like the plant you saw blooming. They cross breed and you get some mighty interesting plants if you plant the gathered seed. The Hen dies after she blooms but leaves many chicks behind for you.
Hen and Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum) were brought over from Europe. People there called them house leeks and raised them by their kitchen door to eat. I have never tried them. They grew them on roofs for warmth and to keep their thatched roofs from burning so easily. Now they are trying a sedum type as green roofs here in America. They will grow anyplace. A roof would be ideal. That pretty well explains the Latin meaning “always alive on roofs”
This article is not meant to be expert advice on Hen and Chicks. I first want to warn you Hen and Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum) are very addictive. Once you’re hooked, no pill a doctor can give you will help. When I was a little girl (86) years ago my Mother had a bed of Hen and Chicks right outside the kitchen door (plus other types of sempervivums plants). Of course they were the big common green ones. When I got my own home I had to have a hen and chick. I thought a hen and chick was green and I bought one. I went to a garden show and started drooling, literally. There was this huge hen and chick that was green with a red center. I knew then I had to have that thing if I had to steal it. The urge was that bad. Well it was for sale and I paid around $5.00 for it. It was called Marshall. I went to a few more booths and added more colors and varieties of sempervivums. I was just in a trance. I got home and put each in a pot, 14 different kinds. I could not write the long names on a marker so I gave each a number, got out a piece of paper and wrote the number. Well that was then, about 50 or 60 years ago.
As of now, I have three typed pages of numbers with names of hen and chicks on it. In fact there are over 245 different ones on it! All completely different hen and chicks. You can actually (when you get really really hooked) associate their name with the plant and know it without the list. For example one is called Oddity. Instead of nice flat pointed leaves it has curled up, misshaped looking things that make me think of an old persons toenails. lol So oddity fits it fine. Another is called Dotty. It is green with black dots. Another one is a hookerii and the common name was brains. It looks exactly like the picture of a persons brains you see in a medical book. Another is Doily. It looks just like an old fashioned doily. Chicks in a circle away from the Hen. I pluck the chicks, pot them, put the right number in which has turned into a full time job. I have sold them at the old swap meet, at the Georgetown Garden Walk, on Craigs list and am beginning to think about a website to sell them. The problem with that would be if someone bought one, they would want it mailed immediately and it is not worth my time to take a bus to the post office to mail a $4.00 plant. It would take bus fare and a half day. You will be reading more about my plans if you visit Emerald City Journal occasionally in the Garden Classifieds Section.
These little hen and chicks plants are the best hobby a person could have if you like gardening without backbreaking work. A day will just fly by while you are plucking the chicks, potting them, labeling them, admiring them and watching them grow. Like the old saying “try it you might like it” has sure been true for me. I have sold far more chicks than I have spent on the Hens so its not a hobby that is going to cost a lot of money. If nothing else they are sure a good conversation piece. Squirrels do not eat them but will move them from one pot to another(which upsets the numbering system) or take them to someone else’s yard. I have them bring me hen and chicks I have never seen before. I pot from a dishpan of dirt and I find that if I give my squirrel her own pan of dirt and some sunflower seeds that helps more than having her work in the same pan I am working in. See pictures of the squirrels “helping” me plant more hen and chicks below.
Thank you for reading my article and to those that have contacted me. OLD AGE caught up with me, and I no longer am selling from my yard or shipping. I still have hundreds for my own pleasure only.