Our June Plant of the Month is Sempervivum tectorum, a showy little succulent native to the mountains in southern Europe. Its thick, fleshy leaves form tight rosettes that reach about four inches tall and wide at maturity. The glabrous foliage of each unique variety varies in color from vibrant to mint green, dusty purple to bright red, and is often tipped with red or purple. This plant forms a dense carpet when the mother rosette, often referred to as the hen, produces offsets, or chicks, in multiple directions (hence one of its common names, Hen and Chicks). In summer, a flowering stalk up to a foot tall emerges from the mother plant, showing off cymes of pink to purple star-shaped flowers. Once the seed is set and the flowering period is complete, the mother rosette dies back and the offsets fill in the void.
The genus name Sempervivum comes from the Latin words semper, meaning “always” and vivus, meaning “living”, which is appropriate considering the long-lived nature of the plants. The species name, tectorum, is derived from the Latin word tectum, which means “roof”; the species name, along with the plant’s other common name, Houseleek, refers to the ancient European practice of planting these succulents on thatched roofs to prevent lightning strikes from causing roof fires!
Sempervivum tectorum performs best in areas with well-drained soil and full sun, but it will tolerate part shade and poor soil conditions. Like most other succulents, it is considered deer-resistant (not deer-proof!). It is fairly drought tolerant and survives easily with little available water, making it a favorite for rock gardens and xeriscaping. This hardy member of the Crassulaceae family makes a tidy small-scale groundcover, or it can provide bold texture and color contrast in pots year-round! S. tectorum is also often interwoven with other succulents as a main component of vertical gardens.