Sempervivum (2010)

By Chris Deem (March 2010)

Who is to say why it happened? It could have been a slight change in Earth’s orbit, or perhaps the sun just grew warmer. This change, whatever the reason, was the dawn of something new.

Of course, 18,000 years ago, ice still covered much of Europe, yet there were places that were ice-free. At that time, in one such place, a great variety of animal species spread across a certain ice-free expanse of grassland and into the surrounding mountains.

Something important seemed to be happening there. There was a quality of anticipation to the air, a brisk feeling of rebirth. In the mountains that would one day be called the Pyrenees, in a place that would one day be called France, hard little rosettes formed sharp little mats in the rocks. They would one day be call sempervivums.

These plants were hardy, succulent and very colorful. They seemed a perfect complement to the confident expectation that filled the land.

The lives of the rosettes were not long. Their brief lives ended soon after their stalks of flowers faded away. Yet all around, a multitude of small, colorful versions grew. Being adapted to drought and to the cold, they thrived. They had evolved in this meager rocky ground.

After many thousands of years, a small stone carving of a woman still lies hidden in a certain outcrop covered by Sempervivum tectorum. This tiny carving seems to carry within it the whisper of hope and fertility. Just why it was left there, I cannot say.

Most often spread by runners, these easily hybridizing rock garden favorites are found throughout Europe. They are found in Spain and in Austria, in Italy and in France. As widespread as Morocco and the Himalayas, they are often overlooked, but very successful succulent plants.

This story was written in fond memory of Roy Kasten.