Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Hen and Chicks plants
Hen and chicks (also known as Hen-and-chickens) is a common name for a group of small succulents belonging to the flowering plant family Crassulaceae, native to Europe and northern Africa. They grow close to the ground with leaves formed around each other in a rosette, and propagating by offsets. The 'hen' is the main plant, and the 'chicks' are the offspring, which start as tiny buds on the main plant and soon sprout their own roots, taking up residence close to the mother plant.
Plants commonly referred to as "Hens and chicks" include ground hugging species of Sempervivum (Houseleeks) such as Sempervivum Pekinese, Sempervivum arachnoideum (Cobweb Houseleek), and Sempervivum tectorum (Common Houseleek); the related genus Jovibarba. The name is also used for some species of Echeveria, Sedum and Bergenia although these plants differ significantly from, and should not be confused with, Sempervivum and Jovibarba. The description below provides characteristics of Sempervivum and Jovibarba only.
Aside from the common morphology, the many species of hen and chicks differ widely in appearance. Colours range from lime green to burgundy to purple, and size varies from as small as 1 cm to as large as 20 cm across. The leaves can be thin and spiky or thick and rounded with a pointed tip. Some, such as Cobweb Houseleek, have fine spiderweb-like filaments that grow naturally from leaf edge to leaf edge, forming a white cover on the top of the plant, while others have fine hairs that cover the entire plant structure.
Upon maturity (usually around 3 to 4 years old) the plant will send up a single stalk that can reach 5-25 cm tall. The head of the stalk is a cluster of star-shaped flower buds 1-2 cm in diameter, which range in color from dark pink to yellow and that flower for several weeks. After blooming, the plant will die. Usually by this time it has produced many offsets ('chicks').
Hen and chicks are popular in gardens for their varied and interesting appearance and hardiness. They are grown as container planting or rock gardens. They do best in well-drained, rocky soil; if they stay wet, the outer leaves will rot. Although they do best in sun, they will grow in light shade.
Hen and chicks is also the popular name of a strain of opium poppy, papaver somniferum, in which the seed head is surrounded by clusters of smaller heads.
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