Sunday, Jul 24, 2016
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Kelly Heidbreder

COMMENTARY

Area women astonished by plant’s survivability

They have been stuffed in the same corner for two decades, through rain, snow, sleet, drought, and sun, but haven't made a peep. There is no special treatment for these siblings or their mother, but they stick together and even flourish. They are Phyllis Martin's Hen and Chicks and are her pride and joy.

The 86-year-old McComb, Ohio, native doesn't claim to have a green thumb and said ignoring these babies has helped them thrive. "I remember buying this plant over 20 years ago at a florist shop in Findlay," she said. "But the poor things are ignored. I never would have thought it would still be with me today."

"My plant has survived that same clay strawberry planter and I have given away many chicks." The clay pot has been in the same east corner on her front porch year round and she has never repotted it, watered it or fertilized it. "I might add some new dirt on top every once in a while, but otherwise I just let it do its thing."

She says it dies back in the winter. "First, I thought it was time to get rid of it and the first thing you know it is alive and green and blooming again.

"I've had other plants out there, but the only one that has survived has been my hen and chicks. It has even done well in this heat wave and all of the bad storms."

Succulents

Its fancy Latin name is Sempervivum tectorum, which means always living. These succulents are related to sedum and aloe which have thick leaves and can survive long periods without water or food.

These hardy garden favorites have been handed down from generation to generation and neighbor to neighbor. There are many other names for it such as St. Patrick's Cabbage or even Houseleeks. They are very easy to grow and will root easily in almost any soil condition. You can even start one just by planting a single leaf.

The large central plant looks almost like a green rose with thick green petals. Those petals are actually the succulent leaves that keep the plant alive. This is the mother plant also thought of as the Hen. You will usually find a thick woody stem protruding from under the Hen and it branches out to start smaller plantlets we think of as her chicks.

They were first found in the Alps and naturalized in Britain. Since they are native to the mountains, they will grow well with shallow soil beds and little rain. It has also been planted on rooftops to ward off lightning and has survived in those green roof systems for years.

If it is given a rich environment to thrive, it will send up a flowering shoot each summer with purple-red flowers.

Phyllis must be doing something right, because her mother plant sent up a large spike last summer topped with many little blossoms. "I was so tickled to see it that I told all of my friends. It was really amazing."

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at getgrowing@gmail.com.

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