You are currently viewing Species Spotlight – Sempervivum aka Hens and Chicks!

Species Spotlight – Sempervivum aka Hens and Chicks!

Sempervivum (Sem-per-VEE-vum) goes by the common names hens and chicks plant, liveforever, houseleeks and even cats and kittens plant. Similar in appearance to echeveria, sempervivum form mats of plants with tufted leaves arranged around a common point.  These rosette-forming succulents are super cold hardy, with many varieties tolerating the cold of a zone 3 winter. An easy-care succulent with an appealing form and vivid coloring, sempervivum definitely belong in your collection of succulents.

All About Growing Sempervivum

{Please note, some links in this post may be affiliate links to sites that pay me a small commission if you click on the link and make a purchase. This commission is at absolutely no cost to you. I only recommend products and companies that I have worked with and truly love! ~Kat}

Sempervivum Cold Hardiness

sempervivum cats and kittens plant grows in rocky outcroppings

Sempervivum are native to mountainous regions from Morrocco to Iran. They are often found growing in rocky outcroppings and fissures in dry cliffs. Their ability to store water in their leaves enables them to thrive in conditions most life forms find extremely challenging. Their ability to thrive in bitterly cold weather makes them a welcome addition to many cold climate gardens. Although many varieties of succulents cannot handle a frost, sempervivum thrive in the sleet and snow of winter. In early spring, foraging animals may eat the tender, moisture-rich leaves. Even when eaten down to the ground, sempervivum typically grow up again from their roots, bigger and better.

If you are over-wintering your succulents indoors, you can keep sempervivum alive indoors. But they much prefer to be left outdoors to experience the full range of temperature changes. Make sure their soil will not become waterlogged due to rain or snow. They will flourish greet the spring with fresh new growth.

Sempervivum – Hens and Chicks Plant

red and green sempervivum hens and chicks plants

Sempervivum will form rosettes from a half inch wide to over 6 inches across. Some have waxy leaves, some are matte, and some have hairs that give a furry appearance.

This image shows the characteristic growth pattern of sempervivum; the main rosette, or “hen” surrounded by offsets – the “chicks”. The original succulent rosette produces several baby rosettes surrounding it. In this way, it does look a lot like a mother hen surrounded by her chicks, or even a mama cat with her kittens. The mother plant remains attached to her offsets by a modified stem called a “stolon”. She passes nutrients along to each baby plant, as it begins to form roots of its own. You can see why the common names like hens and chicks or cats and kittens plant refer to mother and child.

These charmers are wonderful when they trail over the edge of a container. The new chicks are connected to the mother plant by the stolon, and they hang beautifully. In time, the stolon will dry up and the chicks will fall to the earth and begin to root at the base of the container.

Sempervivum Flowering

monocarpic sempervivum die back after flowering

Among the most dramatic of the flowering succulents, the life cycle of sempervivum is intriguing. They are “monocarpic”, meaning a plant with a single blooming period. The plant often grows for years before flowering. Once it flowers, it produces seeds, and then the mother plant dies. Only the “hen” dies after flowering. By this time, it has produced many offsets, which will have rooted and taken the place of the mother.

When they bloom, the rosette elongates and grows quite tall. The showy blooms are long-lasting and highly attractive to butterflies. When the flower is spent, small, dry, seed-filled fruit follows. These seeds will be released on the breeze unless you collect it first. You can certainly grow sempervivum from seed, though the offsets are a much quicker and simpler approach. Remember, it is only the main rosette, the hen, that flowers and dies. The many chicks that have been produced continue to grow and produce new chicks of their own. A collection of sempervivum is always growing!

Sempervivum Arachnoideum – Cobweb Hens and Chicks Plant

Sempervivum Arachnoideum look like cobwebs on the hens and chicks plant

Some varieties of sempervivum produce very fine, silvery hairs or filaments connecting the points of their leaves. These are Sempervivum arachnoideum, or cobweb hens and chicks. These cobwebs can also reach out to the various chicks in the planting, connecting many rosettes with these filaments. The characteristic cobwebs may help to collect moisture from the air as dew drops settle on the hairs, enabling the plant to drink.

All sempervivum are charming and easy to care for. The cobweb varieties are no exception. The filaments are soft, without any thorns or stickers. Although they appear quite intricate, they are no more difficult to please than any other variety of hens and chicks plant. Just take care not to get loose soil caught in the filaments — it’s tricky to get them clean again without damaging the cobwebs!

Color Changing Sempervivum

sempervivum plants change color with the seasons

Sempervivum produce colorful rosettes in shades of red, pink, green, brown, yellow, orange and purple. At different times of the year, with changes in temperature and day length, the coloring can change a great deal. Green leaves just tipped with red may flush a vivid burgundy their entire length. The image above shows sempervivum marmoreum ‘ornatum’. The change in color is quite pronounced and can lead to some confusion. There is nothing “wrong” with either plant, they are both quite healthy. The change is a natural response to cooling temperatures and more sunlight.

Sempervivum Care

yellow sempervivum with red tips, hens and chicks plant
Sun Exposure

Sempervivum are generally very hardy plants, able to thrive in USDA climate zones 3-11. But you should adapt your care to the climate where you are growing them. Provide bright light for your hens and chicks plant. But in regions that get extremely hot in the summer, be sure to protect them during the heat of the day. They can become sunburned if they are in direct sun on very hot days of 90-degrees or more. You may find they grow and look their best in filtered light. Learn how to meet succulents’ lighting requirements here.

Watering Sempervivum
sempervivum hens and chicks evolved adaptations to very dry conditions

As with all succulents, proper watering for your sempervivum is critical. They need fast draining soil. These plants have adapted beautifully to growing in very dry climates. When growing hens and chicks plant in the garden, provide a gritty succulent soil mix that drains quickly. A raised bed is an excellent approach. Take care that rainfall or melting snow will not saturate the soil around your sempervivum’s roots, or it will die. Let the soil fully dry before adding any more water.

Fertilize sempervivum with half-strength fish emulsion or seaweed once in spring and again in mid-summer.

Propagating Sempervivum
sempervivum hens and chicks plant with pink stolons

Sempervivum hens and chicks propagation is about the easiest of all succulent reproducing. This image shows how the mother rosette – the hen – produces many offsets – chicks – all around itself. Each is attached by a modified stem called a stolon. When new baby chicks first form, they are held above the soil. As the grow and mature, they become larger and heavier, until they rest on the soil. The stolon continues to transfer nutrients from the mother to the offsets as they begin to root into the soil. In time, the stolon will wither, and eventually die away, leaving the original rosette surrounded by many smaller rosettes. This is how the sempervivum reproduce in the wild.

You can certainly speed up that process by snipping the stolon and moving the chicks to a new container, or another bed. Ideally, the new chicks will have begun forming roots before you separate them. If you take a chick that does not yet have roots, just set it on the soil out of direct sun for a week or so. New roots will soon develop. If the chicks are spilling over the edge of a rock garden or container, the stolon will eventually dry up, leaving the chicks to fall to the soil below. Roots begin to form, and they will establish a new planting with chicks of their own.

Are Sempervivum Toxic to Pets?

Pet Safe Succulent

Sempervivum are not toxic to pets or to small children. Plant with confidence!

This symbol denotes pet-safe succulents. For more information about succulents and pets, just click on this image anywhere on this site.

Shopping for Sempervivum

yellow orange sempervivum cats and kittens plant

You will find a few sempervivum varieties at nearly any home store or nursery that sells succulents. For a wider variety, online stores will be a great option. Mountain Crest Gardens offers over 120 varieties of these cold hardy hens and chicks plant. They also offer a selection of relatively colorfast sempervivum here. Because sempervivum propagate so easily, you might want to build your collection with a friend. You each buy a few varieties, then grow them out and exchange cuttings!

sempervivum aqua hens and chicks plant

I hope you have enjoyed learning about the lovely sempervivum. Are you already growing these little charmers? Do you plant to start? These cold hardy gems deserve to be in every succulent collection! Please take a moment to leave a comment and let me know if you have any questions. I am happy to help!

You can do this!

P.S. Please subscribe to The Succulent Eclectic today!  I’ll send you my FREE e-course 7 Steps to Succulent Success! Thank you!

* indicates required

(Visited 11,910 times, 1 visits today)

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Bonnie

    This was very informative. Thank you.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Bonnie,
      So glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  2. christina

    I have heard you can pull out the inside of the plant and replant it before it blooms. Is this true. Im just wondering if i should just let it happen, or pull out the inside of the bloom and repot it??

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Christina,
      I don’t know whether you can successfully stop your sempervivum from blooming. I wouldn’t try. They will naturally form larger and denser mats of hens and chicks rosettes, with plenty of baby plants before the single mother plant dies. I would let your sempervivum bloom as natural. I have read of some people experimenting to try to interrupt their plant’s blooms, but I haven’t found enough success with any method to recommend it to you.

  3. Dana

    Hi! I am a new succulent lover and I am currently attempting to grow a lot of things from seed. I have a few echeverias ( blue rose just germinated ) and I am trying w sempervivum hybridium. The seller told me a seedling heat mat would possibly speed up the process. So I have them on there for almost a week now. Was this a mistake??? Keeps soil at around 75F

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Dana,
      In all honesty, I don’t have enough experience with sowing succulent seeds to advise you on this one. I can tell you that seedling mats were designed for fast-growing crop plants and flowers — highly hybridized plants whose ability to sprout from seed has been largely changed by human hybridization. Succulents, by their nature, are so exceptionally well adapted to harsh conditions, I would not use a seed warmer myself. Not that I think it is a problem! But I tend to garden in a bit of a “what does Nature do” fashion with my succulents. Many seeds need babying, while succulents are so adapted to challenging conditions.
      I wish I could give you a more informed answer! 🙂

  4. Ammon

    Thank you! Very neat to know the history behind them.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      So glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  5. Christine

    Thoroughly enjoyed this reading, especially on how the process of sempervivum reproduce from the mother to the chicks, and then the chicks starting up to become the mother with new chicks.
    Some in my garden that survived the winter here in Northern Michigan was what got me started. In fact the mother bloomed, it was beautiful to see, and she made four (4) new chicks before she died. Then I did purchase some new plants, and I will see how they grow, some planted outdoors in our cold area, and a few in planters in the house, watching closely. Thank you so much for this information.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Christine,
      Aren’t these charming plants? So elegant and surviving a Northern Michigan winter!
      Be sure to plant your new Sempervivum at least 6 weeks prior to your first frost so they can be fully established before the winter weather sets in. If you need to grow them indoors this winter, they can transition to the outdoors in the spring!

  6. Liz

    Hi Kat
    I am attempting to create a dichotomous key for myself to use to try to identify any new succulents i get, and this was really helpful.
    If you would like, if I finish the key and it works, I can send it to you?
    Liz 🙂

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Liz,
      Wow! Yes – I would be fascinated to see what you come up with. I have another post you might find helpful along your path – Identifying Rosette Succulent Types.
      I would think the varieties of succulents are just SO varied, I cannot imagine how this would work, but I would love to see it done!

Leave a Reply