Aeoniums are a genus of plants that take little to no care and look better each year.
While I generally prefer edibles, sometimes you have a space in the landscape that you just can’t find the right plant for - aeoniums might be what you need. And while they may not be a familiar flavor, many aeoniums are edible. You have seen these plants many times before, but you may be surprised to see just how lovely they can become, given the chance.
Aeonium [ay-oh-nee-um] is a group of succulents known to the Greeks as aionos, which means ageless. They earn this name because they are monocarpic, meaning each rosette produces only one flower and then it dies. Originally from the Canary Islands, Morocco, and Ethiopia, these rugged succulents can thrive in the hottest weather. They perform well in containers and can be grown indoors if they receive enough light.
Most of the aeonium plants you see today are hybrids and they can look very similar to other stonecrops, such as sedum and echeveria. The biggest difference is that aeoniums often have fine hairs or spines on the edges (margins) of the leaves. Also, the leaves, which can be rounded or pointed, tend to be somewhat thinner than echeveria. When aeonium produce a flower, it is actually an inflorescence (a cluster of flowers) on a stalk that can reach 3 feet in height. These flowers can be very striking. The surface of aeonium leaves may be fuzzy, sticky, or smooth, and the stems can be scaly, smooth, hairy, or fissured. Plants stressed by drought or sunlight may exhibit red or purple highlights. This is not a concern. It is just what they do.
Types of aeonium
Most aeonium are classified as either low-growing or large. The large varieties include A. arboreum, A. holochrysum, and A. valvredense. Low-growing varieties are A. smithii and A. tabuliforme.
Caring for aeonium
Being tropical, these plants need strong light, good drainage, and watering only after long periods of dry soil. They do need protection from freezing temperatures so some sort of cover should be provided between the first and last frost dates. Too much rain can also cause rot.
Pests and diseases of aeonium
Aphid and mealybug infestations of the plant crown (where the stem meets the roots) can often be spotted by the presence of protective ants. Since many of these plants are edible and they contain a lot of water, many herbivores will feed on them, including squirrels, tortoises, and rabbits.
Being succulents, aeonium are easy to propagate from a leaf. This is best done in autumn, when plants are actively growing. Simply take a healthy leaf from the plant and place it in good soil, in bright shade, and water occasionally. Aeoniums readily self-seed, if they are in a good location.
The range of shapes, textures, and colors make these plants easy to play with when creating a rich visual tapestry in a landscape.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!