I’ve been trying to think of a topic that would give me a good reason to talk about some of my favorite plants from time to time. A few plants that have recently caught my eye don’t have much in common, however, besides being perennials and having interesting foliage. “Three Neat Plants” is the best theme I can come up with, for the moment anyway. Fortunately, the plants are far more exciting than the title.
My first favorite goes by the great common name of shredded umbrella plant. Known botanically as Syneilesis aconitifolia, it looks very much like some sort of May apple (Podophyllum), but it’s actually in the aster family. The emerging leaves (shown at left above) appear much like furry silver mushrooms, then open to reveal their umbrella-like form (shown above right) in May. In leaf, they’re generally 12 to 15 inches tall. Gradually, they lose their fuzzy silverness, and they send up flowering stems typically 24 to 30 inches tall, topped with not-very-interesting pinkish white blooms (shown right). I keep finding references to this being a woodland plant, but mine didn’t thrive until I gave it a somewhat drier and much sunnier site (basically full sun from 6 am until about 2 pm through most of the summer). You can acquire shredded umbrella plant from Plant Delights Nursery.
Here’s another neat plant that does seem to need a bit more shade: ‘Mostly Ghostly’ hosta. I normally don’t get very excited about hostas, but I saw this one in a nursery pot and knew I had to have it. The emerging leaves are a bright ivory white and stay that way for several weeks. In the photo above, you can see that they’re starting to green up a little early this spring, probably due to the spell of unusually warm weather we had in April. By June (shown at right), and for most of the rest of the growing season, it’s more appropriately known as “Mostly Ugly”: a streaky to speckly mix of light and medium greens that’s pretty icky and best ignored. But oh, those new leaves are just too amazing to miss. You can find ‘Mostly Ghostly’ through a few on-line sources, including Mason Hollow Nursery.
And one more perennial I think is really neat: ’Gerald Darby’ iris (Iris x robusta). Its new leaves are deep purple, gradually turning green at the tips (as shown above) but holding some purple at the base through most of the spring. By bloom time in June, the purple is mostly gone from the foliage, but it’s visible in the flowering stems (shown below). The blooms themselves aren’t spectacular – a rather ordinary purple. The plant forms a very sturdy, dense clump to about 3 feet in leaf. Mine thrives in all-day sun with average garden soil, but due to its parentage (it’s a cross between I. virginica and I. versicolor), it thrives in moist to wet sites quite well. One source for ‘Gerald Darby’ is Park Seed.