The Resilience of “Live Forever” Plants

Sedum (Hylotelephium) Autumn Glory 9 03

Life’s transitory nature becomes especially evident during moments of loss, like attending the funeral of a young niece. Such occasions prompt deep reflection on our own mortality. In these contemplative moments, my mind drifts to plants colloquially known as “live forever” plants.

Every gardener understands that life is fleeting. Some plants prove more resilient than others, exhibiting a capacity to persist despite formidable challenges. While certain species wither under stress, others thrive with remarkable adaptability. These tenacious survivors, aptly referred to as “live forever” plants, possess a unique ability to endure.

Plant vulnerability arises from various stressors, including temperature, light, water, nutrition, aeration, and a host of persistent pests. The ability of certain plants to withstand these demands may seem insurmountable. In contrast, plants with narrow environmental requirements struggle to adapt.

Within my own garden, I cultivate an unsightly clump of old-fashioned fall-flowering sedum, formerly known as Hylotelephium spectabile. Originating from my grandmother’s storm shelter in Oklahoma, these plants earned their reputation as “live forever” due to their resilience. Thriving even in parched, sunny locations, these Chinese species endure the harshest conditions Mother Nature throws at them. However, they too can succumb to the encroaching shade cast by overgrown trees.

Another example of a “live forever” plant is the Hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum sp.). Belonging to the Crassulaceae family, which boasts a group of plants well-adapted to arid regions, this species is aptly named. Its detachable rosettes allow for natural vegetative regeneration, further enhancing its longevity.

While drought poses a significant stressor for most garden plants, these two resilient species have developed adaptive strategies. Their succulent leaves store water reserves, providing them with a survival advantage. Additionally, they exhibit a unique tolerance for wet soils, a characteristic rare among plants with extreme drought resistance. This adaptability proves invaluable for gardeners in regions that experience winter-wet and summer-dry conditions.

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Cultivating “live forever” plants is relatively straightforward. They thrive in sunny locations with reasonably fertile soil. However, it is crucial to provide appropriate care. Hens-and-chicks, for instance, benefit from occasional fertilization to sustain growth. Likewise, old sedum clumps require division every few years to replenish the nutrient-depleted soil they inhabit. With vigilant attention and minimal care, many resilient garden plants can exhibit extraordinary longevity.

Discover more about horticulture, or explore other fascinating Plant of the Week columns by visiting the Ames Farm Center website. Alternatively, reach out to your local county extension agent for personalized advice. The Cooperative Extension Service, a division of the U of A Division of Agriculture, is always ready to assist you on your gardening journey.