The three most popular species are A. major, A. carniolica and A. maxima
Although you would never say it, Astrantia are members of the Parsley family, Apiaceae. While at first glance, their flowers do not appear as an umbel (think of fennel or cow parsnip flowers), upon close inspection each ‘flower' is actually a small umbel surrounded by papery bracts. These bracts give the plants a long blooming season and make them ideal as a candidate for dried-flower arrangements.
Traditionally, the flowers of A. major and A. maxima were dull silvery-white. Astrantia carniolica is more colorful being pinkish-red. Astrantia major var. rosea also has pinkish flowers. Of particular merit is A. major subsp. involucrata whose bracts are twice the size of normal Astrantia, thus lend the ‘flowers' are much larger size. Like so many other garden ornamentals, Astrantia are currently enjoying a surge in popularity as a rash of new cultivars are being released. These cultivars are primarily selections of A. major with flowers that range from a more brilliant silver-white, through shades of pink to deep reddish-pink.
Among the selections of A. major subsp. involucrata are 'Shaggy' and 'Canneman'
Some of the modern-day white selections include ‘Star of Billion', ‘Star of Heaven', ‘Primadonna' and ‘Snow Star'. In the pink shades are ‘Rose Symphony', ‘Florence', ‘Tickled Pink', ‘Magnum Blush', ‘Buckland', ‘Abbey Road', ‘Lars' and ‘Lola'. Perhaps it is the reddish-pink shades that are currently the most popular. I must admit, many of these have flowers that are only subtly different from each other; they differ more in their ultimate plant height as some are shorter selections. These include ‘Ruby Cloud', ‘Hadspen Blood', ‘Moulin Rouge', ‘Star of Summer', ‘Roma', ‘Claret', ‘Star of Beauty', ‘Venice', ‘Ruby Stars', ‘Star of Fire', ‘Bloody Mary', ‘Ruby Wedding' and ‘Temptation Star'.
Above selections include 'Star of Heaven', 'Buckland' and 'Abbey Road'
Among the 'red' selections are 'Roma' and 'Star of Summer'
Among the A. major subsp. involucrata selections there is ‘Shaggy' (aka ‘Margery Fish') which is silvery-white and ‘Canneman' which is light pink. Finally, if variegated foliage is your thing, then Astrantia has two outstanding cultivars to fit that bill. ‘Sunningdale Variegated' has bold foliage with irregular but wide white margins while ‘Sunningdale Gold' has lovely yellow and green leaves.
Above are the variegated selections 'Sunningdale Variegated' and 'Sunningdale Gold'
Any of the above A. major selections, along with A. carniolica and A. maxima, are wonderful additions to the garden and will provide you with many weeks of blooms.
I would like to thank the following people for the use of their pictures: bootandall (A. maxima), bonniewong ('Sunningdale Gold' and 'Canneman'), DaylilySLP ('Star of Summer'), echoes ('Star of Heaven'), Galanthophile ('Sunningdale Variegated'), incomer44 ('Roma'), rebecca101 ('Abbey Road'), saya ('Shaggy') and stonetta (A. major).
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 19, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)