Sempervivum (sem-per-VEE-vum) - Hens and Chicks


Relatives: Crassula, Echeveria, Kalanchoe, Sedum

Sempervivum is a genus of about 40 species of flowering plants in the family Crassulaceae, and commonly known as ‘houseleeks’. Other names you might be familiar with are ‘Liveforever’ and ‘Hen and Chicks’, a name not unique to Sempervivum alone. They are succulent perennials forming living mats composed of tufted leaves growing in rosettes. In favorable conditions they spread quite rapidly via offsets (a small, virtually complete daughter plant that has been naturally and asexually produced on the mother plant). Cold hardy down to at least -20F, they can and will survive winter even under a blanket of snow. 

The name Sempervivum has its origin in the Latin semper (“always”) and vivus (“living”),  because this perennial plant keeps its leaves even in the winter and it is very resistant to difficult conditions of growth that other plants simply cannot adapt to. The common name “Houseleek” is believed to stem from the traditional practice of growing plants on the roofs of houses to ward off fire and lightning strikes. (Some Welsh people still hold this old folk belief to this day.)

Although their subtropical cousins are very frost-sensitive, Sempervivums are among the most frost-resistant of any succulent, making them popular garden plants. They tend to grow best in dry conditions with well-draining, sandy soil to prevent soggy roots. It has been used historically and is used presently for its purported health benefits. It has no known side effects (aside from being an emetic - causing one to vomit - in large doses) or drug interactions. Common herbal uses are stopping bad cases of diarrhea by drinking the juice of the leaf or eating the leaves directly, and the juice is commonly applied directly to the skin for many of the same uses as aloe vera such as burns, warts and insect bites.