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Aeoniums are odd looking succulent plants, with long, arching stems and rosettes of leaves that can often look so perfect, you might think they were fake. You'd be forgiven if you had to touch one to tell if it was real or rubbery plastic. There are about 35 species, and most are native to the Canary Islands. They prefer a Mediterranean climate—not too hot, not too cold, not too dry.
The plants form fleshy rosettes, and you will notice a similarity between Aeoniums and several other succulent plants, most noticeably Echeveria and Sempervivum, the popular Hens and Chicks. Aeoniums can be low growers or branching plants that grow into shrubs.
- Leaves: Rosettes with somewhat rounded leaves. Stems can be short and stubby or long and branched. Leaves can be solid colors or variegated in white, yellow, red and green.
- Flowers: Flowers stems emerge from the center of the rosettes. The small, star-like flowers grow in clusters.
The genus Aeonium does not have a common name.
Most Aeonium varieties are only hardy in USDA Zones 9-11, although they can withstand occasional frosts down to about 25̊ F (-4̊ C).
As with most succulents, Aeonium plants grow best in full sun to partial shade. In hot summers and desert conditions, light shade may be necessary.
Mature Plant Size
Size will vary greatly with variety. Some Aeonium varieties are low growing and get only a few inches tall, with rosettes an inch or two across. Others will branch out and grow 3-4 feet tall with plate-sized rosettes.
Most Aeonium bloom in late winter or spring.
Using Aeonium in Your Garden Design
When grown in the garden, Aeoniums command the most attention in masses. Tall varieties can look like bonsai when they get shrubby. You can trim them if they get leggy. The cuttings will readily root and make new plants, helping you fill out your planting area.
Needing so little soil, Aeoniums make great container plants. You can get a closer look at their unique features in containers, and have better control over their growing conditions. In high humidity or rainy areas, you may not need to water them, although they do need regular water. Keep close tabs on them and use your judgment. Using regular potting soil, rather than a fast draining soil for succulents, will help maintain their moisture level.
Suggested Aeonium Varieties
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- Aeonium arboreum – Widely available. Bright green rosettes on a branching stem.
- Aeonium arboreum "Atropurpureum:: Maroon leaves if grown in bright light.
- Aeonium arboreum "Zwartkop": Very dark, almost black leaves.
- Aeonium "Garnet": A hybrid of "Zwartkop," with red leaves.
- Aeonium davidbramwelli "Sunburst'": Rosettes up to 1 foot across. Pale yellow, white and green stripes, with pink tips. Can handle some frost.
- Aeonium haworthii "Tricolor" or "Kiwi": Easy growing. 4-inch flowers have pale yellow centers when young, maturing to red and green.
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Growing and Caring for Aeoniums
Aeoniums do not like hot or dry weather. They may go dormant in summer and do not require any water, except in excessively dry conditions. In extreme heat, their leaves will curl, to prevent excessive water loss.
Growing them in moist shade will keep them growing in high heat, but their true growth season is winter to spring, when temperatures are cool (65–75 F.) and damp.
In the winter, water whenever the soil has dried out. Test by poking your finger down into the soil an inch or two. Too much moisture or allowing them to sit in wet soil will cause root rot.
A sandy loam or regular potting mix is better than a mix specifically for succulents and cacti since Aeonium need some moisture. If you are growing them in containers, re-pot every 2 –3 years with fresh potting soil.
Feed during the growing season with a half-strength balanced fertilizer, every month or so. Do not feed while dormant.
Caring for Your Plants
If you have the proper growing conditions, Aeonium will take care of themselves and thrive on neglect. Otherwise, your major task will be moving them from hot sun to shade and back again or moving them indoors when the temperature drops too low.
Aeonium have underdeveloped root systems since they store their water in their leaves and stems. They can produce roots along their stems, which you may notice if the plant gets pot bound or the stems fall and touch the soil. The stem roots will quickly turn the fallen pieces into new plants.
Leggy branches do tend to fall over and snap off, from the weight of the rosettes. If this happens, you can re-plant the broken stem.
Most Aeoniums die after flowering. If the plant has produced side shoots, those side shoots will live on. If not, the entire plant will die off. That's why it is nice to start new plants from cuttings periodically. You can also start new plants from the seed.
Pests and Problems
Few pests bother Aeoniums. Slugs can do some damage, and the occasional bird may take a bite.