Hen-and-chicks is a commonly used name for a group of succulents, mostly belonging to the Sempervivum genus and the Crassulaceae family.
Hen-and-chick plants produce numerous offsets appearing around the base of the mother hen.
The mother plant is the “hen,” and the offsets are her “chicks.” This plant also earned its name due to its rosette shape.
Many of these species come from northern Africa and southern Europe. But they’re also grown throughout the world for their interesting appearances, including their different foliage colors and shapes, and blooms.
The most popular of these species is the Sempervivum tectorum, known as common houseleeks.
Pronounced [sem-per-VEE-vum, tek-TOR-um], Sempervivum tectorum produces clusters of reddish-purple flowers.
When growing Hen-and-chicks plants, they require full sun to partial shade and thrive in hardiness Zones 3–1. They also need direct sunlight to keep their beautiful hue.
Water Hens and chicks are drought-tolerant perennials, so they can withstand going weeks at a time without watering.
As drought-tolerant perennials, Hens and chicks can withstand weeks without too much water and don’t need much fertilizer.
These succulent plants also do best in well-draining soil and prefer sandy, gravelly potting mix. This makes them a favorite choice for landscapes with rock gardens.
If you have a poor soil type or cactus mix, you can amend it with fine gravel, sand, pumice, or perlite for good drainage.
They are also relatively resistant to pests and diseases but may be a target of mealybugs, aphids, and root rot. You can use rubbing alcohol to remove them.
While Sempervivums are unique and fun to grow, many people worry whether they’re toxic to people or animals.
Is The Hens and Chicks Plant Poisonous or Toxic?
The hen and chicks Sempervivum isn’t known to contain any toxic compounds.
It’s considered a safe pot plant to grow around pets and children.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) states hen and chicken Sempervivums aren’t toxic to dogs, cats, or horses.
Some people even include common houseleek in their raw food diets.
It features a slightly sour taste and the texture and consistency of cucumbers.
The edible parts include the thick leaves and young shoots.
The water stored in the plant may also help relieve skin irritation, providing a non-toxic substitute for aloe vera.
In fact, hens and chickens are commonly recommended indoor plants for pet owners looking for safe, non-toxic plant-growing options.
It is low-maintenance hens and doesn’t require a lot of space.
More on the topic: Are Succulents Poisonous to Dogs?
Why Do People Assume Hens and Chickens Are Poisonous?
While most succulents won’t harm people or pets if ingested, people tend to assume hens and chicks contain toxins.
This toxicity fear may come from the appearance of the plants.
Succulents, including hens and chicks, feature thick parts which store nutrients.
People may assume the juicy, fleshy inside of the leaves and stems may hold potentially harmful compounds.
Additionally, several popular species of succulents are known to contain toxins:
- Aloe vera
- Pencil cactus (Euphorbias)
- Jade Plants – Crassula ovata (more on poison Jade)
- Mother-of-Millions (Kalanchoes)
These common garden plants are toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. They may also cause distress to humans when ingested.
Another potential cause of concern is the similarities between mother hens and chicks, and other succulents.
Some individuals may have read or mistaken a species of Sempervivum for another plant.
For example, several other species within the Crassulaceae family are known for their toxicity.
Cotyledon and tylecodon are succulents that contain active ingredients that can cause various cardiac symptoms, including an increased risk of a heart attack.
What Are The Symptoms Of Poisoning?
If you, a child, or a pet eats a potentially harmful plant, mistaking it for a non-toxic hens and chicks plant, look for the following symptoms or signs of poisoning:
- Stomach pain
- Trouble breathing
- Lack of coordination
Pets may also experience blood in the stool, rapid breathing, excessive salivation, and lethargy.
Some plants also cause skin irritation.
After touching the sap on Euphorbias, the skin may develop a rash.
When dealing with suspected poisoning, don’t induce vomiting.
With many toxins, inducing vomiting may harm the esophagus or increase the severity of the reaction, leading to excess vomiting and stomach pain.
If a pet ingests an unknown garden or indoor plant and shows symptoms of poisoning, contact the vet as soon as possible.
If a child ingests a potentially harmful plant, visit an emergency room or local emergency clinic.
Bring a sample of the ingested plant or flowers with you, whether visiting a hospital, veterinarian, or clinic.
Try to estimate how much of the plant was ingested and keep track of the symptoms.
Are Other Succulents Safe for Pets and Kids?
Most species of hens and chicks plants remain safe for growing around pets and kids.
However, many additional species of succulents grown are also considered non-toxic, including:
Even if a succulent doesn’t contain toxins, ingesting large quantities of the fleshy succulent growth may still cause mild digestive distress.
Parts of the plant may also pose a choking hazard.
Many plants are perfectly safe and non-toxic, but it’s always a good idea to use caution.
Avoid ingesting any plants not intended as food items, and monitor children and pets near houseplants.
How to Protect Yourself While Handling the Hens and Chicks Sempervivum
While the chicks and hens aren’t toxic, there are thousands of succulents, and some may resemble one of the sempervivum species.
When handling an unknown plant you suspect to be succulent hen-and-chick, use care and caution.
Wear gardening gloves before touching any greenery when grooming or transplanting.
Wearing long-sleeved shirts and avoiding loose-fitting clothing also helps prevent skin contact.
Avoid burning any unknown vegetation, as this may release toxic fumes into the air.