Sempervivums, or houseleeks, are hardy, succulent, alpine plants that grow in the wild between rocks in mountainous regions.
Sempervivum means ‘always alive’ – a reference to the fact that houseleeks tolerate extreme temperatures and drought. The hardiness of sempervivums (also known as hen and chickens), makes them excellent, easy-to-keep garden plants.
Houseleeks are most valued for their distinctive rosettes of succulent, spirally patterned foliage, although they also bear attractive flowers from spring to summer. Each rosette is a separate plant, and is monocarpic – it flowers once and then dies, but is soon replaced by other new rosettes, called offsets. These offsets can be separated and planted up, and will then grow into new clumps.
Sempervivums don’t need feeding, but do benefit from being repotted each year into compost containing slow-release fertiliser.
Discover 10 sempervivum cultivars, below.
Cobweb houseleek, Sempervivum arachnoideum
Possibly the most famous species, the cobweb houseleek bears a network of white hairs at the leaf tips, which protect the plant against dehydration and intense sunlight. Sempervivum arachnoideum bears small pink flowers in early summer.
A cluster of white-hair-covered cobweb houseleek sempervivums
Sempervivum ‘Engle’s’ has downy bronze-green leaves, which darken to almost purple in winter.
Downy, magenta-bronze and green leaves of Sempervivum ‘Engle’s’
Sempervivum marmoreum ‘Brunneifolium’
Sempervivum marmoreum ‘Brunneifolium’ bears large rosettes of triangular-shaped, silvery bronze leaves.
Large bronze rosettes of Sempervivum ‘Brunneifolium’
Sempervivum ‘Pippin’ has large rosettes of deep green, spatula-shaped leaves with dark purple tips.
Purple-tipped, bright-green Sempervivum ‘Pippin’ in a terracotta pot
‘Pluto’ is a beautiful houseleek, bearing large rosettes of deep green leaves with dark purple tips.
Green and magenta Sempervivum ‘Pluto’
Sempervivum ‘Purple Dazzler’
Sempervivum ‘Purple Dazzler’ has bi-coloured foliage in mid-green and dark purple, the colour of which darkens in winter.
Deep-purple and green Sempervivum ‘Purple Dazzler’
Sempervivum ‘Terracotta Baby’
‘Terracotta Baby’ bears medium-sized rosettes of long, spoon-shaped leaves in dramatic dark red-burgundy. The colouration becomes darker in winter and a brighter, more intense red in summer.
Long, burgundy-red leaves of Sempervivum ‘Terracotta Baby’
‘Reinhard’ bears medium-sized, emerald green leaves with purple-black leaf tips. Pastel-pink flowers appear on short stems in summer.
Purple-tipped, bright-green Sempervivum ‘Reinhard’ in a stone trough
‘Eddy’ bears striking red spoon-shaped leaves that darken towards the centre.
Red-leaved Sempervivum ‘Eddy’
Sempervivum ‘Rita Jane’
‘Rita Jane’ bears large rosettes of blue-green foliage with dark red tips.
Red-tipped, blue-green foliage of Sempervivum ‘Rita Jane’
Where to grow sempervivums
Sempervivums are commonly grown in containers, but they can thrive in bricks, driftwood and tufa rock, due to their ability to grow in very little compost. South-facing rockeries, gravel gardens and vertical walls also make good habitats. They perform best in a sunny, outdoor position, in a well-drained compost, with sharp horticultural grit added for drainage. A layer of grit added to the surface of the compost further aids drainage.