Scientific Name: Hylotelephium telephium ‘Autumn Joy’ (synonym Sedum x ‘Autumn Joy’)
Plant Family: Stonecrop (Crassulaceae)
Common name: Autumn Joy sedum
Article and photos by Janice Tucker
The name “Autumn Joy” in Autumn Joy sedum probably refers to its beautiful red-pink flowers that bloom in late September and into mid-to-late October. But it could also just refer to the fact that this plant is a joy from the time it pokes its cute, little leafy heads up through the soil in the spring until the first hard freeze puts it to sleep for the winter.
The Autumn Joy sedum is a cultivar of the Hylotelephium telephium, which is a native of Eurasia. It has adapted very well to the United States in all but the most northern states, the southern tip of Florida and along the coastline of southern California. And unlike many Eurasian plants introduced to North America, the Autumn Joy sedum is not invasive.
This hardy perennial is absolutely fascinating to observe through every stage of its life cycle. In early spring a patch of small, green clusters of leaves emerging from the soil resemble a miniature cabbage patch. The plant will continue to grow from 1 ½ to 3 feet, stretching out its fleshy, gray-green, serrated leaves to form a nicely compact, round shape. Pale green, umbel-shaped florets that resemble broccoli are borne at the top of the stems. These florets gradually change color from the pale green to a dusty, rosy pink and continue to deepen in color to an ultimate rich, deep red-pink hue. The flowers eventually fade to a russet brown, extending its addition of color to a garden until the first hard frost. The faded flowers are also used in dried flower arrangements.
Virtually maintenance-free, this perennial has low water requirements, and is often visited by bees, butterflies and the colorful Tarantula Hawk wasp, which is the New Mexico state insect. However, rabbits and deer avoid it…a real plus for hard-working gardeners. Drought tolerant, the Autumn Joy sedum should be planted in full sun in just about any type of soil from sand to clay, acidic to alkaline – it doesn’t seem to mind. Plant in rock gardens, along walkways and borders and among other plants in the flowerbed. Propagation is by division or cutting. Do not worry if it freezes to the ground in the winter and totally disappears after the dead foliage has been cleared away. It will come back in the spring. Autumn Joy sedum rarely fails to keep its promise.
The Autumn Joy sedum is content to provide a lush, green backdrop to spring and summer bloomers, while it patiently waits for its time in the limelight. And come autumn it brings the house down with its beautiful deep, red-pink flowers set among the orange, red and gold fall foliage of surrounding plants.
Autumn Joy sedum is the perfect plant for a Santa Fe garden. Not only is it a beautiful, maintenance-free plant, its dramatic changes as it goes through its yearly cycle of life will keep you fascinated from spring until frost.