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Perennially yours: herbaceous perennials need love too!

Beltsville Garden Club lecture, 3/28/18

Richard T. Olsen, U.S. National Arboretum


While on the surface I’m a woody plant person, I really love all plants and indulge in perennials, annuals, and tender flora at home. For nearly 10 years, that was in Greenbelt in mostly shade (moist in front, dry in the back); now, in Beltsville on a high, dry ridge top with lots of sun!  Referenced below are plants that have done well for me in MD and NC (under similar circumstances), or that I am planning on experimenting with and should have some success, or simply plants I have admired along the gardening journey! While a lot of perennials, please excuse me for inserting some woody plants. I can’t help it! At the end, I have included some references for mail order nurseries that offer some of these plants, or serve as a great starting place to look!


(Sun) & average moisture:

Paeonia Itoh Hybrids (intersectional tree x herbaceous peony hybrids)

Viola sororia (common blue violet; weedy but host to native butterflies!)

Salix humulis var. tristis (dwarf prairie willow; can take drier conditions, great silvery foliage)


(Sun) & dry:

Eucomis comosa ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ (pineapple lily)

Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’ (falseindigos, any of the new hybrids!); Baptisia bracteata (cream wild indigo; early flowering species)

Liatris pycnostachya (prairie blazing star; tall robust species; Kobold widely available)

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed); Aclepias asperula (antelope horns milkweed); Asclepias speciosa ‘Davis’ (Western showy milkweed; experimenting with this!)

Solidago drummondii (Drummond’s goldenrod; not shown, try Solidago shortii ‘Solar Cascade’ or S. rugosa ‘Fireworks’ for similar affects)

Euthamia graminifolia (flat-topped goldenrod)

Eupatorium capillifolium (dogfennel; old field weed with great texture and smell, insignificant flowers); Eupatorium serotinum (late boneset; wonderful local pollinator with white flowers in fall)

Vernonia lindheimeri var. leucophyllum (syn. V. larseniae) (silver ironweed; experimenting with this!)

Amsonia hubrichtii (narrowleaf bluestar); Amsonia montana ‘Short Stack (dwarf bluestar)

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’ (October Skies fragrant aster)

Pennisetum orientalis ‘Tall Tails’ & ‘Karley Rose’ (well-behaved cultivars of oriental fountain grass)

Muhlenberiga capillaris (pink muhly grass; outstanding native grass)

Eragrostis spectabalis (weeping love grass; overlooked native, great filler in full sun; fall flowers)

Hylotelephium spectabile ‘Autumn Fire’ (Autumn Fire showy stonecrop; replacement for old standard Autumn Joy)

Opuntia phaeacantha (tulip prickly pear; cold hard southwestern species; Dark Knight cultivar has purple pads!); O. humifusa (eastern prickly pear, native to MD!); Cylindropuntia whipplei ‘Snow Leopard’ (Snow leopard whipple cholla; cold-hardy cholla with spectacular white spines!)

Agave parryii (Parry’s agave; one of the most cold-hardy forms; keep crown dry in winter)

Narcissus jonquilla var. henriquesii



(Part-Sun) & average moisture:

Indigofera kirilowii (Kirilow indigo; also consider Indigofera decora ‘Rosea’, which spreads!)

Asclepias quadrifolia (whorled milkweed; shade-tolerant)

Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’

Pycnathemum muticum (mountain mint; spreader with silver bracts and pollinator magnet)

Sabal minor (dwarf palmetto; tough hardy palm for full sun to shade; prefers drier soils in north)

Iris tectorum (Japanese roof iris; great doer in full to part-shade, can take it dry; Woolong is a great Chinese form of the species)

Carex scaposa (Cherry blossom sedge; introduction from USNA with pink flowers; $0.10 to USNA for every plant sold, thanks to Hoffman Nursery)



(Shade to part-sun) & moist:

Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’ (giant leopard plant; shiny foliage and late fall yellow flowers)

Ligularia ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’ (Britt-Marie Crawford purple leopard plant)

Matteuccia struthiopteris ‘The King’ (The King ostrich fern; giant of the clan, spreads!)

Collinsonia canadensis (Horsebalm; late flowering mint relative with great foliage)

Paeonia obovata (Japanese woodland peony; fall color and fruit!)

Chasmanthium latifolium (river oats; self-sowing native grass for shade)


(Sun) & moist:

Napaea dioica (Glade mallow; unusual native hibiscus relative with tropical foliage!)


(Shade to part-sun) & average:

Ophiopogon jaburan (giant mondo grass)

Beesia deltophylla (False bugbane; available in Dan Hinkley collection from Monrovia)

Carex radiata (eastern star sedge; native widely across eastern US; can take some dry shade)

Helleborus xorientalis (Lenten Roses; beware of self-sowing; lots of hybrids and colors now!)

Leucosceptum stellipilum ‘October Moon’ (October Moon Japanese shrub mint; most have textural and flowering sub-shrub!)

Hakenochloa macra (Japanese forest grass; commonly found in variegated and golden forms; one few true grasses for shade)


Just for fun:

Colocasia gigantea ‘Thai Giant’ (Thai Giant elephant ear; selection from Plant Delights Nursery)

Petasites japonicas var. giganteus (Giant Japanese butterbur; for the brave, will run, prefers cool)

Trifolium repens ‘Atropurpureum’ (Purple foliaged white clover; may see “Dark Dancer” marketed)





Plant Delights Nursery, mail order, on-line: https://www.plantdelights.com/


Quackin’ Grass, mail order, on-line: https://www.quackingrassnursery.com/


Far Reaches Farm, mail order, on-line: http://www.farreachesfarm.com/


High Country Gardens, mail order, on-line: https://www.highcountrygardens.com/


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