University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
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
shade. One of its selections, ‘Jack
Frost’, was named as the 2012 Perennial Plant of the Year.
this genus has three species, the only one you’ll really see is the
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,
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.
difference among plants is that while the species tend to spread
(one nursery calls
them “rompers”), making them wonderful groundcovers, the variegated
tend to be clumpers. Given ideal
conditions, cultivars may spread up to 18 inches, more for the
have small, sky blue flowers on stalks above the leaves in spring,
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).
addition to moist, shade gardens, these plants do well along shady
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.
brunnera combines well with heartleaf saxifrage (Bergenia),
variegated Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum), Japanese painted
fern (Athyrium), blue-leaved hostas, dark-leaved coralbells,
foamflower (Tiarella), lungwort (Pulmonaria), and
(particularly the white-flowered forms).
Use them along walks or garden edges, among other perennials, or
(particularly for a brilliant effect from the silvery selections).
the older cultivars, with silvery-white spots on dark green leaves,
‘Langtrees’. It tolerates dry conditions
once established and, unlike some of the newer cultivars, really
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’.
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’.
older cultivar with white in the leaves, this one with creamy-white
‘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’,
more narrow creamy-white borders and lighter yellow-green leaves.
Gold’ is just that, with golden green leaves.
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
specialty perennial plant nurseries, a listing for Vermont being