Sempervivum: Color changing hens and chicks succulents

Sempervivum succulents are a great option when you’re looking for colorful, cold-hardy succulents. They even change colors at different times of the year 

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Sempervivum succulents (also known as “hens and chicks”) are quickly becoming one of my favorite succulent genera. The biggest perk is that they grow in my cold Utah climate! In fact, they’re generally more vibrant than other succulents during the winter.

When I first discovered Sempervivum plants, I wasn’t a huge fan because I thought the colors were boring–only reds and greens. But, thanks to the amazing selection offered by Mountain Crest Gardens, I’ve found that they actually come in quite a variety of colors, including blues, purples, pinks and even yellow!

This post shows a lot of colorful cold hardy Sempervivums and talks about why they change colors

As you spend more time with these “hens and chicks,” you’ll find that they’re really incredible plants. They propagate easily, and they’re tolerant of all kinds of problems (over-watering, under-watering, heat cold, etc) that would kill other succulents.

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These hens and chicks are amazing! They propagate easily, tolerate cold, and handle about anything!Click To Tweet

Sempervivum Color Changes

Another interesting aspect of Sempervivum succulents is their coloring. Many of them display some of their boldest colors toward the end of winter, and into early spring. In fact, they can change colors so dramatically that you almost wouldn’t recognize two Sempervivum plants as members of the same species!

Don’t believe me? Let me show you!

Mountain Crest Gardens sent me a few pairs of Sempervivums plants in various stages of color change. I was amazed at the difference!

I’ve noticed these changes in my succulents before–but until I compared two of them side-by-side, I had no idea how different they could look.

Each pair of Sempervivum plants was labeled when I received it. However, some of the tags got mixed up as we were potting them, and we had to determine which plants paired together. It was a lot harder than I thought, but in the end we got it right.

Here are a few examples of two Semps of the same species, but in different colors.

To be totally honest, I’ve never been great at identifying specific succulent species–but as I worked to match these plants up with the right names, I discovered a few important characteristics to look for when identifying succulents, and Sempervivum plants in particular.

Leaf Shape and Texture

At first glance, all these hens and chicks seem to be the same shape right?

But when you look more closely, you’ll notice that some of the leaves are long and skinny while others are wider and less pointed.

You can also see some differences in the textures on the edges of the leaves. Some look almost furry, while others are smooth. Others look sharp and have small hooks along the edges.

Color Patterns

Different Sempervivum plants also display subtle variations in color patterns. In fact, “hens and chicks” that are in different color stages will follow different patterns in their colors. For example, on this Sempervivum ‘Ruby Heart’ you can see some red at the top of the leaf. When a Semp takes on more color,the color simply spreads further down the leaf.

On other Semps, red bands take shape in the middle of the leaf. These bands get larger when the succulent has more red, but they’re always in the same location.

Tightness of the Rosette and Leaf Density

These traits are a bit trickier to notice if your Sempervivum hasn’t been getting enough light–but you can typically tell the difference between two different species by the compactness of their leaves.

Some succulents will form loose rosettes, while others will be dense with leaves. You can try gently pulling the leaves apart a little bit to get an idea of how tight the rosette actually is.

If your “hens and chicks” aren’t getting enough light (as sometimes happens in the short days of winter), you’ll notice that their leaves start to flatten out. They do this in order to have more area to absorb light.

If your hens and chicks aren't getting enough light, you'll notice the leaves start to flatten out.Click To Tweet

As you can see, Sempervivums are a really fascinating group of succulents. Since most of the world doesn’t offer an ideal climate for tender succulents, Semps provide a perfect option for year-round outdoor growing, no matter what climate you live in.

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For some extra help identifying Sempervivum plants, take a look at this handy ebook put together by Jacki at Drought Smart Plants.

And if you’re in the market to start (or add to) your own collection of cold hardy Sempervivums plants, head on over to Mountain Crest Gardens! You’ll be amazed by all the varieties they offer.


2017-10-05T15:46:30+00:00

24 Comments

  1. Pam July 22, 2017 at 12:02 pm - Reply

    Thank you for pointing out the subtle differences between the sempervivums.
    Fascinating! I love your posts.

  2. Maggie Pentecost July 30, 2017 at 9:54 pm - Reply

    My succulents get leggy with distance between leaves unless they are outside during our 3 mth summers. Ive read that they arent getting enuf light while inside. But they are in a 3 sided bay window facing south east.
    Ive learned from you that they (3 dish gardens + 4 hanging glass containers all with no hole for drainage). Other than irdering online, where cld i buy pumice or the other items mentioned as subs for the soil + sand mix which ive been using?
    Txs for yr sharing of knowledge Cassidy.
    Maggie in ontario canada
    H)

    • Cassidy Tuttle August 9, 2017 at 2:54 pm - Reply

      It sounds like they are needing more light. Here’s some information the stretching you’re seeing with your plants.

      You should be able to find the materials for making your own soil at your local nursery, and an automotive store is actually the easiest place to find Turface (something like Oil-dri). I talk more about soil here.
      Good luck!

  3. Jessica McLain August 13, 2017 at 10:10 am - Reply

    I have a Ruby Heart hens and chicks. When I first purchased the plant it was a beautiful red and a little green. Now it’s completely green. I have it in full sun all day, in a pot, and water as needed. Is this normal?

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