Hen and chicks: surprisingly hardy

This funky little succulent looks like it belongs in a hot desert, but it's actually native to European mountain regions and is quite cold hardy.

Hens and chicks form a dense mat composed of fleshy-leafed rosettes (the "hens") and surrounding small rosettes that grow at the tips of short runners produced by the hens (the "chicks").

When rosettes are several years old, they may flower, with the center of the rosette suddenly elongating into a tall stem topped with clusters of starry pink or purple flowers. Individual rosettes die after flowering, but surrounding chicks will fill in. Hens and chicks tolerate hot, dry, rocky locations and make a unique accent in rock gardens, stone walls and trough gardens.

Common name: Hens and chicks, houseleek

Botanical name: Sempervivum tectorum

Plant type: Succulent perennial

Zones: 4 to 8

Height: 3 to 6 inches

Family: Crassulaceae

Growing conditions

• Sun: Full sun

• Soil: Loose, gravelly soil with average or poor fertility

• Moisture: Average to dry; must be well drained all year

Care

• Mulch: None, or a thin layer of gravel or grit

• Pruning: Remove dead hens after they flower

• Fertilizer: None

Propagation

• Offsets

• Seeds

Pests and diseases

• Root and basal rots are possible in overly wet conditions.

Cultivars

• ‘Oddity' has unusual quill-like rolled leaves with purple tips.

• ‘Royanum' produces especially large rosettes with light green leaves tipped in red.

• ‘Sunset' has light green leaves blushed with shades of red and orange.

Garden notes

• Hens and chicks can grow in just about any container—from strawberry jars to old boots— as long they have good drainage.

• Tuck in hens and chicks around decorative boulders in gardens or foundation plantings.

• Because of their tough nature, hens and chicks are popular for green roof plantings—try a small-scale green roof on a doghouse, playhouse or garden shed.

All in the family

• There are about 40 species of Sempervivum. They tend to cross readily, and there are many hybrid cultivars available.

• Sempervivum is a member of the stonecrop family (Crassulaceae), an interesting group of succulent plants that have a specialized form of photosynthesis.

• Other stonecrop family members often grown as houseplants or in gardens include sedums, kalanchoe and jade plant.

Where to buy

• J Lynn Nursery, jlynnnursery.com

• Perennial Obsessions, perennialobsessions.com

• Sequim Rare Plants, sequimrareplants.com