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Plantes et stations d'intérêt particulier > dans les Balkans > S. thompsonianum en Stogovo planina

Sempervivum thompsonianum and the mystery of Stogovo planina

by Klaus Schropp (original text in German language, translated by himself)

My search for the so-called S. thompsonianum developed into an unexpected experience. After lots of fast successes it was an endeavor over two years. So read my writing, even in the surroundings, with indulgence.


1. Description

2. Me and Stogovo

3. Thoughts about S. thompsonianum

4. The habitat

5. Questions about S. thompsonianum

1. Description

Sempervivum thompsonianum Wale, in Bull. Alp.Gard Soc.8: 210 (1940).(typus in Herb.Kew).

This plant was originally collected in 1938 by Dr. Lemperg on Stogovo Planina in southern Yugoslavia, growing in crevices of limestone rock at 2150 m.

The rosettes are 1,5 to 2 cm. in diameter, many leaved, sub-globular with the outer leaves erect; rosette leaves are ovate-lanceolate, acute and pubescent with cilia of unequal length about three times as long as pubescence. Leaf colouring is a yellowish-green; the outside leaves are strongly flushed with red when grown fully exposed. Offsets are produced on rather slender brown stolons 5 to 8 cm. long. Flower stems are about 8 cm. high, very slender and bearing a few narrow, lanceolate leaves. Inflorescence is few-flowered and compact; petals are yellow at the apex, white margins with a pink median band; filaments purple, anthers yellow.

The only species that resembles S. thompsonianum is S. macedonicum Praeger, in having incurved central rosette leaves and similar leaf indumentum and ciliation. The sharply pointed and more erect outer rosette leaves, flushed with red on the outside, readily distinguish S. thompsonianum from S. macedonicum. Cultivation of S. thompsonianum is quite easy and offsets increase well. It is shy in producing flowers.

Later in the Sempervivum Society Journal 11(1) 1980 some verdict was mentioned that S. thompsonianum could be a hybrid between S. macedonicum and S. octopodes. The author, Ben Zonneveld, didn't succeed in visiting the location during his travel in June 1980 in southern Yugoslavia, so he could not confirm his theory by a re-finding.

Now we find it for this verdict mostly as Sempervivum ×thompsonianum in the nomenclature or sometimes even as S. thompsonianum from less diffident authors.

2. Me and Stogovo

Well, I stood in august 2005 on the road from Ohrid to Kicevo and tried to reach the range named Stogovo Planina (it's a massif, not only one mountain).

First I had to access the mountain before thinking to go up on it.

But from far one can see pastures on the zone over the forests on Stogovo. Where are pastures, there are ways to drive up, almost with my motorbike.

On this day I learned that the southern forest covered part of Stogovo is called Karaorman, which is a Turkish word meaning "black forest". I got it told on the top of Karaorman - with no way up to Stogovo.

Stogovo from Karaorman

The next try: at Izvor I met some guys at the police station, talking Italian, like me. So I got the information of a little way above a village before Izvor: Verbani.

Mille grazie! This 13 km long way led me up to the pasture zone, but worn is no word for the conditions of it. Finally I stopped, - if you cannot turn around the motorbike by yourself because of no place on a single track you have to stop. So I hiked a little around searching on outcrops for plants, but the top of the Planina was still too far away. By the way, nobody around and absolute silence over there, for enjoying this I had to drive years before some km. into the Sahara.

Back home. Next day new luck: I tried to access from the western side on the mountain, but the Turkish populated villages near Debar even showed no driveable way up.

Stogovo from west

So I decided to drive to Izvor where I was yesterday and maybe find one more possibility.

The road to Izvor finishes high in the mountains in a little river, which means the river is the road! Driving up 1 km in the knee deep water, the way led me up to a pasture zone, this time north of the top of Stogovo but as far away as yesterday. Overall, the little forests here around made the place to a perfect labyrinth for non re-finding the motorbike - and once more nobody around. Obviously the road Debar to Izvor, even if to be found in all maps doesn't exist!

It was 17 00 o clock, - time to drive back home. I didn't want to believe it. For this year I had to finish my attacks, running out of time. Next time, Stogovo, 2006 This year I started my try again from the valley Debar/ Izvor.

Arriving on the afternoon from Skopje, I wanted to look for a good way up from the mountain on the opposite, Bistra. Coming from Lazarpole, I drove up good forest roads, arriving at the pastures and could drive up on short, green keeper treated like meadows until 100 meters under the summit! With a street motorbike!

Why not on Stogovo?? The mountain opposite covered overall his surface with clouds, - members only. No overlook. This time I complained in italiano… Ammazza, Porca miseria.

After my return to Lazarpole, a beautiful, god sentenced place, where I slept for the night. I had to make a decision: O.K. Stogovo, you're the winner.

I'll hike up like anybody the footpath from Gari. - It is a high ascend even for a Bavarian.

Next day, having my morning coffee in the all services shop/restaurant at Gari, I got asked what I am doing here. "I go up Stogovo"

I got told that it's a long, long hike and overall: "Stogovo was always there, and will always be there - so why hiking up there???"

Some things you cannot explain…and not to everybody…

I packed up and went on, always along the little steep river valley.

The good in it, lots of time to think.

3. Thoughts about S. thompsonianum

S. thompsonianum is one of the R.S. Wale houseleeks who got an own article in the SSjournal 14/2 for his, lets say, easy handling in creating species subspecies and varieties. He left a good homework for all Sempervivum fanciers after him, in using the good old cowboy rule: "first shoot, and then ask" - apt more for survival in the Wild West than in working on Sempervivum.

The plant is considered to be a hybrid: The hybrids I found until now in the Alps didn't form too large populations in one holotype, rather different small tufts and even if being result of the same crossing, differing a little in appearance.

To my displease I had to watch even some Sempervivum populations in the Alps to fade away. - Overgrown by grasses, or just dead off. Sempervivum is not always semper-vivum

Even the newest literature in Crassulaceae encouraged with a cross as sign the verdict of a lost species for S. thompsonianum.

What would expect me on Stogovo nearly 70 years after the first finding?

My hopes were not too high. And really a lot of mountain here, where should I start to search?

The habitat was described as "growing in crevices of limestone rock at 2150 m".

O.k. there were even inferior habitat descriptions, for example "Serbia" for S. zelebori.

So this here could mean I had to walk on 2150 m around the entire mountain.

For the summit is given with 2273 meters, there was some hope, 120 meters below.

4. The habitat

The path up was impassable with a street motorbike, only traces of a tractor gave signs of human activities here in the forest zone. But being arrived at the pasture zone, my path was discharging in a good dirt road with traces of cars on it! I didn't want to believe it after 3 hours ascend. Somebody seemed to mock me. On the pasture, the Turkish speaking herdsmen showed me the way up to the summit, inviting me for later on the ascend. So I arrived at the rocky zone of Stogovo.

Herdsmen on Stogovo

There is no marked way, like always on the Balkans, and one must look for the mostly sense giving ascend to the summit. Here it leads up between the pre-summits in a grass grown valley with rocky slopes above. Lots of Saxifraga marginata and Saxifraga paniculata were growing around. A red coloured rock formation on the right hand made me curious and it was on closer view overgrown with Sempervivum.

Sempervivum thompsonianum

Overgrown with Sempervivum thompsonianum!

Unbelievable - still there after 70 years!

The plants were growing on the entire stone rip, about 100 meters long.

This here was just the pre- summit of Stogovo, but even without GPS about +-100 meters lower than the summit. For the classic ascend to Stogovo is coming up from Gari like the ascend I made, it is to presume that even Dr.Lemperg in 1938 came along here.

It seems I re-found the locus classicus.

The plants are hairy on both leave surfaces, young rosettes more hairy than the mature ones.

Conspicuous ciliate; the leaf tips often flushed or coloured red/ orange, this orange leaf-colouring is often to find on Sempervivum here, I call it the Balkan tinge.

Small "classic" S. thompsonianum

Reddish coloured rosettes


The, juvenile leafy, brown stolons appear not too tall, but are perhaps restricted in their length by habitat conditions. They plants show not the greatest will to flower; only 4 were in bud.

Bud of S. thompsonianum

I opened one: a pink median band on the base of petal on an S. ciliosum like appearing flower. Very short flower stems, and to my anger, even here like on the entire Balkan the flower stems get eaten by animals, often with rosettes pulled out of ground.

Save Sempervivum - eat more sheep! Really, this flower stem eating can restrict populations in their genetically reproduction: too often one can find not even one flower stem which succeeded to develop seed!

Eaten and torn out rosette

But S. thompsonianum must have made some times seed, the growing on the rock here cannot be made only by stolons, the habitat is too large, the plants vary in a certain range and: It's a second type of plant growing here, larger with rosettes more open and longer leaves.

Large form

But, be warned - these plants grow at the surroundings of the rock near the grasses, so they have richer soil! So it is to prove if the rock growing ones are developing the same in good soil.

on't forget, its Sempervivum: We had lots of described "species" in Europe which are all now S. tectorum, little differences in growing conditions can make plants appear different.

Or, even possible, - larger rosettes are "dressed to flower" for next year, so they develop more leaves and give the impression of a different plant. This happened to me on a S. montanum in Valle Maggia and such a finding was perhaps the cause for the, now cancelled, mentioning of S. grandiflorum in the Ticino zone.

On the other hand, we have the possibility that this is an F -unknown generation of a hybrid population which can even be a strike back to a possible parent!

Overall the question, did the plants here evolve out of one clone?

The appering here can really lead one to close to have found a species of its own.

So I will beg pardon Dr.R.S. Wale, even if he has not seen the habitat by himself, for this part.

I hiked up on to the summit, more for Bavarian tradition, than botanic curiosity.

On the top plateau, growing in the grasses I stumbled over 2 tufts of Sempervivum: For the growing here in the grass, one plant a little bit longer in leaves.

Grass growing plant on summit

Smaller plant on summit

But they can even be seen as S. thompsonianum. A second habitat! Overall one could see in one tuft a circle of rosettes, where the mother plant had flowered and died off.

So I think the question of an own genetically proliferation of the so named S. thompsonianum can be answered with yes! Remains the question if these two ones up here display the same flowers as the plants below?

The search for more habitats was no more successful, just the finding of the second one was more luck than brain. But I found one of my most beautiful J.heuffelii clones just look.

Beautiful J. heuffelii

I haven't found any other Sempervivum as the everywhere to be found J.heuffelii here on Stogovo but, of course - I haven't seen the entire mountain!

5. Questions about S. thompsonianum

Ok. I know, now you want me to give some thesis for the origin of S. thompsonianum.

The pink median band in the flower is indicated as a sign of a former introgression of a red flowering Sempervivum.

It was considered to be a perhaps crossing of S. macedonicum and S. octopodes.

S. octopodes (correct name of course S. ciliosum var. octopodes, some fellows give to it even the rank of a subspecies) is, as I see it, a plant to be found on only one outcrop on the Mt. Pelister, it has perhaps no larger distribution. Only because it's found on Pelister, the even growing there S. ciliosum is not automatically S. octopodes!!! (see article Sempervivum octopodes on Pelister)

Well S. ciliosum has his next known Habitat near Ohrid and S. macedonicum shall be found in the mountains around, along the Albanian border and central Macedonia. (According to Sempervivophilia)

The even as possible parent mentioned S. marmoreum as subsp.reginae-amaliae is growing on the southern Balkan but here in western Macedonia it seems to be missing. The population on MT. Pelister can be seen as northern end of a Greek distribution and the next mentioned habitat is on the MT Korab or even the mountains around Korab.

Both, S. ciliosum and S. marmoreum as subsp. reginae-amaliae have on their next known habitats nearly the same distance to Stogovo Planina: about 40 km.

For we have S. macedonicum as nearest Sempervivum, growing in the mountains opposite on the Albanian border and the shape of rosettes can make one presume the introgression of this species - I think this parent is possible.

Even the referring of S. thompsonianum on S. macedonicum in nearly all literature supports this.

The second parent is perhaps still something in the mist.


On my trip in 4 weeks on Balkan, I succeeded only one time to see a direct hybrid between S. ciliosum and S. marmoreum as reginae-amaliae / erythraeum (Read the article S. leucanthum near Pastra)

- It is not too often to find these two species growing together in one Habitat.

But the obvious, nearly non-finding, of the direct crossing between them leads me to close that there must be some barrier which prevents an intense interbreeding.

The once found direct hybrid showed flowers on the red side of the colour spectrum. The same as I am accustomed on the predominantly part of hybrids between red and yellow flowering Sempervivum in the Alps:

A typical F 1 Hybrid and the yellow colour does underlie to the red one.

Here on S. thompsonianum we have obviously yellow dominated flowers, which mean it should be probably an F- more generation of a crossing with a red flowering Sempervivum.

And the shape of some rosettes can lead one to close that the genetically cross-back indicates another parent than S. ciliosum.

The second, larger type of rosettes on the locus classicus would match even to the description of S. kindingeri (which I consider, until its re-finding, only as description)

It is very thin ice I'm walking on and I want you to know this!!!!

Overall we should clear the being of the so called S. macedonicum, (some sources submerge it to S. marmoreum).

Annoyingly its habitats show a great preference to Balkan war contaminated places, perhaps unexploded ordnance and mines. In other words: The entire zone along the Albanian border and Sar Planina should be seen with high respect.

On my travel back home I asked some, badly English speaking, Ukrainian SFOR soldiers near Sar Planina:
"What about mines in Kosovo?"
"No forest"
T two words are enough for the everyday nightmare.

The question how the S. thompsonianum plants can be seen in the future is still in discussion.

Growing on their isolated habitat, of course they don't have access to recent literature in "Sukkulenten" where they appear as extinct, based on their lost "holotype"…

The plants are there on Stogovo and doing well, enjoying the sun.

View to the summit in low right hand the "locus classicus"

As you can see I had again a very successful day in Sempervivum, - leaving with more questions than I came. That's what I love in them.

And I learned even something for life, not to rebel against the will of a strong mountain who finally invited me to his treasury. Anyone of my former tries with the motorbike had not led me to the S. thompsonianum habitat…

Merci beaucoup Stogovo, à bientôt...

Klaus Schropp, January 2007.

Here a handmade map for your orientation (based on my researches and Sempervivophilia data):

  • Yellow: S. ciliosum habitats
  • Red: S. marmoreum subp. reginae-amaliae habitats
  • Green: S. macedonicum habitats
  • Blue point : "S. thompsonianum" habitat
  • Red lines: my tries on Stogovo



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