With all the attention being given to the crepe myrtle that has appeared a year after I had tried to cut it out of the two front driveway beds, I had not realized what was going on right beside the crepe. I knew one of the Hen and chick plants had produced a stalk, but I did not know what that meant. When Melissa saw it, she immediately said, “How cool, it is growing a death bloom!” While I did think the emerging stalk was cool, I did not like the ominous sound of “death bloom.” After all the work I have put in trying to keep these plants alive through the freeze of winter and the heat of summer, now it appeared it was going to die anyway. At least it was doing so on its own terms.
When I looked online, I found Hen and chick (Sempervivum) varieties are not typically known for their flowers, and many are unaware these succulents even produce flowers. A rosette is the typical form of Hen and chick plant. When the center of the hen rosette starts to grow upwards you know it is the beginning of the end. The center of the plant will push up until it turns into a flower stalk. Finally, the leaves on the end of the stalk will peel back to reveal a cluster of buds, and the buds will bloom into pink flowers. While these are normally low-growing plants, but the flower stalk can grow from a few inches (7.5 to 10 cm) up to a foot (30.5 cm) in length. The blooming stalk on the plant is called a “rooster.”
Hen and chick are one of several types of succulents known as Monocarpic (once-fruiting), that bloom once and then die. This generally does not happen until the center rosette is at least four years old and many pups (chicks) have been produced. I noted our plant had already produced 11 pups, even though it had only been the ground for less than a year. When a monocarpic succulent is throwing out a death bloom, it stretches taller and the lower leaves can start to look shabby, because all the energy is going to making the flower. A death bloom is recognizable from other succulent blooms, as it comes from the very center (apex) of the plant. If you see a bloom stalk (inflorescence) coming from somewhere else, it is a normal bloom, and the plant will not die. Another oddity occurring in our anomalous yard.
Thoughts: It never ceases to amaze me how much happens in the world of nature to which I had never paid much attention. That is true for the rooster growing on our Sempervivum, the bird and squirrel battles over my backyard feeders, and the varieties of our perennials that provide a legacy to ancestors. I have always been interested in nature, but more so in knowing “how it works.” Identifying birds, growing vegetables, and nurturing succulents are not going to make us rich or make a dent in the ills of the world, but they do make a difference in understanding how to live my life. Mark Twain is quoted saying, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” That is an adage on which to base your life. Do the work. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.