Hens and Chicks – A Surprising Twist

For the first time this spring, my pot of hens and chicks – Sempervivum tectorum – has decided to flower! A complete surprise to me, and it’s been fascinating watching the flower stalk grow… and grow… and grow.

"hens and chicks plant"Starting out as a slightly raised center of the base rosette, it has, over the past month, grown into a foot high stalk, with a multitude of buds at the tip. I’ll keep you posted when it actually flowers.

The word for the genus, Sempervivum, is Latin for “always live,” i.e., evergreen. So far, so good. However, the species label, tectorum, means “on roofs” . You might wonder just what this plant have to do with roofs.

Well, it turns out that these succulent and drought tolerant plants were traditionally planted in thatched roofs. European folklore held that they gave protection against lightning-induced fires, due to the plants’ association with two gods of lightning: Thor and Zeus (Jupiter).

Succulents like these are fire-resistant because of their fleshy moist bracts, and just maybe might slow the spread of fire through thatch.

The “hen” in my pot will die after flowering, but with the numerous “chicks” or “chickens” to take their place, I look forward to seeing more of them flower.

To propagate these interesting plants, just pull off the chicks from the parent plant and transplant them. You just need to place them in contact with moist soil , since hens and chicks root readily.

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