The common name “hen and chicks” usually refers to the ground-hugging and clumping Sempervivum succulents. Sempervivum is a genus of succulents in the stonecrop family Crassulaceae. It is one of the few succulents native to Europe and Asia.
Sempervivum grow close to the ground, have a rosette shape, and propagate through offsets – giving them the appearance of a mother hen with a group of baby chicks gathered around her. The “hen” refers to the main plant – and the “chicks” are the offsets. These offsets start as tiny buds on the main plant, and even when they sprout their own roots, they take up residence right next to the main – or mother – plant.
They are also called stonecrops because they are often seen growing in-between cracks on rock faces and boulders. In ancient times, it was observed that thunderbolts would never strike these plants! Because of this, they were thought to ward off thunderbolts, sorcery, storm damage, and more – making them a popular plant for the roofs and siding of houses. We now know that it is likely the boulders – that the plant grew on – that are the real reason why these plants were rarely struck by lightning.
Also because of this, Sempervivum became associated with the gods of thunder – Jupiter, Thor, and Perun (or depending on your flavor of mythology – Roman, Norse, and Slavic respectively). The plant’s clumping habit is said to resemble the gods’ beards.
Sempervivum, a clumping rosette-forming succulent, is native to the mountainous regions of Europe, Asia, and Africa. They are frost-tolerant, and have been used successfully on green roofs for thousands of years (although ancient peoples planted these on roofs not for the environment – but as a way to ward off lightning strikes!) They flower about once a year, but mostly reproduce by clumping, forming tight mats of plants. Unfortunately, they are monocarpic, so once an individual rosette flowers, it does die – but it produces multiple offsets before then. They occur in many colors, with the most color being expressed with the most sunlight.
Most plants produce pigments to adapt to high-light conditions. Light exists as photons – and full sun is a massive amount of photons bombarding the plant. The excess energy from the light is actually absorbed by these pigments. A good way to know if your sempervivum is getting enough natural light is to monitor its color! More light means more vibrance or color, which means a healthy plant!
SEMPERVIVUM HOUSEPLANT CARE:
SUNLIGHT: Bright, direct sun to medium, filtered light.
WATER: Water weekly or monthly, depending on season and amount of light. Allow potting mix to completely dry out in-between watering. Water more frequently during the warmer months, as the soil dries out quicker, and fertilize weakly during the growing season. (Do not overwater – overwatering will cause this plant to rot! Remember that it is always better to underwater than to overwater.)
HUMIDITY: Not applicable. Regular indoor humidity to dry.
TEMPERATURE: 65°F-90°F (18°C-33°C). It’s best not to let it go below 60°F if possible (15°C).
SIZE: Dependent on species. Can grow slowly, or increase in size in flushes of growth.
P.S. Shop ‘Hen and Chicks‘ houseplants at The Sill here!