Heuchera (HEW-ker-ah), are a genus of native North American perennials. Although there are over 50 species, the common name, coral bells, is traced to the familiar red flowers of species Heuchera sanguinea. Alumroot is another common name, referring to roots’ usefulness as a pickling agent.
It’s the leaves of this plant that steal the show. An impressive color spectrum includes burgundy, chocolate, ebony, gold, green, lime, purple, silver, and yellow, plus combinations of the same. They’re also evergreen, offering interest in every season. The great diversity of leaf texture and patterns makes it easy to find a place for heuchera in many garden settings, including container plantings.
Heuchera plants grow as rounded clumps of attractive leaves. Delicate flower stalks rise to 2-3 times the height of the canopy in early spring and summer. While the blooms are modest compared to the showy foliage, they do contribute visual interest.
Heuchera are prized for their foliage. Ongoing development of new cultivars has yielded exciting textures and color combinations. Leaves are often large, but beyond that, the differences between species are remarkable. Some are ruffled and lace-like, while others are rounded, heart-shaped, scalloped, or maple-like.
Colors are striking, and often in combination, from light gold to lime green, silver, rose, orange, purple, and nearly black. Veins stand out in high contrast for some cultivars. Other leaves have contrasting undersides. Some even have different colored leaves all within the same plant.
While foliage is the main attraction, Heuchera flowers score high points for attracting hummingbirds. Stalks typically rise about two feet high from the leaf mounds. The flowers are comprised of many small florets in a grouping, in hues of light green, pink, red, or white.
‘Obsidian’ is one of the darkest varieties with foliage nearing jet-black. The rounded, reflective leaves are colorfast all year. Ivory flowers approximately 20” high appear in late spring.
A compact variety, Obsidian works well for small gardens and in containers. Plant en masse or again a high-contrast companion for maximum effect.
‘Peach Flambe’ offers maximum seasonal garden color, with multiple shades in every season. Vivid peach leaves are permeated with crimson from spring to fall, so bright that it’s commonly observed to ‘glow’. With the arrival of cooler weather, leaves darken to burgundy and finally, plum colored over winter.
Bright and beautiful, Heuchera ‘Peppermint Spice’ is a study in contrasts. Green leaves veined with silver and purple create a stunning backdrop for rosebud-pink flowers in spring.
Heuchera Plant Use
Garden designers love Heuchera because it’s at home in so many types of gardens:
Wherever they’re planted, coral bells’ bright foliage offers an excellent opportunity for accentuating neighboring plants. Make a bright yellow pop by placing Obsidian or another purple variety nearby. If you have other lacy-leaved plants in the yard, set off their texture even more by adding a Heuchera varietal to the mix.
Soil and Water Requirements
Well-drained soil and partial shade are key to success for growing Heuchera in a sunny climate. Exposure to hot, full sun can wash out color and cause leaf scorch.
Rootstalks commonly grow upwards, so once per year, check to see if mulch is needed to keep roots covered. If mulching, be careful to avoid covering the plant’s woody crown.
Like many plants, regular watering in the first year of growth is important, but once established, Heuchera needs very little to thrive.
Deadhead during flowering season to promote more blooms. When flowers are finished, cut off stalks completely. If desired, foliage can be pruned back in early spring to create space for new growth.
Every three to four years, clumps will become woody and need to be divided to keep the central roots healthy and strong.
- Evergreen color
- Attract hummingbirds
- Good for small spaces
- Attractive cut flowers
- Drought tolerant
- Deer resistant
Combine Heuchera with violas, pansy, snapdragons, coreopsis, or calibrachoa for dynamic contrast in the garden.
Native and drought-tolerant plants foster a natural environment and need little care. They are beautiful in their own right, but perform well in your environment because it’s theirs, too! Find more coverage of drought-tolerant, Bay-friendly plants on the Evergreen blog here: https://www.theevergreennursery.com/garden-advice-blog/