Butterfly Wings

Elizabeth Oliver

Pink Brushes

Pink Pearls

Running Tiger

Featured Plants

We have included profiles of our favorite foamflowers, 'Elizabeth Oliver,' 'Butterfly Wings,' 'Pink Brushes,' 'Pink Pearls,' and 'Running Tiger.'

Origin of Garden Tiarella

Tiarella or foamflowers are native to the woodlands of North America and eastern Asia.  They are small plants with slightly hairy heart-shaped leaves that form clumps or spread by runners to make patches. In spring the plants give rise to spikes of starry white or pink flowers. In eastern North America there are several different looking forms that are currently combined under the name Tiarella cordifolia in official taxonomic usage. For horticultural usage, though, it is convenient to distinguish the forms as T. cordifolia, T. collina, and T. wherryi. T. cordifolia, seen in the picture at right and the two pictures below, is the small running Allegheny Foamflower, found from New Brunswick and Ontario south to the mountains of North Carolina. This is an excellent native groundcover, which makes a dense patch of foliage that is often marked with attractive maroon patches. In spring white or pale pink flowers on 12" spikes give a "foamy" appearance to the plants.

Tiarella cordifolia in nature
wild Tiarella cordifolia with maroon markings Tiarella cordifolia used as a groundcover

Tiarella collina T. collina and T. wherryi make larger clumps without runners. T. collina, seen left top, has glossy foliage, often with dark stems, and substantial spikes of white or pink flowers to 18". T. wherryi has matte foliage of a lighter green and white or pink flowers to about 14 to 16". All of these varieties have forms in which the foliage is deeply lobed rather than heart-shaped: in T. cordifolia the small selection 'Slick Rock,' in T. collina the form 'Excelsa,' and in T. wherryi the selection named 'Oakleaf,' although the leaves are lobed like a fig leaf rather than an oak. On the Pacific Coast are T. trifoliata and T. unifoliata, which are also currently lumped together, but can be treated separately for horticultural convenience. T. unifoliata is a relatively large form with white flowers on 18" stems and rounded leaves. T. trifoliata, pictured on the left, is smaller and has white flowers and leaves that vary from heart shaped to three-lobed and in the form var. laciniata so deeply cut as to be fully compound. Both of these types bloom from late spring into the summer; unfortunately they are not very hardy in the eastern United States. There is an additional species, T. polyphylla, in eastern Asia. This has rounded leaves and white to dark pink flowers. This has not proved a hardy plant in the eastern US and has not been used as a hybrid parent of any commercially introduced ciltivars.
Tiarella trifoliata

Until relatively recently the foamflowers have been grown almost entirely in woodland gardens devoted to native plants. The richness of variation in the group and the attractiveness of many forms gives them great potential for development as mainstream garden perennials for use in shaded sites, though, and in the late 1980s the hybrid crosses were made at The Primrose Path that have provided the basic material for the almost all of the new cultivars that have come onto the market in the 1990s.The first of these new cultivars was 'Tiger Stripe,' below left, an exceptionally vigorous plant with seasonally variable maroon leaf markings and light pink flowers. 'Tiger Stripe' was then combined with T. trifoliata var. laciniata to produce a group of hybrids with variably cut foliage. One selection, 'Filigree Lace,' was selected from this set hybrids and introduced to the trade. Selection and additional crosses within this group  produced 'Martha Oliver'and 'Elizabeth Oliver,' below middle. These were named after the breeder's wife and daughter, respectively. Other breeders have continued on from this stock to introduce a large number of hybrids with foliage of various coloration and degrees of cutting. The Primrose Path subsequently introduced 'Arpeggio' and 'Green Sword,' below right. All of the Tiarella are valuable plants that can be used to bring variety to the shade garden, complementing the delicacy of ferns and lightening the weight of hosta and other coarse foliage.

Tiarella 'Tiger Stripe' in winter Tiarella 'Elizabeth Oliver' Tiarella 'Green Sword'

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