A common misconception about gardening with native plants is that it comes at the expense of beauty. Many people associate them with a ‘messy’ aesthetic. The thought is they don’t have a place in artful and well-balanced plantings, the kind you would want in front of your home that all of your neighbors will see. While it’s true that wild and free is one look natives wear well, many are perfectly suited to more formal settings. One of our favorites is Tiarella cordifolia, commonly known as Foamflower.
The Horticulture staff at Brooklyn Bridge Park has been compiling our notes on the native plants that perform exceptionally well in the Park and have the most promise to suit the needs of other gardeners working in a wide range of urban conditions. Tiarella is near the top of the list. Between street trees and building facades, shade is a common condition in the urban garden. Tiarella excels at bringing beauty to the shady understory. From its delicate plumes of starry white flowers that appear early in spring to the eye-catching texture of its foliage that lasts through the winter, Tiarella offers perpetual visual pleasure.
We have found Tiarella to be a surprisingly tough plant, handling the difficult condition of urban pathway edges quite well. it looks good planted in front of larger plants, but its beauty really shines when planted in larger swaths. At the end of the growing season, Tiarella lays its foliage down on the ground to protect the surrounding soil and insulate its roots. This foliage will turn attractive hues of bronze to purple depending on winter air temperatures. Throughout the entire following season, as the new growth rises above, the previous year’s foliage remains intact, hugging the ground, making Tiarella an effective weed blocking groundcover.
Tiarella will often, but not always, spread by stolons. Stolons are modified stems that grow along the ground and periodically put down roots. Where the stollens take root, new plants will grow. A little known fact about Tiarella cordifolia is that there are three distinct subspecies. Tiarella cordifolia var. collina is the more southern subspecies and does not produce stollens while the northern subspecies T. cordifolia var. cordifolia and T. cordifolia var. austrina do. Nurseries typically do not distinguish between the subspecies, but if you get a few plants you will usually end up with a couple that spread, naturally bolstering your planting over time.
What’s all the fuss about gardening with native plants anyway when it’s clear to see that many many exotic garden plants are covered in pollinators? Many pollinators are generalists and will visit any flower with nectar and pollen but some are specialists and only visit certain types of flowers. One such specialist bee raises its young exclusively on the pollen of Tiarella cordifolia. These and other native fauna have evolved with our native flora over millena and they are the ones most in need of conservation. Providing for the continuation of these unique and delicate relationships is a prime consideration for the Horticulture practiced at BBP. Likewise, anyone who can plant some well chosen native plants, even in containers or a small yard, can participate in environmental stewardship while beautifying the human environment at the same time.
To hear Evelyn speak about this plant, click here.