In my first "Late Bloomers" article, I discussed four popular fall-blooming perennials, the aster, boltonia, Japanese anemone and helenium. Here are four more perennial choices for adding autumn color: aconitum, chelone, cimicifuga and tricyrtis. Although less likely to be sold at garden centers, they’re all well worth tracking down in a larger nursery or catalog.
Also called monkshood or wolfsbane, aconitum is one of the showiest back-of-the-border perennials. Aconitum's spires of blue flowers recall those of its sun-loving relative, the delphineum. This plant demands a moist organic soil and does best in partial shade. To add a pop of brilliant blue-violet color in mid-fall, try planting the strong-stemmed, 24- to 36-inch tall A. carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’. A. ‘Bressingham Spire’ has flowers of deep blue in August and September, and at 2 1/2 to 3 feet high, doesn’t require staking. A. spicatum ‘Stainless Steel’ reaches 36-40 inches and produces silvery-sheened pale violet blooms through early fall. Note: All parts of the aconitum are highly poisonous. Wear gloves when handling this plant, and never place in a spot where it could endanger children or pets. Zones 3-8.
A. carmichaelii 'Arendsii'
A. 'Bressingham Spire'
A. x cammarum 'Stainless Steel'
Chelone lyonii begins blooming in summer and continues for weeks into September. This sturdy, upright, clump-forming perennial is a native of the southeastern U.S. and at home in sunny to partly shady locations. It demands moisture and does best in a medium to wet soil rich in humus. The plant’s common name, pink turtlehead, is a reference to the showy pink flowers whose open “mouths” invite bees to enter. Chelone reaches a height of 2 to 4 feet and spreads between 1-1/2 and 2-1/2 feet. The cultivar ‘Hot Lips’ has bronze-green leaves that turns darker than that of the species, but the foliage of both looks good all season long. Zones 3-8.
Actaea simplex is a new botanical moniker for an old favorite you may know by the name of Cimicifuga. Common names for this plant include bugbane, cohosh, snakeroot and fairy candles. Cimicifuga can be slow to establish and may not bloom until it has been in the ground for several years, but it's well worth the wait. The creamy white spikes of bottlebrush-like flowers produced in late summer to early fall have a lightly scented nectar that attracts butterflies. The foliage also serves as a host plant for the spring azure and Appalachian blue butterflies. Cimicifuga prefers partial to full shade but likes moisture, so it will not do well under trees where it has to compete for water. Plants grow from 2 to 4 feet high, but the flowering spikes can extend several feet higher. ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ has strkingly dark fine-cut foliage and light pink blooms. ‘Pink Spike’ has burgundy foliage and produces soft pink flowers. Zones 3-7.
A. simplex 'Hillside Black Beauty'
A. simplex 'Pink Spike'
Tricyrtis formosana, also known as the toad lily, is one of the latest-blooming of all perennials, with flowers persisting well into autumn. A native of Taiwan, this unusual plant grows from 2 to 3 feet high and 1-1/2 to 2 feet wide. The exotic-looking white or light pink flowers are small but showy, with yellow throats and large reddish-purple spots. This plant prefers part to full shade in a moist, even wet, soil that is well-drained. Given a spot it likes, tricyrtis will slowly naturalize to form a colony. Its orchid-like blooms are best appreciated close up. The hybrid ‘White Towers’ is a compact specimen with flowers of pure white. Zones 4-9.
T. 'White Towers'
Thumbnail photo of Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii' by DG member Bazuhi
DGMember photos by Veshengo, KevinMc79, bonehead, DaylilySLP, hczone6, growin, sanannie, philomel, rcn48