The New Heuchera Hybrids
By Barbara Kirbach, Sonoma County Master Gardener
Photo credit: SCMG Laura Salo Long
Perhaps, but they are also the names of some of the new Heuchera hybrids, so called because of the comparable color and design of their delectable foliage.
The genus was originally named for Johann Heinrich von Heucher, a 17th Century German botanist. In 1884, the species H.sanguinea came into prominence. It was commonly called “coral bells,” referring to its airy, red, white or pink bell-shaped flowers that lined slender stems that rose out of compact mounds of evergreen leaves.
For years, Heucheras served mainly as a dependable ground cover and neat perennial border. However, recently the genus has undergone a number of changes in both appearance and performance.
In the early 1990’s, one of the first of the Heuchera hybrids, ‘Palace Purple,’ arrived in local nurseries. It was a hardy offspring of H.micrantha, a California native, could withstand sun or part shade, was coast and clay tolerant and required only moderate water. But best of all, its bronze-red, maple-shaped leaves were a welcome accent for not only ground covers and borders, but as a star performer for containers and entire perennial gardens as well.
Some Heucheras have stalks with larger and more colorful flowers that bloom from early spring into the fall. These can be striking and long-lasting in floral arrangements. Others may feature crinkled or ruffled leaves that make attractive fillers in containers, especially when contrasted with a Phormium or other spiky plant.
Many new cultivars stem from H. villosa, a native of the Southeastern U.S., and as such are better able to withstand both high heat and humidity. And adding to their list of advantages, the new hybrids are deer, insect and mildew resistant and attract butterflies and birds. Now, your biggest challenge is to decide which varieties best fit your color scheme and landscaping requirements.
But before you go shopping, here are a few words about where and how to plant Heucheras. Many of the new varieties will take full morning sun, especially if they are part of the H. villosa strain, or if you garden in the cooler areas of the County. In areas with hot summers, the plants, especially those in the yellow-green tones, should be positioned in partial shade with filtered light from above or a northern exposure. Plant in well-drained soil enriched with plenty of organic matter and water regularly.
Jani Weaver, manager of Emerisa Gardens, cautions against selecting and placing a number of hybrids with different colored foliage in a particular area. “It’s better to mass ones of the same color or tone together for an harmonious effect.” she advises, “Otherwise, they just look wrong.”
Sonoma Valley Master Gardener Anne Brewer, who has planted dozens of terracotta colored Heucheras to compliment her Mediterranean-style home, gives the following advice for their continuing care:
- Remove any dead or unattractive leaves in early spring. If you wish to maintain the size and shape of the plant, cut off any offspring and replant as desired.
- Divide the plants every three years when the centers become crowded with short, thick woody stalks. To rejuvenate, lift up the entire plant and replant just above the soil line.
- Since they are shallow-rooted, Heucheras have a tendency to ‘heave” or push themselves out of the ground, especially in areas where there is intermittent freezing or thawing. Apply mulch around any exposed roots in late fall or early winter to maintain a constant soil temperature. Jani Weaver also suggests removing the spent flower stems before they goe to seed to also prevent bolting.
The following is a listing of Heuchera hybrids that are recommended for Sonoma County and are generally available at local nurseries such as Emerisa Gardens, Sonoma Mission Gardens, Wedekinds, Digging Dog (Mendocino County but they do mail-order) and Cottage Garden Growers.
Heucheras by Foliage Color
Plum Royal: Shiny mounds of purple leaves with darker veins.
Palace Purple: Bronze-red, maple-like foliage
Mahogany: Ruffled leaves first appear purple, mature to mahogany; deep red
Moonlight: Blackish purple with silver overlay
Velvet Night: Deep blue purple to black plum
Obsidian: Glossy, dark maroon leaves. Shiny slabs of jet black obsidian.
Crimson Curls: Curly bronze leaves twist around to reveal deep red undersides
Marmalade: Red ruffled leaves age to orange and reddish brown.
Caramel: Fuzzy bright yellow-orange leaves, purple pink undersides.
Crème Brulee: Caramel colored leaves with hints of honey.
Dolce Peach Flambé, or Melba: Apricot to peach leaves turning purple in winter.
Citronelle: Chartreuse to bright lemon yellow-lobed foliage
Lime Rickey: Ruffled chartreuse foliage.
Dolce Key Lime Pie: Stunning chartreuse foliage all year long.
Lemon Chiffon: Yellow green foliage.
Tiramisu: Chartreuse foliage with heavy splash of brick red, silver overlay.
Snow Angel: Light green foliage with sprinkle of cream
Peppermint Spice: Green foliage with silver markings.
Green Spice: Bold green and silver foliage with contrasting purple veins
Brownies, Crinkled chocolate leaves with brown underneath.
Chocolate Ruffles: Dark chocolate-topped leaves with burgundy undersides
Chocolate Vein: Chocolate colored leaves with maroon underneath. Marbled with light purple and silver between the veins.
Silver Scrolls: Silvery leaves with dark purple markings.
Pewter Moon: Silver leaves with maroon undersides.
Stormy Seas: Leaves with tones of silver, lavender and pewter with red underneath.
Persian Carpet: Silver leaves with dark purple veins
Ruby Veil: Silvery leaves with red near their base.
Rave On: Silvery leaves with green veins, red undersides. Profuse coral pink blooms.