Whether you come across a succulent out in the wild or welcome one into your home garden as a domesticated houseplant, these plants all share an abundance of similarities. Yet, they can also be distinguished by some key characteristics. Two of the most popular examples of this wealth of differences and similarities are Sempervivum and Echeveria.
The differences between Sempervivum and Echeveria succulents are their appearance (Echeveria leaves are much thicker and wider than Sempervivum), size (Sempervivum are smaller than Echeveria, on average), flowering behavior, and offshoot patterns. Still, they share lots of similarities in their environmental preferences and growing habits.
It can be challenging to identify all the differences shared between these two species. After all, Sempervivum and Echeveria is not the name of just one plant, but a group of more than 40 and 150 species, respectively. Although these all differ in unique ways, you can apply some general differences to the two groups to help identify which is which, some of which are discussed below.
How Do You Identify Sempervivum vs. Echeveria?
At first glance, these two plants are challenging to tell apart. However, with a closer look, the differences between the two become easier to identify. Firstly, most of the differences lie in the rosettes. The primary features to focus on include.
|Color||Grey, green, blue||Grey-green, red-brown, pink, red, orange|
|Leaf Shape||Leaves are much thicker, wider than Sempervivum. Often spoon-shaped.||Much narrower than Echeveria leaves. They also have pointy tips.|
|Size||Rosettes can be ¾-20” wide in diameter.||Much smaller than Echeveria plants, measuring only 1-5” in diameter. Rosettes tend to clump together and can collectively measure at 2’ or wider.|
|Produces Offshoots?||Yes. All the “chicks” grow from one base stem and form clumps as they grow together.||Yes. Offshoots develop from a stolon (an independent stem that can root on its own), which can detach from the main plant, ultimately allowing the offshoot to grow its own root system.|
|Flowering Behavior||Flowering occurs in warmer months. Flowers are bell-shaped and can be orange, pink, or red.||Flowers during warmer months. Flowers are small and star-shaped and bloom atop fleshy stems that can measure up to 10″ tall.|
These are some of the primary features you can rely on to help you tell the differences between a Sempervivum and Echeveria plant. While it’s true that these can be helpful on their own, but there is more you need to know if you wish to raise plants from either species group successfully.
Despite the fact that they’re both succulents, a few key traits differ between their life history and care requirements. These differences, along with some similarities, are all discussed in detail below.
What is a Sempervivum Plant?
Sempervivum is a genus of several hundred (yes, you read that right: hundreds!) species of succulent plants. Although there is a wealth of variations to choose from, there are two main species that most gardeners have in their homes or yards.
- Sempervivum tectorum: This is a succulent belonging to the family Crassulaceae (the general designation of species that produce flowers). Usually, this species does best when its soil holds medium moisture levels. However, it can persist in dry living conditions, as long as the soil is well-draining. Sandy, gravelly, or otherwise coarse soil is ideal for this plant.
- Sempervivum arachnoideum: Few home gardeners realize that this specy has a history as a crucial medicinal plant in many facets of Nordic culture, especially in Sweden and Norway. It also belongs to the Crassulaceae family and is quite hardy for a houseplant. The S. arachnoideum is an evergreen perennial, preferring light, loamy, well-draining soil.
These two species hardly represent even the tip of the iceberg of Sempervivum species you might encounter in your local nursery. Although they have lots in common with each other and related plant types, they each have distinguishing features that you’ll need to understand in order to raise them successfully. Further details on these two species are discussed below.
Further Details on Sempervivum tectorum
The Sempervivum tectorum, also known by its nicknames, “Common Houseleek,” “Hens and Chicks,” and “House Leek,” is native to southern Europe’s mountain ranges. Remarkably, it has been cultivated by people for millennia and still remains as popular as ever. Domestication of S. tectorum began with the Romans, who believed that it prevented lightning strikes from harming or destroying buildings.
As a succulent, this species is widely appreciated for its versatility in the garden. You can plant it in the following garden types:
- Rock gardens
- Garden or yard borders
- As a ground cover plant
- Decorative plants on fountains or other outdoor décor
- Container gardens
No matter where you plant it, it’s best to do so with a large number of species to accompany it. This is because this plant does best when living in substantial masses of mixed-species plant groups or in dense collections of Sempervivum tectorum.
Caring for Your Sempervivum tectorum
Like most succulents, raising an S. tectorum is relatively easy and carefree. You won’t have to do too much work to keep it alive; however, you’ll still need to make sure that there are a few key details in line to ensure its health in the long run. The basics you’ll need to consider are as follows:
- Lighting: This species needs an average of 3-4 hours of sunlight daily. Please remember that this is not a full sun plant. Any more than the recommended partial sun photoperiod will more than likely kill it.
- Soil: The best soil types for this plant will depend on how you plan to grow it. For example, if you’re planning on raising it in a container, you should opt for a cactus mix. These mixes provide the perfect drainage and aeration to keep your Sempervivum happy and healthy. Instructions for DIY soil are listed toward the article’s end.
- Water: You must be careful to avoid overwatering your succulent! This will undoubtedly kill your precious Sempervivum. So, make sure to only water to a medium moisture level and let the soil dry out completely before going back to replenish the plant. If you’re growing your Sempervivum outdoors, you hardly need to do anything at all! Just let the rain quench its thirst.
- Fertilizer: Most succulents do not require much fertilizer. In fact, too much of it, especially Nitrogen, can weaken the plant’s tissue and increase its vulnerability to rotting. Still, you will need to give it a little boost now and then. When the time comes, it’s best to choose a liquid fertilizer with a Nitrogen proportion of less than 12.
- When giving your Sempervivum fertilizer, your safest bet is to dilute the liquid to ½ its concentration. Make sure to distribute the fertilizer only when necessary (during the growing season only).
Additional Information on the Sempervivum arachnoideum
S. arachnoideum hail from the European mountains that stretch from the Pyrenees to the Carpathians. These are widely known for their hardiness and adaptability. They can tolerate environmental extremes, from severely dry soil to uncomfortably hot weather to chilling temperatures.
These are more commonly known as the “cobweb house-leek” and “cobweb hens and chicks” and are visually distinguished by the strange web-like fibers that stretch across the top of the plant. These fibers can grow to quite a commendable size and depth. On the average cobweb house-leek, you’ll likely see a “dense mat” of these “webs” with dimensions of 4” H x 12” W.
Although they share similarities in the name, the S. arachnoideum behaves quite differently from the tectorum variety. Specifically, these prefer to live in full sun, quite the opposite of their cousin species. This abundance of sunlight is the secret behind its web-like structures: The more sun they get, the more likely you’ll see the webs developing in the rosette’s center. You’ll have the best growing success in:
- Rock gardens
- Container gardens
Caring for Your Sempervivum arachnoideum
Raising an S. arachnoideum isn’t too demanding. This plant will provide you with a more relaxing experience than the tectorum variety does. Why? You can be less careful about where you plant it relative to the sunlight exposure. Additional information to remember when growing your new succulent are as follows:
- Light: As mentioned previously, one of the things you’ll need to be mindful of when raising your S. arachnoideum is its affinity to full sun. It’s not as shy as its relative species, so feel free to plant it in a full-light area either in the house or out in the garden without fearing that it’ll shrivel up and wither away.
- Soil: Fortunately, most succulents can do well with the same soil type*. Ensure that it ticks all the marks before filling the pot: The soil should be well-draining, loamy, or sandy. However, do know that the soil type available to you may change based on your particular gardening style (container or in-ground) and your local soil’s natural draining capabilities.
- Water: Just like most succulents, the arachnoideum does not need too much water. It’s best to let your succulent absorb water from naturally-occurring rain or infrequent water distribution from sprinklers. If you’re watering the plants yourself, realize that you only need to water about once weekly in warm seasons and once every other week in the winter.
- Fertilizer: You can adhere to the same fertilizer requirements as you would with the species above.
*Echeveria, like Sempervivum, are shallow-rooted. This allows them to live in nearly any quality of soil, including that which is relatively poor. However, even in poor soil, you’ll need to avoid drowning your plant. Not even their shallow roots can protect them from excess moisture.
As you can see, these two widespread Sempervivum species share many similarities. However, do they share as many characteristics with Echeveria species or fewer? Below you’ll find more information on what distinguishes an Echeveria plant from the previously described species and plant family.
What is an Echeveria Plant?
On the outside, Echeveria plants look somewhat similar to Sempervivum species. However, several details separate these genera, especially in their environmental requirements. Echeveria plants originated from the semi-desert habitats stretching through North to Central America.
Their name was inspired by the botanist, Atanasio Echeverria, a primary contributor to the Flora Mexicana. The Flora Mexicana was essentially a log of all the plant species occurring throughout Mexico. It is one of the earliest written records of such biodiversity and is still incredibly useful to this day. Thanks to this text, Echeverria and other scientists discovered quite a bit about these plant species.
There are about 150 species of Echeveria plants, most of which generally prefer relatively cool environments to grow and thrive. They’re quite small in size, only measuring about 4-12″ x 6-12,” can belong to either the family Crassulaceae (like the Sempervivum), also known as Stonecrop. Another detail they share with the Sempervivum is their common name, “hens and chicks.”
These all get their hen-and-chick nickname because of their appearance. The rosettes appear to be a chicken with splayed feathers, and its ability to produce numerous offshoots for reproduction is reminiscent of chickens’ tendency to make lots of baby chicks. Aside from all these similarities, what are the most notable elements that make the Echeveria different from the Sempervivum?
Tips for Caring for an Echeveria Plant
Unlike the Sempervivum group, Echeveria plants are not as distinctive in terms of their care requirements across the genus. For instance, as you read above, the Sempervivum plants require different amounts of sunlight to grow well. In contrast, all of the top ten most popular Echeveria houseplants will thrive under the following care standards:
- Light: You’ll need to give your plant full sun, in contrast to the plants above, which require varying exposures, from partial to full sunlight. This will work for variations, including the Perle von Nurnberg, the Painted Echeveria, Topsy Turvy Echeveria, and more. A South-facing window (or the sunniest location in the home or garden) is best for these plants.
- Soil: You can follow the guidelines below to make a suitable soil mixture for your Echeveria plant. However, if you want to get straight to the point and buy the mix, make sure that it’s well-draining and loose, per the requirements for the Sempervivum species above. Experts recommend using sand for these plants above most other soil types.
- Water: It’s best to keep your Echeveria plants drier than you would a Semperverium, especially when overwintering. These are particularly susceptible to rot, so it’s best to avoid a strict watering schedule and water them only as needed instead.
- Fertilizer: The best way to fertilize your Echeveria plants is to provide a heavily diluted (about 2-4x) liquid fertilizer with low Nitrogen concentrations. Slow-release fertilizers are good as well; just remember to be conservative with the Nitrogen in both circumstances.
One of the unique things about Echeveria houseplants is the coating that envelopes the foliage. This white, powdery substance is known as “epicuticular wax” or “farina,” more casually. Many different succulents use this wax coating to protect their foliage from unwanted microorganisms, harmful solar rays, and to minimize water loss. It may even hold self-healing capabilities.
Though Sempervivum plants can have this coating, you’ll find it in Echeveria species more often. While caring for your plant, please avoid splashing water on the foliage or rubbing your fingers over the surface. Although this won’t exactly hurt your plant, it does take away its natural protective barrier. With careful handling, this can easily be avoided.
DIY Soil Requirements for Sempervivum and Echeveria Plants
As mentioned previously, these two plant groups have quite a bit in common concerning the soil specifications they require. For Sempervivum, cactus soil is the best option, while Echeveria prefers sand. In both cases, they simply need loose, well-draining soil that will prevent them from “drowning,” essentially.
However, if you want to amp up the DIY aspect of caring for your succulents, you may want to just make your own soil instead of settling for a commercial brand. If so, follow the instructions below to make a suitable substrate for both these succulent types:
- Gather the following ingredients for your soil mixture:
- Peat moss or coco coir – this will comprise 60% of the mixture
- While both of these are great, coco coir is the better option. It is a more sustainable product and is neutral in terms of pH levels, which is great for Sempervivum and Echeveria plants. (Researchers say a pH between 4-6.5 is ideal for succulents; however, others extend this to 6.5 and 7, which is neutral.
- Pumice – this accounts for 20% of the mixture
- Worm castings – as the last 20% of your soil mix, this is a great way to feed your brand-new succulent without the risk of burning the roots
- Peat moss or coco coir – this will comprise 60% of the mixture
- Pour your main (the 60% component) ingredient into a large bowl or another mixing container.
- Add enough pumice to equate to 20% of the mixture.
- Top off the mixture with a generous amount of worm castings.
- Mix up the ingredients.
Note that you have the option to either use a store-bought soil or this mixture along with additional aeration materials. Choose what works best for you. Just make sure that your plant’s roots will not be compacted.
Differences in Propagating Sempervivum and Echeveria Plants
As you may have experienced by this point, plants all have different requirements for propagation. Whether you allow the “hen” to sprout her “chicks” before separating the plants for multiplying your succulent collection, or want to get a head start and detach the leaves before then, there are a few different methods that will (or won’t) work per species. Some of these methods are described below:
- Propagating Sempervivum species: Methods for propagating this species mainly focus on separating the “chicks” and “hens.” If you see the baby plants branching off from the main plant, you can separate and replant those for successful propagation.
- Propagating Echeveria species: Large Echeveria plants rarely produce offshoots. Further, some of these species can get pretty leggy, so you’ll want to take advantage of your pruning time to take the appropriate leaves for propagation. The propagation process by beheading is a bit more involved than using offshoots, so you’ll need to consult the instructions below.
How to Propagate an Echeveria Plant by Beheading
Deciding where to cut your Echeveria plant is a bit more complicated than it is to pick off a few “pups” or “chicks” and stick them in the soil. You have to be more careful about propagating your Echeveria with rosettes. Otherwise, you risk making your plant look quite ugly or possibly killing it entirely.
By following the instructions listed here, you can keep your main Echeveria looking beautiful while maximizing its propagation potential:
- Give your Echeveria a generous watering a few days before beheading it. This is crucial for Step 6.
- Take a look at the five key areas you cut the leaves from and weigh your options. These sites of interest include:
- The very top of the plant, where the smallest leaves are gathered closely in the center of the rosettes.
- Above the lowest leaves. The detached foliage enough to become its own plant, while leaving enough foliage on the original plant to avoid significant aesthetic damage. Both will regrow just fine.
- Below most of the lowest leaves. Again, this will preserve the original plant more than options D and E and allow for the most regrowth potential for the cutting.
- The last two (D and E) are along the bottom of the stem, one being closer to the plant’s base, near the soil. These are not recommended, as the cut stem will be too small for reliable regrowth potential.
- After cutting from your desired site on the plant, replant the stem in the soil immediately.
- Position the replanted stem in the shade or a shady area. Over time, you will see the stem begin to callous and sprout some “pups.”
- Avoid watering the stem until you are sure the callous has fully formed.
- Be more generous with your watering of the Echeveria stem. Fully soak the soil as soon as it dries completely.
- For the detached head of rosettes, keep it out of soil until roots begin to appear. Store it in a brightly shaded (not in direct light) area until then.
- The water stored in the leaves will sustain the plant until it is either calloused or rooted enough to be planted. This time can vary widely, from just a few days to several months, depending on your species.
Sempervivum vs. Echeveria: Dying After Flowering?
Another major difference between Sempervivum and Echeveria plants is their behavior after flowering. As mentioned above, both species belong to the family, Crassulaceae, which are all flowering plants. However, just because they’re in the same plant family doesn’t mean the process of seeding and blooming plays out similarly between the two.
Sempervivum plants are known as “monocarpic” species, meaning that they can produce flowers once. After that first individual flower and seeds have sprouted, the “mother” plant will die off. This is why the Sempervivum succulents produce so many “chicks.” By the time they’ve flowered and are ready to die, they’ve made enough baby plants to take their place.
On the other hand, Echeveria are polycarpic plants, meaning that they can produce multiple flowers and sets of seeds without dying. This is why you’re more likely to propagate these plants using the beheading method described above, as opposed to separating offshoots as you would with the Sempervivum.
Still, please understand that you can still use this method to propagate Echeveria. They still produce offshoots that can be separated from the main plant. In fact, the California Cactus Center even refers to them as the “true hens and chicks.” However, since they’re able to reproduce repeatedly, these plants have a lot more flexibility in propagation and overall longevity.
Sempervivum and Echeveria plants are highly distinguishable species that share quite a few similarities that can make it a bit tough to tell them apart. The main differences you’ll find between these two are as follows:
- Color of the foliage
- Shapes of the leaves
- Size of the rosettes
- Flowering and offshoot behavior
- Propagation techniques
Still, despite these differences, you can care for them using similar techniques. For instance, they tend to share the same standards for soil requirements (although Echeveria prefers sandy soils more than Sempervivum). Neither are too demanding in terms of watering. With this guide, you’ll be able to tell the difference between the two with just a glance, and know how to care for each appropriately.