Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Green Stars in the Shade

20150527AOne of my favorite perennials, the hacquetia (Hacquetia epipactis), is blooming right now in my shade garden… and what a flower! They are a startling bright yellow green with a domelike yellow center. Not many plants have green flowers and most of those that do are fairly inconspicuous. Yet the haquetia’s blooms stand out, at least if you’re fairly nearby. In actual fact, the blooms are not individual flowers, but composite flowers: the central disk is composed of hundreds of tiny yellow blooms while the green petals are actually bracts, like a poinsettia. And also like a poinsettia, they last and last. From May to July! Their striking color illuminates the undergrowth where they grow like stars piercing the darkness.

The blooms are borne on short stems that barely hover over the leaves. The latter form a dense rosette about 3 to 4 inches (7-10 cm) high by 1 foot (30 cm) in diameter. The leaves are attractive in their own right, umbrellalike or shieldlike (take your pick!) with five deep lobes and a gently incised tip. They are medium green and, unlike many spring-bloomers, last through the summer.

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Hacquetia epipactis is “monotypic”: the only species of the genus Hacquetia, named for the 19th century Austrian botanist and physician Balthasar Hacquet. It is native to the mountain forests of central Europe. It is an unusual member of the Apiaceae (Umbelliferae), perhaps better known as the carrot family, but it really has no close living relative. Look at the photos: have you ever seen a flower even vaguely similar? It really is in its own category!

I admit this is a collector’s plant, probably too small and too green for the flower bed of Mr. and Mrs. Everybody… but the Royal Horticultural Society still found it interesting enough to grant the hacquetia its prestigious Award of Garden Merit, no small thing!

Weird but Easy to Grow

Certainly it couldn’t be easier to grow. It’s a woodland plant in the wild and does best under similar circumstances in the garden. It prefers sites that receive full to part sun in the spring, that is, sun filtered through the branches of overhanging trees while they are still without leaves. In summer, it does best in partial shade, but readily tolerates deep shade. Offer it soil rich in organic matter and some moisture at all times. While it readily tolerates the presence of tree roots (is a woodland plant, after all!), it does not like to dry out entirely. If you plant it in a suitable site, it will need essentially no care.

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With its attractive foliage, the hacquetia remains beautiful all summer.

As for multiplying it, most gardeners allow this plant to “do its own thing”, simply harvesting self-sown seedlings (never very numerous) to plant elsewhere as needed. You can also divide it or collect seeds to sow yourself.

I haven’t found the available information on it’s resistance to winter cold too clear. Some authorities say zone 5, others zone 4. I’m growing it in USDA zone 3 (AgCan zone 4b), although under heavy snow cover in winter. I’d guess that zone 4 would probably be a realistic northern limit in spots where the plant is fully exposed.

Finally, there is also a variegated cultivar, ‘Thor’, with both leaves and bracts bearing beautiful white margins. I’ve taken photos of this plant while traveling in Europe, but I have not yet seen in North America. If you know a source for ‘Thor’, please let me know!

Where to Find It?

This is a collector’s plant: your average local nursery will almost certainly not carry it. On the Internet, though, you ought to be able to find a source in your country. In Canada,  Fraser’s Thimble Farms (which ships to the US) and Lost Horizons Perennials offer it by mail order. If you know of other sources, let me know and I will update this text (the benefit of a blog compared to a paper publication is that you add more info as needed).

So there you go: one of my favorite perennials. I’ll admit it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I love it!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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