Friday, August 17, 2007

Stone Roses in Bloom

A few months ago I was walking down Twelfth Street past the thrift store operated by an AIDs charity and noticed that the stone roses clustered on the rock wall were sprouting long, phallic protuberances. They seemed odd, emerging so emphatically from the center of those rose-like petals and even more strange when a few days later the top of the fleshy stalk burst forth in red flowers. It gave me a whole new perspective on male orgasm.

But of course, all flowers are in the business of procreation. Just this week, the plants on my balcony went through this same stirring process. I inherited these plants from a gardener at my p-patch who kept them in a stone vase. Very appropriate for their taste (they like to grow on stone) and texture.

The actual botanical name of the plant is sempervivum tectorum. I call them stone roses. Most people call them hens and chicks, a name which baffles me for they don’t at all resemble hens and chicks. Paghat, my authority on many gardening questions, says it is because the central rosette is surrounded by many small rosettes like a hen and her checks (another common name is Cat and Kittens). Other names for these plants include houseleek (they were grown on (slate?) roofs), Thor’s Eye and Jove’s Beard (especially when they are in their phallic mode). According to Paghat, they were called “Welcome Husband” in Dorset where they were grown near the front door so they would be the first thing the husband saw upon coming home from the fields, thus rejuvenating his own member with their exuberant uplift.

They are also said to provide protection from lightning when planted on the roof. That might be because they are under the patronage of the lightning and thunder God, because their leaves (like those of most succulents contain a lot of water, thus preventing a fire) or because the lightning would surely strike the upraised stalk rather than the roof itself.

I went back to snap a few pictures of the plants on Twelfth Street and found the store had closed and the houseleeks had moved on to a new phase: the stalks and flowers had dried, after an enthusiastic proliferation. Apparently, after the bloom, the central rosette is often exhausted and dies back, but if it has produced many chicks, they will live on.


Anonymous said...

Hello from Ljubljana, Slovenia,

Lovely photo!

I myself have 1.500 DIFFERENT sempervivums and I am still looking for new ... I lack some 2.500 cultivars and species, than my collection will be complete.

Best wishes, Renee

Lorena B. Moore said...

One common name for these succulents is "stonecrop" because they seem to grow on rocks (actually they are growing in the cracks, or in thin soil layers and cryptobiotic crust on the rocks). We have the beautiful wild Graptopetalum in SE Arizona:
These are giants among stonecrops, second only to coastal California's spectacular Dudleyas.


Waverly Fitzgerald said...

I'm an amateur at sempervirens, but I do love to collect things (mostly books). It was great to hear that you love them so much you have 2,500 cultivars and species and I send you good wishes for completing your collection.

Thanks for your comment. I so love your web site, I was delighted to find you posting pictures of your stonecrops to mine. Alas, I can't get the link to work. When I go to the cactus pictures on your website, I see only the tag for your website. Am I doing something wrong?