University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
If you don’t know this perennial as Siberian bugloss, you may have seen it by its commonly used scientific genus name (Brunnera).  This low maintenance, hardy (as the Siberia name indicates), low and colorful-leaved perennial is a great choice for shade.  One of its selections, ‘Jack Frost’, was named as the 2012 Perennial Plant of the Year.
Although this genus has three species, the only one you’ll really see is the heartleaf brunnera (macrophylla) and its cultivars (cultivated varieties).  As its name indicates, these mounded plants, that reach a foot or more high, have many leaves from the base that are heart-shaped and up to 6 inches wide.  While the leaves of the species are green, those of most cultivars are various yellow or white-silvery colors, with various amounts of green.  These light colors help brighten up shade areas, which these plants prefer.  They’re best in shade to part shade (morning sun), and moist soils.
Another difference among plants is that while the species tend to spread (one nursery calls them “rompers”), making them wonderful groundcovers, the variegated cultivars tend to be clumpers.  Given ideal conditions, cultivars may spread up to 18 inches, more for the species. 
Most have small, sky blue flowers on stalks above the leaves in spring, in loose clusters (technically a wide-panicled raceme).  These flowers are very reminiscent of annual forget-me-nots (Myosotis), and in fact they’re related, both being in the borage family as are heliotrope, Virginia bluebells (Mertensia), and lungwort (Pulmonaria).
In addition to moist, shade gardens, these plants do well along shady water courses or features.  They’re tough plants as I’ve found out in my own USDA zone 4 gardens (-20 to -30 degrees F average winter minimum), both for hardiness and competition from weeds.  They’re generally free of any insects or diseases, and resistant to deer browsing.  They may have some leaf chewing from slugs or snails.  If so, try sprinkling coffee grounds around plants (repels slugs).  Or, place a rolled newspaper or board near plants.  Slugs will go in or under these by day, and so can be gathered up easily.
Heartleaf brunnera combines well with heartleaf saxifrage (Bergenia), variegated Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum), Japanese painted fern (Athyrium), blue-leaved hostas, dark-leaved coralbells, astilbe, foamflower (Tiarella), lungwort (Pulmonaria), and bleeding heart (particularly the white-flowered forms).  Use them along walks or garden edges, among other perennials, or massed (particularly for a brilliant effect from the silvery selections).
One of the older cultivars, with silvery-white spots on dark green leaves, is ‘Langtrees’.  It tolerates dry conditions once established and, unlike some of the newer cultivars, really likes the cooler climates of zone 6 (0 to -10 degrees F winter minimum) or colder.  A sport of this, found in a Michigan nursery and more tolerant of heat, is ‘Jack Frost’.  This has even more silvery leaves, with green veins contrasting on them.  Similar is ‘Mr. Morse’, only it has white flowers.  The only other one with white flowers, and with green leaves, is ‘Betty Bowring’.
There are several recent introductions, all sports of ‘Jack Frost’.  ‘Looking Glass’ has very silvery leaves and almost no green veins.  ‘King’s Ransom’, in addition to the silvery leaves, has wide, pale yellow margins.  ‘Emerald Mist’ has green leaves with wide silvery bars near the margins forming an inner collar of silver.  With more narrow silvery bands near the margins is ‘Silver Wings’. 
Another older cultivar with white in the leaves, this one with creamy-white borders, is ‘Dawson’s White’ (also called ‘Variegata’).  It doesn’t like drought nor heat, so only choose this if for a cool, moist, shady site.  More tolerant of sun and drought is the cultivar ‘Hadspen Cream’, with more narrow creamy-white borders and lighter yellow-green leaves. ‘Green and Gold’ is just that, with golden green leaves.
All these colored-leaved cultivars won’t come true if grown from seeds, so must be propagated through divisions of mature plants. You’ll find them at many specialty perennial plant nurseries, a listing for Vermont being found online (

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