20 August 2013

Heucheras : My Guilty Pleasure

I love Heucheras. Absolutely love them.

I appreciate that when first glanced at the plant as a whole can appear dull (where's the flower?) and sometimes a little too fleshy, but when you sit next to them when drinking your coffee and study them up close their true intricacy and subtlety becomes apparent.

I think they have an affinity with light.  Evening light in particular makes them come alive. Something magical happens when it bounces off the underside of the leaf and the whole plant glows with colour. The plant in these photos (Plum Pudding I think) has an amazing raspberry red character to it that you wouldn't know about on a dull day. I have another plant with yellow leaves that flashes a cheery pink.

And just look at the metallic sheen to these leaves. Purple and silver at the same time. You sort of expect it on an insect or bird wing, but are there many plants that are truly shiny?

However, there is a down side to Heucheras: they are so easily hybridized that the huge number of varieties available does give a commercial taint to their character. At the RHS Tatton show there were a few nurseries specialising in Heuchera. I stood salivating at the generous displays. There were vibrant fresh greens, dark velvety purples, shiny oranges - a sweet shop of delights. But they had such awful names: Cafe Ole, Berry Beauty, Gypsy Dancer, Southern Comfort. Where's the dignity?! Where's the respect?! Obviously where I see soul and beauty others see sponsership deals and sentimentality.

To answer your unspoken rejoinder if I grew a line of plants I'd simply number them. 'Purple65' summat like that.

Some Heuchera facts:

They were named after Johann Heinrich von Heucher, a professor of medicine and botany and a friend of Linnaeus (he of taxonomy fame). Herr von Heucher was an Austrian and his name was pronounced 'Hoyker', which is why the 'ch' in heuchera is a hard sound rather than the soft 'sh' sound that I used until put right by a cross nursery owner.

The plant is native to America, growing in different environments from woodlands, to mountains, and dry areas. Its common name is alumroot, or coral bells.

They are of the saxifrage family which includes Bergenia, Tiarella, Saxifrage, and Rodgersia (see below).

It was only in the 1980s that the major hybridization programme began.