Some plants have fanciful common names, and one of these is a low growing member of the sedum family called “Hens-and-Chickens.”
It has succulent rosette big and small, arranged in a whimsical pattern like a mother hen with chicks gathered protectively around her. Their botanical name is “sempervivum tectorum,” which means “live forever on the roof” because in times past they grew on the roofs of European homes. Today they are grown as houseplants or in rock gardens, walls, or troughs where they get good drainage.
They love gritty soil and full sun and cannot tolerate soggy conditions. They are easily divided and come in a range of colors, shapes and sizes. If you are looking for a plant to play with and have a young child handy – yours or someone else’s – you can count chickens and group chickens and make up stories about them.
Although each rosette dies after flowering, there seem always to be new offsets to maintain continuity. As new plants take the place of old, we can observe the chain of generations of living things. Plants that can be passed from garden to garden and divided and repotted, and are valiant through each transformation are metaphors of life to share with children.