a plant i’d order: darmera peltata, a shady western native

darmera peltata flowersSOON DARMERA PELTATA will send up its big green umbrella-like leaves, but on recent spring days when I needed either an extra sweater or some shade against baking heat (crazy weather!), the so-called umbrella plant had no weather protection of any kind for me. It did have flowers, though–beautiful ones, on tall, naked stems.

Out of the leaf litter they ascend.

When I purchased this native of woodsy streambanks in northwestern California and southwestern Oregon for my New York garden, it was still called Peltiphyllum peltatum. I have a thing for big-leaved plants (like Astilboides, its cousin Rodgersia, and even thuggish Petasites). I had to try Darmera, whose leaves can reach 18 inches or even 24 across, held 3 to 5 feet high.

Darmera can take substantial shade, but don’t let it struggle in too-dry soil. Finding the right light/soil moisture balance is the key; the more sun you give it, the more water it will crave. Missouri Botanical Garden says it can grow in sun if soil conditions are very moist, but I haven’t pushed it beyond half-day exposure here. (I don’t have a sunny, boggy spot for that experiment.) You’ll know if it’s too hot or dry, because the leaves will promptly burn.

Indeed Darmera, hardy to Zones 5-7, can even thrive in a bog. Don’t try to push it too far South, though, where it will be unhappy. Give the plant room, because it’s rhizomatous, and will colonize—in the very best way. What could be bad about a dramatic colony of green umbrellas?

more photos, and where to buy

THERE’S A great photo of those green umbrellas on Great Plant Picks’ website; I’ll take one this season, but for now, click here to catch a glimpse. Annie’s Annuals usually has it for sale.

  1. Liane says:

    I too have a fondness for those same enormous leaved plants. I do grow Darmera peltata in Atlanta (Zone 8, formerly 7b), out of the sun. Both of mine are small still, although the newer one in moister soil shows more promise. I look forward to seeing the blooms some day. If you want it badly enough, you push the zone!

    I’ve also been nursing a Rodsgeria pinnata (which should be more hardy for me) for years, with slow growth, and finally moved it to a new spot this year with modest hopes. Astilboides tabularis made a surprise appearance in my garden (I never bought it, at least not as that) in a spot that will surely get too sunny and hot for it, but I can’t bear to disturb the young plant with its two rapidly growing leaves just yet. (Hmmm, did I collect some seeds at the St. Louis Botanical garden from this last year? I do recall a lovely wooded area with big leaved plants that I was envying!)

    Meanwhile a young Petasites placed near our lake has been crushed by a rock, a brick, a kayak, had paddles atop it and is undeterred! Now if I can just convince another not quite as big leaved plant, Kirengeshoma to grow for me. Three years old and four inches high! Big foliage plants are my deep summer favorites. Luckily our winters let some colocasias and fatsia be perennial too. ‘Black Magic’ colocasia has been positively thuggish the last two years. It would grow by runners across a sidewalk if I let it!

    1. margaret says:

      Love them all, Liane, and grow them all! The big-leaved plants are definitely my favorites, and you’ve listed some of the best.

  2. naomi says:

    Thanks for this information. I was thinking this plant would be nice in my yard, but you have the clearest requirements. Despite the humidity here in New Orleans, it’s already 84º during the day. I think even with a bog it’s too hot. I suppose I’ll stick with Farfugiums. I do like seeing what you grow.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Naomi. Definitely not Deep South, sorry to say. The Farfugiums are wonderful — I can grow them as “annuals” in pots and then overwinter them in the house.

  3. Pat Webster says:

    I have had great success with darmera — I guess I’m lucky to have the perfect conditions of just enough sun, just enough moisture and just enough space for a plant that looks wonderful when it isn’t crowded. I enjoy the early season flowers but the leaves are the reason I grow it.

    1. margaret says:

      I love the leaves, too, Pat, but right abotu now — with nothing happening but hellebores and the earliest daffodils — it is looking pretty nice! :)

  4. Anne E. Hock says:

    Hi Margaret. After I saw your huge astilaboides plant I was just desperate to have one. Now I have two….growing in largish pots in the semi shade of my patio. Dappled sun for about
    an hour or two in the pm. I just could not put those tiny things into the garden yet! After two
    months they have two leaves…one about 8″ across…..Wow! I have some large hostas in what
    I call my hosta bed…which has ferns, etc. What do you call this type of exposure. Shade all
    day through May….then about two hours of sun….dappled in the late afternoon. I have grown
    hostas there successfully, but apply lots of water in the summer. I will try the darmera, too.
    I love big blousy plants in the garden. But, advise to all new garden bed developers. Never
    plant English ivy. A thug to be sure. Love your site and all the hard work you do for us!!!

  5. TMB says:

    I have a perfect wet area for both the Darmera and/or Astilboides but also have a terrible time with slugs. In your experience with these plants, is one better than the other in regards to repelling these pests? Thanks!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, TMB. I haven’t had a slug problem with them, but I don’t generally have many slugs (I don’t think they like my particular mulch!). The Astilboides has a bit of a scratchy surface (not smooth like a hosta) so maybe that’s a good thing re: slugs not loving it?

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