Regional Picks: Large-Leaved Perennials – Midwest

Fine Gardening - Issue 161

1. Shredded Umbrella Plant

Name: Syneilesis aconitifolia

USDA hardiness zones: 3 to 8

Size: 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; fertile, well-drained soil

In the world of big green umbrellas, plants with leaves of the shredded kind carry extra panache. Shredded umbrella plant is a ligularia relative with dissected, fingerling leaves rising from fuzzy silver buds in spring. It is best suited for the edge of a shade garden. Over a few seasons, it colonizes into a stately mass, barely a few feet wide, but the leaves unfurl into a canopy up to 3 feet tall. In flower, it’s not much to look at; the off-white tufts play second fiddle to the leaves.


2. Ornamental Rhubarb

Name: Rheum palmatum var. tanguticum

Zones: 5 to 9

Size: 3 to 5 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist soil

What’s not to love about rhubarb, even if it’s not harmonizing with strawberries? Grand fans of bristled, palmate leaves pile up on the crowns of this Asian cousin to garden rhubarb, which makes a fine ornamental even if you’re not apt to harvest it for the kitchen. Rich, moist conditions are essential for success. Ornamental rhubarb is prone to summer dormancy in hot conditions, but ample moisture in its root zone usually ensures a long-lasting foliar display, even as its red and pink plumes rocket to 5 feet overhead.


3. Variegated Yucca

Name: Yucca filamentosa ‘Variegata’

Zones: 4 to 11

Size: 20 to 36 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

The variegated form of the Great Plains native, this yucca is a fine statement plant with spiky texture. In many respects, variegated yucca is like its unbanded cousins, but it differs in that it is a more compact specimen, only reaching about 2 feet tall without flowers and rarely reseeding or colonizing with the fervor of the wildlings. The flowers resemble familiar yucca: combs of white bells on 6-foot-tall stalks. In a rosette, the plant stands in sharp contrast to surrounding plantings, even as it thrives in a range of garden soils.


4. Umbrella Plant

Name: Darmera peltata

Zones: 5 to 9

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist soil

This Oregon native does remarkably well in midwestern gardens, breezily weathering heat and humidity as long as it’s planted in wet soils. Perfect tucked along the edge of a water garden, umbrella plant has substantial leaves that glow with red fall color after stealing the show from early-spring flowers. Planted in colonies, these waterside umbrellas disrupt expectations with their arresting textures.


Kelly D. Norris is an author, a plantsperson, and the horticulture manager at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden in Des Moines, Iowa.

Photos: #1, Nancy J. Ondra; #2, Joshua McCullough; #3, courtesy of Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.; #4, Jennifer Benner

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