(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 12, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
In recent years a number of popular garden ornamentals have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity primarily due to their foliage....Heuchera, Pulmonaria and Epimedium immediately come to mind. Perhaps less well known but also the focus of modern-day plant breeders is the genus Brunnera, commonly known as Siberian bugloss or false forget-me-not. The genus Brunnera contains only three species but only one is grown in cultivation, B. macrophylla, a native of eastern Europe. It is a member of the Borage Family, Boraginaceae, being related to such plants as borage, lungwort and Virginian bluebells. The genus was named after a 19th century Swiss botanist named Samuel Brunner.
In the wild, Brunnera grows in reasonably moist, deciduous woodlands. In the garden, they prefer dappled shade and humus-rich soil. In cooler regions they can tolerate morning sun if the soil remains reasonably moist. In early-mid spring plants produce wiry stems topped with open clusters of blue or rarely white, ‘forget-me-not' like flowers. At this stage the leaves are still quite small. After blooming, the rounded to heart-shaped leaves increase significantly in size to reach upwards of a foot across. If well grown, these plants can assume the role of a groundcover in shady areas. They are quite deer-resistant. While rated hardy to zone 3, their leaves are prone to scorching if exposed to too much sun or wind.
Details of the flowers
While the straight species is very attractive, in recent years there have been a rash of new cultivars grown primarily for their decorative foliage. Among the older cultivars are ‘Variegata' (aka ‘Dawson's White') with wide, irregular white margins and ‘Hadspen Cream' with narrower, yellowish-cream margins. ‘Langtrees' is another older cultivar with silver-spotted margins and is the parent which has lead to the many newer silver-leaved cultivars.
Shown above are 'Variegata', 'Hadspen Cream' and 'Langtrees'
There are currently several cultivars that range in foliage colour from silver spotted to entirely silver. ‘Emerald Mist' is a vast improvement over ‘Langtrees' with margins boldly spotted in silver. ‘Silver Wings' has silver spotting over the entire leaf. ‘Jack Frost' was the harbinger of the really silver-leaved Brunnera and probably the most responsible for the surge in the popularity of Brunnera. This selection, which was released in 2001, has silver leaves with green veins. ‘Looking Glass', released in 2003, has foliage is that is essentially completely silver. Hot off the bench is ‘King's Ransom' which has the silver leaves of ‘Jack Frost' but with the added attraction of white-margined leaves!
Shown above are 'Jack Frost' and 'Looking Glass'
Yellow foliage is always in hot demand and thus plant breeders are now looking at Brunnera as a possible source for yellow-foliaged woodlanders. ‘Spring Yellow' comes quite close with spring foliage that is heavily spotted in yellow-green lending the leaves a chartreuse colour that contrasts beautifully with the blue flowers. The leaves turn more green as the season progresses. The newest and best of the yellow-variegated selections is ‘Gold Strike' whose leaves are irregularly streaked and blotched in yellow. This striking colour remains all season.
Shown above are 'Spring Yellow' and 'Gold Strike'
If white is your preference for woodland plants, then Brunnera can still fit the bill. The cultivar ‘Betty Bowring' (aka ‘Betsy Baring') and ‘Marley's White' are essentially white-flowered version of the regular species while ‘Mr. Morse' is a white-flowered version of ‘Jack Frost'.
The white-flowered 'Mr. Morse'
Some of these newer Brunnera are still limited in quantities and fetch rather high prices, but plants are long-lived and clump-up quickly so the initial investment is probably worthwhile. In addition, prices drop over time. I can remember paying $35 for ‘Jack Frost' when I first saw it on the market but now they are regularly sold for $15 or lower. So if an expensive cultivar strikes your fancy, be patient!
I would like to thank the following people for the use of their pictures: bert ('Variegata'), bonitin ('Spring Yellow' and 'Mr. Morse'), growin ('Langtrees' and 'Hadspen Cream') and lilypon ('Looking Glass').