A perennial herb that is hardy in zones 4-8, is 3-6 inches tall, 1 foot wide, with red/purple, blue-green, or yellow leaves, and blooms in pink and yellow flowers. It blooms in summer. It is drought tolerant and deer resistant. It takes 3-5 years for a plant to mature. When mature it will produce sparse purple flowers in July on an upright stem that can reach a foot tall. There is a variation available in a deep maroon color. It will bloom once and then die, making room for offshoots to grow. No culinary uses, and when taken internally in large doses, the juice will act as a emetic or purgative. Hens and chicks have medicinal properties similar to those of aloe vera, although in weaker concentration, and the juice is harder to extract. Used externally only to soothe skin conditions, including burns, wounds, ulcers, insect bites, inflammations, hemorrhoids, eczema, and fungal infections, as well as itchy and burning parts of the skin.
There are approximately fifty species and over 6,000 named cultivars of Sempervivum. They are native to Europe, through the mountains of Iberia, the Alps, Carpathians, Balkan mountains, Turkey, the Armenian mountains, in the north-eastern part of the Sahara Desert, from Morocco to Iran and the Caucasus. Their ability to store water in their thick leaves allows them to live on sunny rocks and stony places in the montane, subalpine and alpine belts. Named by Linnaeus (1757) The name Sempervivum has its origin in the Latin semper, meaning ‘always’, and vivus, meaning ‘living’, because this perennial plant keeps its leaves in winter and is very resistant to difficult conditions of growth. S. tectorum var. alpinum is a name commonly used in horticulture for small growing forms of S. tectorum. One of the common names is houseleek. Sempervivums are traditionally grown on roofs between thatching, tiles or shingles. The plant is sometimes still planted in roofs since it is supposed to give protection against lightning, thunderbolts and fire to any house that it grows on. It is also said to preserve thatch. There is some justification to this belief because the leaves contain a great deal of water and do not burn easily – if there are many of the plants growing on the roof then they will tend to put out the fire before it can take hold properly. A firm in Germany exports Sempervivums as rolled up carpets of roofing material, exhibited at the 2003 Chelsea Flower Show. They were also known by the delightful name “welcome-home-husband-however-drunk-you-be” because of the way the rosettes roll off the roof.