Steel houseleeks


They look more like artichokes than cousins to houseleeks, although they're actually just sedums according to most botanists!


I first grew Orostachys spinosa (I'm not ready to call them Sedum--it apparently is genetically very close to others in that amalgam) when I first came to Denver Botanic Gardens in 1980. The propagator had grown several wonderful specimens from seed, and I remember planting these in what I supposed was a perfect spot in the Rock Alpine Garden. I can't recall if they died that winter or the following summer, but they didn't last very long at all. This happened again and again to me--and I assumed that this seemingly tough plant that supposedly grew in Tangutia where it gets to -60F in the winter--could find Denver too harsh--well, this didn't seem likely. Why couldn't I grow it?


Here it is growing exactly as it shouldn't be, on an open slope. And blooming no less!


Finding it in the wild was no good at all: it grew absolutely everywhere in the Altai mountains of Kazakhstan from the lowest foothills and open steppe to above treeline. It would carpet the ground.


More ground carpets! It got to be a joke every time we got out of the jeep: who will see the first Orostachys? Didn't take long for one or another of us to cry out "here they are AGAIN!". I can't imagine how many billion plants must be growing there...


The form rom the altai is a tad greener, and somehow plumper leaved than the steely blue form we grew already. One of the charms of Orostachys, however, is that they look different in almost every season!


I began to notice that the "open ground" they seemed to favor was usually very shallow ground indeed, and they grew with special vigor on and near outcrops...


We eventually found some in bloom, but most were just spindling up to bloom...


Often on rocks they develop interesting tints on the leaves..this gives a hint of how we finally learned to grow them well in gardens...


Aha! After a week or so we were late enough to catch them in bloom--not spectacular, perhaps, but very winsome!


In slightly shaded, moister spots they turn more green...


Darker tins in crevices and drier spots they are usually darker and more colorful.


I would have liked to have a few rosettes from every colony to compare--look how much greener this one is...


I love them growing with lichened rocks...




They even seem to grow on open soil in the wild: don't try this in your garden, however!


And finallywe find a grand old spexcimen in BLOOM: on solid rock


Masses of them growing in the fabulous hardy succulent nursery in Bavaria: good silver form.

And the enchanting red one--in the hands of  Hans Graf. He's given it to me twice and I've killed it both times...


I end with a trough that shows how they seem to be happiest in s shalllow container. The entire genus seems to have one more beautiful, useful plant after another. But none which I prefer to these rolly poly mounds of silver beauty.

The very first image in this blog is a trough done by Sandy Snyder, who taught me that these like the shallower root run. This trough was so successful that the image has been "borrowed" by many websites. I even found business cards with the image: I keep trying to recreate it (this one is no longer at my house--enough said!)..

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