Sedum ternatum - Cactus Club

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Sedum ternatum

Plant of the Month > Species Q to S

    Sedums are a diverse and widespread group of leaf succulents belonging to the Crassulaceae, or Crassula family, which also includes the Crassulas, Sempervivums, Echeverias, Graptopetalums and Kalanchoes .  While sedums may range from tiny plants to shrub sized giants, averages sized plants are typically spreading plants from a few inches tall to more upright plants growing to about 2 feet in height. Sedums frequently grow in dry and exposed areas in crevices and in rocky or gravely soils, as is reflected in its common name “Stonecrop”. In past treatments, over 600 species had been recognized, but in more recent classifications, about 470 species are indicated, some of this is the result of consolidation, and some is due to moving some species into other genera.  Sedums occur predominately in the northern hemisphere, extending south of the equator only in Africa and South America. They are distinguished by their flowers which typically bear 5 sepals and petals, and 10 anthers, although some species may bear 4, or 6 pairs of sepals and petals, and 8 or 12 anthers respectively.

     Well known to gardeners, sedums have been widely grown as attractive and reliable ground covers, with a handful of species being grown as attractive houseplants

    Sedum ternatum, alias the “Wild Stonecrop” is a widespread species originating from the eastern United States and north, just into southeastern Canada. Plants are typically found growing in the moist soils of river valleys and creek margins; usually growing in shaded and partially shaded wooded areas. This is a spreading species, growing upwards of 8 inches tall, and spreading to about a foot across – although the majority of plants are usually about half this size. Multiple stems are produced from a perennial rootstock, but do not typically re-branch along their length. Stems typically root as they spread, establishing daughter plants as they grow. Leaves are produced in whorls of 3. The leaves are of 2 shapes: leaves on the vegetative stems are larger, and nearly round, while the leaves on the flowering portions of stems are smaller, and are typically of a rhomboid shape. In spring, plants produce attractive 3 and 4 branched cymes of starry white flowers with dark brown to purplish-black anthers. Unlike most of the sedums, which produce flowers with 5 petals and 10 anthers, the flowers of this species produce 4 petals with 8 anthers. This appears to be the only species of sedum which is native to Ohio (other related members of the Crassula famly, Penthorum sedoides “Ditch Stonecrop” and Hylotelephium telephioides “Allegheny Stonecrop” are also native to Ohio).  While this species is considered to be fairly common, and widespread, in my experience, it is not easy to spot in the wild. I am familiar with a number of gardens where it is grown, and have encountered plants which I suspect to have been garden escapes, I have only managed to locate this plant in the wild on one occasion during a hike on the margins of Leesville Lake in northeastern Ohio. More than likely, this species is much more common than my experience would indicate: plants out of bloom are difficult to spot, and even plants in full bloom can be hidden beneath larger plants. I suspect that the “Wild Stonecrop” also prefers somewhat more acidic soils than we have here in Columbus, and may be more common in regions with sandstone and granitic bedrock. While other species of sedum have become naturalized in the state, the “Wild Stonecrop” can be easily distinguished by several traits, including the whorled leaves in clusters of 3, and the 4 petaled flowers with 8 anthers

    As with all sedums, this is an easy plant to propagate and establish in the garden. Cuttings root readily, and in time can colonize a good area in just a few seasons. While this plant is highly adaptable, and easy to grow, it shows a marked preference for sites which are shaded, with fertile and somewhat moist soils. In years past, it grew well in the dapple shade at the margins of my bamboo garden, but also showed promise as a good ground cover for dryer shaded areas beneath shade trees, and along foundations. As with many other sedums, this plant will die back completely to the roots in fall and winter, but will readily produce significant growth in spring.

    While this is not the most showy of the sedum species, the “Wild  Stonecrop” is a particular favorite of mine: it is a native plant, which is adapted to woodland areas –a rare trait amongst our native succulent species. While few commercial growers offer it, some of the specialist nurseries, including the Glasshouse Works, and Arrowhead Alpines have offered this plant in their catalogs. It may also be available from local nurseries specializing in native species. It is a fairly popular plant among devoted gardeners, so even if it is difficult to locate in the trade, members of area garden cubs may be able provide cuttings. If you are a collector of our native woodland wildflowers, this plant will deserve a place in your garden.

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