The life and times of Sedum ruprechtii

I’ve never had any problem remembering the name of this fabulous sedum.  I can’t, even if I wanted to, shake the lingering images of Steve Martin playing Prince Ruprecht in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – the idiot child who, agitated and clearly hanging on at the dinner table, puts his hand up and asks if he can go to the toilet.  When given permission, he stays sitting where he is, slowly and visibly relaxes and releases in his chair, politely says ‘thank you’, then continues to eat. 

I first spotted Sedum ruprechtii in Beth Chatto’s fabulous gravel garden on a stinking hot day in 1994.  It was in bud, like that above, and stood out amongst all the other contents of that part of the garden – though all of them were great plants.  When Beth told me that the buds open to cream flowers, I thought I’d died and gone to horticultural heaven.

About a decade, and several false starts later, I finally acquired it.  As it’s just now starting to flower, I thought it was time for an unauthorised biography.

It starts into growth early in spring (as do all if these S. spectabile/telephium types), with fabulous verdiris-green foliage.  The leaves are packed close and have a distinctive crinkly edge. At this stage there’s no other conspicuous pigment.

But it soon starts to show a suffusion of purple, particularly on the back of the leaves.  Like loads of leaf-pigments, this is sunlight dependent. In shade, the leaves will stay largely glaucous-green.  Rather less light dependent is the stem colour, which develops into a vivid lipstick pink.

Compared with other late summer-flowering perennials, sedums bulk up quite early, and start to show buds weeks and weeks before flowering.  On Sedum telephium subsp. ruprechtii (its full and proper name), the buds emerge with the pink pigmentation which stains most of the plant.

Just a week or so before flowering, there is a bathetic moment when the buds outgrow the pigment, as if there’s only so much pigment to go around, and the swelling of the buds dilutes it.  At this stage my deep love wanes, just slightly, to settle at great admiration.

And then there’s the flowering – which is neither a great step forward or a great step back.  Here it’s in bloom – in a slightly too shady spot – in a mixed pot with a bog-standard purple verbena.

It took me a while to work out why I wanted to use this pic, and not several others I had of it in bloom, on it’s own.  The head-scratching has led me to the conviction that it’s probably much better for being teamed up with something else.  It’s not like Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ that produces a great plateau of colour.  Flowerheads are pretty sparsely placed, and the colour of both foliage and flower at blooming time isn’t quite of the superstar quality I’d imagined, all those years ago.

See what I mean?  A super co-star, perhaps, at least once its blooming.  Certainly better for a partnership.

You could argue that it peaks too early. Or you could choose to perceive that after a very promising start, it flowers past it’s peak, rather quietly, in late middle age.

Actually, I’m seriously considering a similar life-model.

An afterthought…

Elsewhere, in a pot, the colour at flowering time is a little more interesting.  Drought and/or starvation usually amplify such colouring, but that can’t apply here…


  1. I’ve just flicked between those last 2 photos several times. It’s a kind of now you see it, now you don’t moment. The last photo looks like a why bother to me. Insipid. Like a pastel twinset. Then I flick to the photo above and I think oh yes, that’s why. With that purple, it’s transformed. The purple picks up the blue in the leaves and makes those clotted cream flowers suddenly look gorgeous. Like the moment the librarian takes off her glasses and shakes out her hair bun. And that’s the first time I’ve ever seen the word bathetic in a blog post. Now I’ve looked it up I shall endeavour to work it into a conversation over the weekend.

    (The pics Catherine mentions are now the second and third last pics – I stuffed things up by adding another picture later – MM)

    1. It might take some patience, Catherine. I waited weeks for an opportunity to drop the word ‘crepuscular’, quite casually and naturally, into a conversation

    2. And thanks for using the word ‘insipid’. I’d been wanting to use it myself re: that last image, but was struck with the thought that I was upsetting the talk-up/talk-down balance. I wanted to tip distinctly in its favour – I love the thing, after all – but that’s no reason not to be frank about its strengths and weaknesses…

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