Article written by Bob Reidmuller, Altman Plants
Published as part of the Altman Plants Monthly newsletter March 2015 – Click Here to Subscribe
From fall until late spring, when most succulents are in a state of dormancy, Aeoniums, native primarily to the Canary Islands, are marching to a different drummer. They are summer dormant and the cooler months in mild climate areas are their time to shine. With the myriad of succulents that all offer incredible beauty and interest, it is the Aeonium that usually gets the most gasps of awe when seen for the first time.
Depending on the species, cultivar or hybrid, they present themselves as small (1”) to giant (10”+) rubber roses or starbursts, most often held above the rest of the succulent garden on stems 1’-3’ tall. The colors range from many shades of green to nearly black, magenta, variegated white, cream, and yellow, and pink or red margined. There are also several species that hug the ground like giant lily pads or big green bowls.
As they approach the end of their season in late fall and early summer, most will put on an incredible true floral display with an erupting giant cone-shaped flower spike covered with hundreds if not thousands of typically bright yellow flowers. Most Aeoniums are monocarpic, meaning they die after flowering. For un-branching species (this is particularly evident in the single rosette ground huggers) this means the death of the entire plant and new plants are only created by germination of the seeds. Most species and hybrids that are branched or produce basal offsets avoid this fate.
Yes, they are summer dormant and typically lose nearly every leaf if left to their own designs, but the truth is that with casual watering and a little shade if possible, through the summer they can often stay fairly full and presentable. If in a pot or container they can also be moved to a shadier, cooler location and again, with just a casual bit of water they can still look great. Their preference is cooler temperatures but this does not mean cold, they do require protection from frost. It has been noted that a frost in the upper 20’s for about 5 to 6 hours can cause some severe damage but there is a slight chance they can come back.
Recent hybridizing has created some noteworthy new additions to the Aeonium community. Keep an eye out for ‘Kermit’, ‘Party Platter’, ‘Mardis Gras’, and ‘Lily Pad’!