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Thursday, 7/10/2008 4:02 pm


Spectacular succulents like it dry

By Christine Scott - North Island MidWeek - July 07, 2008
NewS.22.20080707120142.JDStonecrop1_20080709.jpg
Photograher Jim Dubois found this luscious clump of wild Oregon stonecrop growing in cement near the Campbell River freshwater marina. Stonecrop’s plump foliage may be green or richly bronzed in colour. (JD stonecrop 2.jpg) The plump, fleshy leaves of Oregon stonecrop allow it to endure hot, dry conditions. (JD stonecrop macro.jpg) Microscopic red spider mites feast on succulent stonecrop flowers. Photos by Jim Dubois

 

 Mention the word “succulent” and plants might not be the first thing that springs to mind.

A juicy steak...now that’s succulent. Still, with water-savings such a hot topic these days, it might be time to consider the virtues of succulent plants.

Succulent is the name given to a variety of juicy plants belonging to a variety of plant families. Some of the better-known succulents include aloe, cactus, agave and yucca, but not all succulents are cacti.

Plant succulence is an evolutionary modification to extreme heat and a dry, arid environment. One family of wild native plants – stonecrops – may be found growing in the most inhospitable environs: in a pavement crack, a pile of concrete, a gravel heap, a rocky slope or seaside in a thimbleful of sand.

Stonecrops (sedums) are succulent plants possessing pudgy, swollen leaves filled with juice; this adaptation allows the plant to retain and store water over long periods of time. The star-shaped golden flowers, resembling saxifrage, are literally dew-kissed, filled with juicy nectar.

Nectar-seeking fauna such as butterflies must think they’ve found the land of milk and honey upon finding stonecrop. Thirsty red spider mites (Tetranychus urticae) thrive on stonecrop juice.

In the Pacific Northwest, four Sedums are commonplace: Oregon stonecrop, spreading stonecrop, broad-leaved stonecrop and lance-leaved stonecrop. All grow as perennials on ledges, rocky ridges, scree outcrops or other dry open sites.

Long ago, sedums were nicknamed “live-long” because they remain fresh long after they are picked. “Sedum” comes from the Latin “sedeo,” to sit, referring to the succulents’ squatty habit of attaching to stones and rocks.

The name “stonecrop” derives from an Old English word meaning “that which is gathered off stones.”

The future looks bright for our beloved stonecrops. Due to their ability to withstand heat and retain water, stonecrops rushed to the forefront of the “green” rooftop movement, along with a variety of BC native plants including: wild onions, brodiaea, common camas lilies and bearberry.

The benefits of a planted roof are many: thermal insulation, improved air quality, reduced urban heat, and deflection of noise. Plants in soil return moisture to the atmosphere through the processes of evaporation and transpiration. Possibly the number-one reason to take green living to the rooftops is to create habitat and refuge for flora and fauna. Butterflies, ladybugs and other wildlife flock to lush rooftop gardens; this ecological compensation cannot be underestimated, particularly within our concrete jungles.

Long before the concept of green rooftops, First Nations groups ate stonecrop to alleviate thirst and hunger, and some stonecrops are still cultivated for food use in Holland.

As a salad green, stonecrop is said to be peppery, thus another nickname “wall-pepper.” Gardeners know stonecrops as attractive, hardy plants, non-invasive and tidy, that will grow in a hot spot without care in barely a speck of sand.

These rock-hugging perennials with starry yellow flowers will surely be valued more and more as the precious resource of water becomes increasingly scarce.

Christine’s trail guides “Nature Campbell River” and “Nature Strathcona” are available at Save-on Foods and local bookstores. E-mail wildernesswest@shaw.ca