Coral Bells: An introduction to Heuchera cultivars
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 7, 2008. Your comments are welcome but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Nothing beats a bright, limey colored foliage plant for contrast in a drab garden corner.
'Amber Waves' is a popular cultivar, known for its striking chartreuse leaves which can also vary from shades of yellow to tangerine (pictured right). It needs partial to full shade, though tolerates some morning and evening full sun. 'Amber Waves' keeps its leaves through most of, if not all, of winter, remaining a bright spot for the colder months.
This bright green cultivar boasts leaves with deep serration and very ruffled edges. Lime Rickey blooms small white spires in late spring to early summer. 'Lime Rickey' is the result of a cross between Amber Waves and Huntsman.
'Dolce Key Lime Pie' is a newer cultivar of coral bells. The "Dolce" series is a specially bred line of heucheras that can withstand more heat and humidity than most cultivars. 'Key Lime Pie' has beautiful chartreuse to yellow leaves with pink to white flowers. This cultivar can thrive in both full sun and shady locations.
'Palace Purple' is the most well-known cultivar of all heucheras. It has dullish purple, deeply serrated leaves with bright red undersides. 'Palace Purple' is widely available at big box stores and is a great introduction to the world of Coral Bells. A relative to the native American species H. macrantha, it can be grown in partial sun to full shade, but will do best with mostly shade. It is a fast-growing plant that is easy to divide. Most Heuchera aficionados will tell you if you really want to enjoy this genus, use this in addition to other cultivars.
A nice alternative to 'Palace Purple', 'Amethyst Myst's' foliage can vary from a deep raspberry to an elegant burgundy. This one will do best in part-sun.
Plum Pudding's color can range from smoky gray to deep purple to a reddish plum color depending on sun exposure. It will, however, do best with mostly shade in more extreme heat. Well draining soil is necessary for all Heucheras to thrive, this cultivar included.
There aren't many other perennial plants out there that can provide bright, long-lasting burgundy or orange foliage. Try some of these for a warm-toned pop in your garden.
Mahogany is a new introduction from Terra Nova Nurseries, which is known for its cutting edge Heuchera cultivars. The foliage is deep red to burgundy with bright pinkish-red undersides. It can be grown in full sun to partial shade.
Also part of the resilient "Dolce" series, 'Creme Brulee' is a beautiful yellow-orange specimen. The leaves will take on a brown tinge as the weather cools.
'Crimson Curls' has unusual burgundy leaves that are extremely and strikingly ruffled. The leaves emerge in the spring as deep red and fade to dark green as summer progresses. It can be grown in full sun to part shade. Crimson Curls was developed in England by Ray Brown.
'Caramel' is a beautiful, tangy colored plant that can vary from bright yellow-green to a tangerine color in the center where new leaves emerge. Caramel was discovered as a chance seedling (parents unknown) in 2002 in France. According to Missouri Botanical Gardens, "some nurseries are currently selling ‘Caramel’ as a cultivar of H. villosa, a southeastern U.S. native known for its tolerance to hot and humid summers."
Black foliage creates a wonderful contrast to your everyday green foliage. The purplish tinge of most "black" plants compliments many different flower colors as well. Similarly, silver foliage is a nice change of pace from your everyday garden plant. Ever thought to try a "black and white" garden?
'Obsidian' is one of the darkest Heuchera cultivars. It is nearly pitch-black and provides a stark contrast to most any companion plant.
Obsidian also provides interesting fall colors. As the leaves begin to change, speckled shades of red and green emerge.
'Can Can' has distinctively serrated silver leaves with ruffled edges and purple veining. It was introduced about ten years ago and has many awards to its credit.
A new introduction, Cinnabar Silver has beautiful silvery foliage with large, rusty-orange spikes of flowers in early spring.
Also recently introduced, 'Hollywood' has silvery leaves with a purple tint. The main draw to this cultivar is its bold, large red flowers. Whereas most Heuchera flowers are somewhat forgettable, this plant will stop you with its large mass of scarlet spires.
'Green Spice' (H. americana)
'Green Spice' has striking bright green leaves with red-tinged veins. It almost looks like a zonal geranium with its broad, variegated leaves. 'Green Spice' is another cultivar relative to a native species to the United States. If you are looking to start a wildlife or native garden, H. americana, H. richardsonii, and H. macrantha are excellent choices. As DG subscriber Equilibrium vouches, "I specifically chose straight species Heuchera to provide habitat for small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. They are full and lush and the little creatures of the woods can often be found under and around my heucheras." She also finds them effective protection for animals from wind, sun, and predators. One more added bonus Equilibrium notes is their attractiveness to butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.
Native Heuchera species are definitely a worthwhile addition to your garden for their aesthetic appeal and as well as their benefit to wildlife. They are harder to find commercially, but are worth the search.
Champagne Bubbles has bright green leaves with delicate, irregular white marbling. Unlike most Heucheras, this cultivar is sometimes grown only for its blooms which are tall (30 inches) spires of pink and white flowers.
Very few Heucheras have such impressive flowers as 'Firefly' does. The foliage is more or less forgettable, but those flowers are anything but. Tall, bright red spires stand tall over smallish green leaves.
This is only a scratch on the surface of the many beautiful and useful Heucheras that exist. Use this list as a jumping off point to start a Heuchera addiction all your own!
Amber Waves - Happenstance
Lime Rickey - Equilibrium
Dolce Key Lime Pie - Northgrass
Purple Palace - Pirl
Amethyst Mist - Happenstance
Plum Pudding - Equilibrium
Mahogany - Erynne
Dolce Crème Brulee - Mnk
Crimson Curls - TcfromKy
Caramel - Victorgardener
Both images of Obsidian-Kruch 72
Can Can - Keno
Cinnabar – Equilibrium
Green Spice - LynnCanGrowIt
Champagne Bubbles - Lincolnitess
Firefly – Kachinagirl
Special thanks to Equilibrium!