Approximately 19 million years ago in the Mediterranean, a plant emerged that is considered to be the ancestor of the Aeonium. As eons passed, seed from this ancestor found its way to Canary Islands. Aeoniums have since flourished in the Canary Islands, land of legendary “Atlantis”, and of the venerable Dragon Trees (Dracena draco), the snow-capped volcano Teide, and balmy pine forests, brightly lit with canaries and parrots.

Aeoniums provide the gardener with easy-care, water-wise, yet striking accents for the garden or patio. Usually forming clusters of geometric rosettes atop taller stems, Aeoniums give the impression of a bouquet of everlasting long-stemmed roses. Some species occur as cristates, forming fascinating fan shapes of frilly leaves.

Aeonium arboreum atropurpureum ‘Zwartzkopf’, (also spelled ‘Schwartzkopf’), commonly called “Black Rose”, is a cultivar selected for its intense dark color. A standout landscape or patio plant, ‘Zwartzkopf’ forms clusters of rosettes so dark burgundy as to appear nearly black. Understandably, ‘Zwartzkopf’ has been used to create many beautiful new hybrids, including ‘Cyclops’, ‘Voodoo’, ‘Zwartkin’ and ‘Garnet’. ‘Cyclops’ forms a giant rosette of dark burgundy, with an electric green “eye”. ‘Zwartkin’ and ‘Garnet’ are siblings, the former is a beautifully concentric dark burgundy, and the latter forms a concentric rosette of rich red glittering garnet.

Aeonium ‘Sunburst’ is a perfect contrast for ‘Zwartzkopf’ and its many hybrids. This beautiful variegate forms large rosettes of lemon yellow petals with midstripes of emerald green, often blushed in rose along the edges. A few of these in the garden create the vision of irrepressible “happy faces” on even the darkest, most foreboding wintry day.

One of the more curious species is Aeonium tabulaeforme, from the coastal cliffs on Tenerife, where it grows flattened to the ground. A photo from habitat is an eerie sight, a rocky landscape sprinkled with extremely flattened, geometric, green “dinner plates”, some more than a foot in diameter!

In temperate regions, Aeoniums will grow almost all year, only resting a bit during the hottest part of summer. Bright light enhances the rich hues of the darker Aeoniums, and the subtle blushes of the other colors. The Aeonium has inherited a versatility that enhances its performance both in the garden, or as windowsill plants. Happy in just about any soil type as long as adequate drainage is provided, Aeoniums are equally at ease in both semi-arid or humid climes, and are drought resistant. Through ongoing hybridization, shapes are becoming more varied and colors are increasingly enhanced. It would appear that the “Roses” are yet evolving since their days in the land of dragons, volcanoes and canaries.

Original by Renee O’Connell
Originally published in Garden Compass magazine
Used with permission.