by Cindy Gibson
There is a path I take almost every day as part of my morning or evening chores on our small ranch. I’m a downward-looking walker, usually making sure that I don’t trip over a new gopher mound or looking for weeds that I need to pull. However, I stopped in my tracks when I saw this little native gem seemingly to grow out of some rocks.
Commonly known as yellow stonecrop, Sedum lanceolatum can be found in the Western
United States and Canada, from Alaska and the Yukon to California and east to Colorado and South Dakota. It grows at montane or alpine elevations in open, rocky and dry locations. The plant evolved during the last ice age when higher altitude areas became isolated by glaciers.
Like other sedums, it has a waxy coating on the stems and leaves to help reduce water loss. In addition, plants that have evolved in dry environments are able to keep their stomata closed during the day to conserve water. Most plants open their stomata during the day because that is when energy is received from the sun. The plant will also take in carbon dioxide and use the energy from the sun to form sugars. All the steps of photosynthesis occur during the day and oxygen is released. The sedums, cacti, and agaves are able to open their stomata at night to capture and store carbon dioxide. Photosynthesis starts the next day when the plant receives the energy from the sun. This two-step process is known as CAM photosynthesis, named after the plant where this process was first discovered.
|Sedum lanceolatum rosette|
Sedums belong to the Crassulaceae, or Stonecrop, family. The USDA classifies this plant as a perennial herb. It has been reported to be hardy in zones 4-9. This succulent plant will appear in the spring with tight basal rosettes that are composed of small, narrow leaves that come to a blunt tip. The reddish leaves point upwards and become smaller as the plant grows. They often fall away by the time the plant blooms.
The flowers will appear sometime in June and last until August. They have five narrow, lance shaped, pointed-tipped petals and a ring of protruding stamens. Most flower parts are greenish yellow in color. The stamens are tipped with yellow anthers. At the center of the flower is a five-lobed ovary, which transforms into reddish fruit in the fall. The tiny, lightweight seeds will emerge in late August when the fruit turns tan and begins to split open at the top. The plant will also grow from leaf or stem cuttings.
|Flowers with ring of stamens and the five-lobed ovaries|
Fun Facts about Sedum lanceolatum:
• The young stems and fleshy leaves have been used medicinally by Native Americans as a
• The flowers attract native bees, butterflies and the syrphid flies whose larvae will prey on
aphids, scale insect and thrips.
• The larvae of the alpine butterfly, Parnassium smintheus feed primarily on this plant. The
female butterfly lays her eggs on the surrounding ground vegetation. The caterpillars will
pupate within a silk cocoon located in ground debris.
• The plant produces a chemical called sarmentosin, which is a bitter-tasting deterrent to
herbivores. The Parnassium larva, however, will store this chemical and use it for their own
Now on my daily walks, I’m more apt to be looking for tiny treasures instead of weeds. Who knows what I will find next!
- USDA Plant Database
- Southwest Colorado Wildflowers Database
- Native Plant Network
All photos by Cindy Gibson