Most people don’t think about September as a major highpoint for flowering plants. Especially here in Rye, where April through June brings a veritable parade of forsythia, lilacs, bridal wreath, magnolias, hydrangeas, azaleas, rhododendrons, and the like.
By Bill Lawyer
Most people don’t think about September as a major highpoint for flowering plants. Especially here in Rye, where April through June brings a veritable parade of forsythia, lilacs, bridal wreath, magnolias, hydrangeas, azaleas, rhododendrons, and the like. Yes, we’ve got mums, but many people just buy them in bloom in September and throw them out in November.
But in recent years I’ve become more aware of a perennial plant that doesn’t start flowering until late August and September – sedums.
With a common name of “stonecrop”, many low-growing species are considered to be dull and unobtrusive. Their major benefit is that they are able to survive for long periods with very little water. Their leaves and stems act as reservoirs, holding on to water during wet periods, so that they can use it during dry periods. Sort of like vegetative versions of camels, whose humps help slow the release of moisture from their bodies.
In fact, sedums are so good at retaining water that they are the “plant of choice” in the design of green roofs.
What is a green roof, you may ask? One that has plants on it, so that the rain falling on them is retained at the roof level, rather than being diverted into a storm drain and then out into a local stream or river, where the stormwater can contribute to flooding and pollution. A small green-roof installation was set up at Rye High School two years ago.
Sedums also are used as an alternative or addition to green roofs – as part of a rain garden. Here, the water hitting the roof is diverted by a gutter and downspout (or “rain chain”) to a special garden retaining area that gives the sedums and other plants an opportunity to absorb the runoff before it, well, runs off.
The leaves of various species of sedums have been used by traditional cultures in salads in Europe and North America, but it’s an acquired, somewhat sour taste. The larval (caterpillar) forms of several species of American butterflies are known to feed on sedum leaves.
Here in the Northeast we’ve got many varieties of sedums that spend the spring and summer very quietly growing away, eventually forming tight buds that look like little green flower balls. But then, about the middle of August, these buds start to open, and out come an array of beautiful flowers, flowing with nectar to attract all kinds of bees, butterflies, and other kinds of flying insects.
These plants can handle hot, direct sunlight – in fact they seem to thrive on it. In my yard, they grew from what looked like ground cover to having stalks about two feet high or better.
According to master gardener Marie Iannotti, some of the popular, colorful varieties of sedums include:
‘Autumn Joy’ – A favorite because it is such a wonderful, beautiful performer
Spectabile ‘Brilliant’ – A clearer pink than most sedum flowers
‘Vera Jamison’ – Burgundy leaves and mauve flowers with a trailing habit
‘Black Jack’ – Deep burgundy, almost black foliage, and strong upright habit
‘Cloud Nine’ – Variegated foliage.
The flowers are big, and showy. Who says that being “green” has to be green? As I sit on our patio watching the bees and other insects at work on the ‘Autumn Joy’ plants we started in the spring, I can’t help but think that sedums are really a wonder plant.