Succulents are the hottest trend in plants. Miniature succulents in cute pots grace many a dorm or office window. Many Millennials, 37% of whom grow indoor plants (as opposed to only 28% of Baby Boomers), have embraced and fueled the succulent fervor. Instagram’s “#succulents” hashtag alone has over 6.5 million posts. Related hashtags, like #succulent, #succulenta, and #succulentsofinstagram hold millions more. Cacti and sedums have become an international, Instagrammable obsession.
The term “succulent” grew from Latin roots, from sucus, meaning juice or sap, which is close to the Latin verb sugere, meaning to suck. Succulents are plants that have a long-term storage system for water and nutrients, often consisting of fleshy parts in the stem or leaves. “Succulent” is the umbrella category for multiple varieties of plants, including but not limited to the cactus. A cactus is a succulent, but so are the purple yam plant (Dioscorea alata) Busy Lizzies (Impatiens) and False Shamrocks (Oxalis triangularis). Succulents are easy to take care of and can have interesting silhouettes and textures, making them popular plants for young and busy families.
Sedum plants are leafy succulents (as opposed to spiky cacti) that can be grown outdoors practically anywhere in the contiguous US (Plant hardiness zones 3-11). Some can grow even in very the hot temperatures of South America and the African continent. The leaves of sedum plants serve as water storage containers, thus earning these plants membership in the succulents club.
Often referred to as “stonecrops,” sedums boast about 470 species. Some stonecrops are shrubs that are great as tall border plants, like Autumn Joy. Others sedums are used for ornamental groundcover, like Sedum spathulifolium, a flowering stonecrop. Cape Blanco is a good example. Many sedums are perennials that can be used in different ways for different purposes in the garden. In general, sedums require little maintenance but will flourish in spaces with full sun and very well-drained soil.
Low-maintenance sedums need little water, making them ideal for dry climates. Many have bright, blooming flowers that can bring splashes of color to the garden. Another bonus is their tendency to bring pollinators like butterflies and bees. The three types of sedums are border plants (tallest variety with 1- to 2-foot stems), creeping ground covers, and trailing plants, often kept decoratively indoors.
Landscape designers love sedums for their fast growth rate, ability to fight off weeds and their colorful foliage. Turn to Part II for suggestions on incorporating this hardy plant into your landscape and garden.