Echeveria are succulents native to Texas, Mexico, and Central America.
While most stonecrops are not edible (my plants of choice), these plants serve well in gardens and landscapes, protecting areas that would otherwise go unplanted. They require very little care, are drought tolerant, and easy to propagate.
It can be difficult to distinguish between different types of succulent plants. They nearly all grow in a rosette shape, have thick, rubbery or waxy leaves, and tend to have hairs or spines. They also tend to spread, self-propagating wherever conditions are favorable. Echeveria, in particular, tend to reproduce by generating stalked offspring, called ‘offsets’, that appear from underneath in a behavior frequently called ‘hen and chicks’. Echeveria are polycarpic, which means they can produce flowers multiple times. In winter, many echeveria plants lose their leaves, though not all.
Echeveria pests and disease
Rot and frost are problems for echeveria. Frost, particularly after a rain, can kill most succulents. Leaves that have begun dying off should be removed to avoid spreading fungal disease throughout the plant. Mealybugs and aphids can be troublesome.
Nearly all succulents, or stonecrops, can be propagated from a single, healthy leaf. Simply break it off and lay it on loose soil and water regularly. Once roots develop, you can plant it wherever it will receive plenty of sun. You can also break off an offset and transplant it where you want it. Non-hybrids can also be started from seed.
Growing conditions can cause extreme variations in shape, size, and color. If you can’t grow food, grow plants that take as little care, food, and water as possible. Echeveria certainly fits the bill.
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.
Often yanked out as a weed, purslane is decidedly edible.
Common purslane (Portulaca oleracea) requires little or no care in our California gardens and landscape. Also known as pigweed, pursley, and fatweed, this prostrate spreading succulent is an excellent addition to salads and sandwiches, plus it makes for a refreshing snack as you work in the garden! The leaves and young stems are crisp, moist, and lemony, something akin to spinach and watercress. Common purslane is not to be confused with Winter purslane (Claytonia perfoliata), also known as Miner’s lettuce. The two plants are very different, aside from both being edible.
Purslane is filled with lots of good nutrients. It has especially high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. According to Mother Earth News, purslane contains, “six times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots.“ Purslane provides high levels of antioxidants and vitamins A and C, along with potassium, iron, and magnesium.
Purslane also contains pectin, which allows it to be used in cooking as a thickener (and helps reduce cholesterol). When overcooked, it may become slimy, like okra, so crushing the leaves is a good idea when adding it to soups and stews. If cooked lightly, purslane can also be used in stir fry dishes. That being said, oxalates are also present, so purslane should not be eaten by people prone to kidney stones.
While purslane is an annual, it is well equipped to reproduce without human intervention. According to Sonoma Master Gardener Stephanie Wrightson, a single purslane plant can produce “240,000 seeds, which may germinate after 5 to 40 years” so it is a good idea to monitor the plants for seed production if you want to get rid of purslane and you’re in luck if you don’t! Purslane seeds love freshly turned soil, as it brings them closer to moisture and sunlight.
While common purslane grows in a horizontal mat, you can also buy seeds for garden purslane (Portulaca oleracea) or golden purslane (Portulaca sativa). These plants are more upright in their growth (up to 18 inches tall) and the leaves are larger and more tender.
To grow purslane seeds, plant them 4 to 6 inches apart, only about 1/4 inch deep. Keep them moist until they have germinated and put out some mature growth. Once established, the leaves and stems can be harvested at any time. Purslane can also be grown in containers, indoors or out, and it makes an attractive windowsill garden addition. Frost will kill the current generation.
While I have never seen any pests or diseases affecting the purslane in my yard, there is a weevil, (Hypurus bertrandi), also known as portulaca leafminer that is known to attack purslane in California. There is also a purslane sawfly (Schizocerella pilicornis) that is found in California.
An interesting note: purslane harvested in the morning is crisper, while the same plant harvested in the afternoon is sweeter. Purslane can handle dry and irrigated locations. Personally, I encourage it under my fruit trees. The plants cover the ground, protecting it from erosion, other weeds, and water loss, while the shallow roots do not seem to interfere with the trees. This living mulch serves me well in the garden and in the kitchen!
Do you have purslane in your garden? Have a nibble and let us know what you think in the comments!
No, we a re not talking about growing rocks. Instead, stonecrops are a family of plants that perform especially well in hot, dry, rocky areas.
The stonecrop, or orpine, family is a group of herbaceous succulent dicotyledons that can sometimes appear as shrubs. They are commonly referred to as sedums. There is debate over just how many members of the stonecrop (Crassulaceae) family exist, but there are well over 1300 species. Nearly all varieties of stonecrop can be propagated from a single leaf, simply by laying it on some moist soil and watering regularly until roots are established.
Stonecrops have been around for nearly 100 million years. Some varieties are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in winter, while others are evergreen. Most are low-growing, perennial ground covers that require little or no care.
Stonecrops in the garden
Areas facing drought are perfect for stonecrop plants. They need very little soil and can store water in their fleshy leaves to carry them through difficult times. The only weather that threatens stonecrops is freezing temperatures after a rain. The plants will absorb all that water and, as temperatures drop below freezing, the expanding water will rupture the plant cells and turn the leaves into black mush. Stonecrops exposed to freezing weather should be given some sort of cover as protection. For the rest of us, our stonecrop plants can thrive just about any time of year. If water becomes particularly scarce, a stonecrop’s leaves will wither and turn leathery, but they will swell back to normal as soon as water becomes available. Stonecrops make excellent border, container, xeriscape, rock, and windowsill garden plants. The flowers provide lovely accents that are appreciated by pollinators and nectar drinkers. Many stonecrop plants are edible, but be sure to properly identify research any plants before taking a bite.
While all stonecrops have fleshy leaves with a thick, waxy cuticle, the variety of shapes and colors make these plants excellent low-maintenance additions to practically any landscape. Their geometric patterns can be quite lovely. While Jade plants are one of the most common stonecrops, many sedum plants are recognized for their beauty and ease of care. The shares of these amazing plants is so striking that potted collections can often be sold for well over $100. As easy as these plants are to propagate, however, there is no need to spend that kind of money. Find a friend who already has a few specimens, trade some of your own, and get creative with a container or garden location!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!