Sedum Society

Sedum cepaea lives on by Gordon Rowley

Figure 8. An average self-sown seedling of S. cepaea invading a potted magnolia (about twice natural size). Photographs by the author.

Sedum cepaea L. has been with me for more years than I can remember. It survived the move from Harrow to Reading in 1968 without any help from me and has since been taken for granted under the category "tolerable decorative weed", with the added perk that it is at least a genuine succulent so not to be outed. Seedlings are likely to appear anywhere in dry spots in sun or shade, especially favouring pots and troughs (see Figures 8 and 9) or chinks in the pathway. It is monocarpic, flowering once and then dying, and annual inasmuch as the seed germinates one year, over-winters and leaps into flower the following summer. Lush growth can give a clump up to 15 cm across, and each rosette gives its all in a dense, erect panicle to about 30 cm tall with hundreds of tiny white to pink starry flowers with 10 purplish anthers. Orostachys has a similar lifestyle.

Sedum cepaea is said to be widespread through central and southern Europe to Turkey, Crete and North Africa, and in the UK is naturalised in parts of Bucking-hamshire. Dioscorides (Gunther 1954: 393) called it KEPAIA, but the significance of the name is not clear: it is more likely to be from the Greek KEPOS, a garden, than from CEPA, an onion. He likens it to purslane (Portulaca oleracea) and tells us that the leaves "drank with wine doe help ye strangury-sick [painful urination], and such as have a scabbed bladder." Don't try this at home! The earliest British record seems to be Parkinson's of 1640, quoted from Mattioli (see Figure 10). He gives a bit of practical gardening advice: "If it rise not of the shed seede (which usually it doth if it be suffered to fall) it must bee new sowne every yeare".

"Interesting but not very exciting", was the verdict of Will Ingwersen on Sedum cepaea in his Sedum booklet of 1944, but nurserymen are more likely to get excited over perennials with more immediate sales appeal. And there are sedums much less exciting than this (but don't breathe a word to Ray!).

Figure 9. Sedum cepaea at its moment of glory in
a cold frame doing its best to smother
Delosperma nubigena hybrids


  • Gunther, R.T. 1934. The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides. Oxford.
  • Ingwersen, W.E.T. 1944. Alpine & Rock Garden Plants No9. The Genus Sedum. East Grinstead.
  • Parkinson, J. 1640. Theatrum Botanicum, London