Aeonium arboreum

This species, because it is so widespread across the Mediterranean, was well-known to John Gerarde (1633) in his ‘The Herball or Historie of Plantes’. At that time, it was considered to be a tree-Sedum(Fig. 1) but there is no doubting its identity.
Fig. 1 Aeonium arboreum as it appeared in ‘The Herball or Historie of Plantes’

Fig. 1 Aeonium arboreum as it appeared in ‘The Herball or Historie of Plantes’

It became so widespread because the stems were used to rub on fishing lines to preserve them in sea water and, even today, it is common to see colonies in traditional fishing ports. Plants often sport dark offspring offering all shades from plain green, through shades of mixed wine and green to the deepest purple and almost black (‘Schwarzkopf’). It is a perfect window-sill plant in the UK but not hardy, apart from possibly on the Channel Isles.

Fig. 2 Aeonium arboreum in habitat, the Algarve, Portugal

It is a winter grower, flowering in mid-winter and should be given a dry period in mid-summer when the rosettes close up somewhat. It is easily propagated from cuttings, best taken in September. Considering how easy it is to multiply, the prices displayed in many garden centres seem outrageous – especially for the blackest of the cultivars.

Fig. 3 The inflorescence at the same location

Figs. 2 and 3 depict a colony growing, until recently, behind an old fisherman’s hut in Carvoeiro, the Algarve, Portugal (the hut was demolished some time in the last three years). I have also spotted similar views in Majorca, Spain, Italy, Crete, Cyprus, Tunisia and France. Fig. 4. is a colourful cultivar. Not until the results of DNA studies were revealed, did we realise the origin of this species. It originally hailed from Gran Canaria. In the complex taxonomy of the genus the Gran Canarian plant had been given the name Aeonium manriqueorumwhich now of course is a superfluous synonym as A. arboreum is not only the oldest name but the type species ofAeonium.

Fig. 4 A beautifully coloured plant in cultivation


Ray Stephenson

No part of this article may be reproduced without permission. Copyright BCSS & the Author 2019

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