Monday, April 9, 2018


by Sharon Faircloth

Brunnera macrophylla w/ Matteuccia struthiopteris and  Gallium odoratum and some pushy mint
Brunnera macrophylla w/ Matteuccia struthiopteris and
 Gallium odoratum and some pushy mint

A lovely little perennial that will brighten up any area with part-sun to shade is Brunnera macrophylla.  It is a member of the Boraginaceae family also known by common names of Siberian Bugloss, Heartleaf Brunnera or False Forget-Me-Not.  My preference is Siberian Forget-Me-Not because its delicate little flowers are such a contrast to the ruggedness of our mountain terrain.  It will easily grow in Zones 3-8. 

Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost
Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost

The leaves are heart-shaped and come in different varieties and shades of green ranging from yellowish to very dark green.  The Jack Frost cultivar has variegated, silvery leaves.  The Diane’s Gold variety is yellow-green.  The heart-shaped leaves range from a petite size to very large elephant ear like size.  The delicate periwinkle flowers shoot up on airy little branches providing visual interest in early summer.  It’s attractive to bees and butterflies and not so much to deer, elk and rabbits! 

Brunnera, Osterich Fern and Astilbe
Brunnera, Osterich Fern and Astilbe

Brunnera provides an interesting option for ground cover in shadier areas, especially in conjunction with other groundcovers.  It prefers moist, well-drained soil but tolerates dryness once established.  Mulch will help keep the moisture in and protect from winter harshness.  While planting instructions suggest best results come with rich soil (what doesn’t??), I found the plants to be quite hardy once established.  They will grow in small mounds, up to about 12 inches tall and 12-24 inches across.  Plants will self-seed and you can also save seeds to plant in other areas or divide in the spring. 

There are several complementary spreaders (See Fact Sheet 7.413 for mountain specific ground covers at including Lamium maculatum (Dead Nettle) which has a variegated leaf that has a stand alone interest, even when not in bloom. For people with slightly warmer microclimates,  Galium odoratum (Sweet woodruff) which is also a good spreader with different texture and fragrant little white flowers or Ajuga reptans  (Bugleweed) which has bronze, mat-forming leaves.  This combination provides contrast in color, bloom, height, while sharing the same requirements of soil and light. 

Other ideas for companion plants include Dicentra spectabilus (Bleeding heart) with bright pink or reddish flowers; Astilbe arendsii or A. japonica which also have bright pink, red, white or more subtle colorations with long lasting plume-like flowers; and Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich fern) which is easy to grow and gives, yet another, texture and height that will complement the Brunnera.

Consider incorporating the subtle little Brunnera in your shady landscape and come late spring or early summer, and I think you will be so happy you did!

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