Have you become familiar with the Apollo butterfly yet? It is also worth taking a moment to look at its host plants. We will focus on Sedum, a very interesting genus of plants from an even more interesting family. And as it happens in the family, nothing is so simple and obvious.
Author : Krzysztof Kalemba
Stonecrop (Sedum spp.) is a genus of the Crassulaceae plants, including more than 600 species according to various approaches, it is worth noting that this number is still not final, as research on this group is still in progress. Members of the Crassulaceae family can be found on all continents. Most of them are succulents, i.e. plants that have adapted to life in conditions of limited water availability by storing it in their tissues. Despite this, species of succulents can be found in a variety of habitats.
Among the Central European Sedum species, we find those of large size, often forming compact clumps of shoots, and smaller ones that like to dominate the space.We will focus on species from this region, as they are of particular interest to the Apollo butterfly (Parnassius apollo) in the area of our project activities.
Big Brother and cousins
Larger stonecrop species can be found both in lowlands and in higher mountainous locations. They share a similar structure of leaves and flowers, preferences for permeable soil (involving sand, rocks or stones) and southern exposure. Most of them are subspecies of Hylotelephium telephium which in its natural form has pink flowers. One of the most common subspecies is grand stonecrop (Hylotelephium maximum, Sedum maximum), which can be found in the mountains, forests, as well as in lowland areas, also in agricultural areas. You can recognize this stonecrop by its cream-colored flowers and bluish-green leaves. In Eastern Europe, flowers of a similar color are also found in Hylotelephium telephium ssp. ruprechtii, where we more often encounter a red-colored stem. Carpathian stonecrop (Hylotelephium telephium ssp. fabaria) is a species that prefers mountain and foothill areas rich in limestone, despite its similarity to the great sedum, it has light pink to maroon flowers. Depending on the location and soil, Hylotelephium stems may take on a reddish color.
More Hylotelephium photos You can see here :
Lesser on the family
The greatest diversity is found among the smaller species of the more numerous Sedum species. Differences between the color of leaves, flowers, shape, height and growth are more noticeable. As in the case of Hylotelephium, we have here species that prefer high mountains, foothills and lowlands. Some of them like areas heavily transformed by humans. The most common and recognizable species here is the gold moss stonecrop (Sedum acre). This one loves stone and sandy areas, it will not despise rubble or tracks. Its characteristic feature is the formation of turf, compact structure and numerous yellow flowers. A twin of the tasteless stonecrop (Sedum sexangulare), with shorter leaves, definitely freer areas richer in limestone. Jenny’s stonecrop (Petrosedum rupestre) is distinguished by longer and narrower leaves, higher raised flowers. The white stonecrop (Sedum album), widespread throughout Europe, will have a similar structure but white flowers.
More Sedum and Petrosedum photos You can see here :
Others feel good here to
As is often the case with plants, there are also species of foreign origin that are widespread in Central Europe. We have always had a passion for importing other species and experimenting. In this way, the two-row stonecrop (Phemidius spurius), with pink flowers and incised, spatulate leaves, began to escape to nature in the 19th century. Another escapee was an Asian species, the butterfly stonecrop (Hylotelephium spectabile) deceptively similar to the common species of Hylotelephium in Europe. An introduced species of foreign origin for Germany, Austria and Norway was the orange stonecrop (Phedimus kamtschaticus), similar to the two-row stonecrop but with yellow flowers.
Find out how they look like here :
Sedum plants are considered succulents for a reason, their ability to accumulate water in leaves, stems and tubers is remarkable. They are characterized by extraordinary vitality, the ability to reproduce in several ways and several defensive features. In fear of pests, a large part of stonecrops has developed a defense system. In defense against pests, a great number of stonecrops produce alkaloids, poisonous or unpalatable substances. Their function is to discourage insects from gnawing on the plants. The gold moss stonecrop contains toxic sedamine, sodimine and nicotine. The adult grand stonecrop is also able to increase its chances of survival thanks to sedamine and piperidine, a feature that butterflies have learned to avoid. Caterpillars of the chequered blue (Scolitantides orion) and the Apollo butterfly follow their rather strict diet, feeding mainly on stonecrops. The choice of such a group of host plants has meant that they must somehow cope with the presence of alkaloids. This forces them to constantly change their feeding sites and go after plants that have not yet produced enough alkaloids to harm the caterpillars.
You can also read our article about Apollo in Winter
Alkaloids from Sedum telephium L.
Illustrated Handbook of Succulent Plants: Crassulaceae