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Tiarella

- A Delightfully Shady Character
by Liesbeth Leatherbarrow
by Liesbeth Leatherbarrow



Liesbeth has written for several western gardening publications, including Gardens West and The Gardener for the Prairies. She has also co-authored three gardening books: The Calgary Gardener (with the Calgary Horticultural Society), The Calgary Gardener, Volume Two: Beyond the Basics (with Lesley Reynolds), and 101 Best Plants for the Prairies (with Lesley Reynolds).


March 27, 2005

1pt.gif (86 bytes)For me, one of the loveliest groundcovers of all is Tiarella cordifolia, more commonly known as foamflower or false mitrewort. Not only does it produce soft, low mounds of maple-like leaves crowned with short spires of delicate white flowers, it does so in shade – an area where landscaping solutions are not always obvious. If you have been plagued with uncertainty about what to grow in a spot that receives little or no direct sunlight during the course of a day, then consider planting foamflower – you won’t be disappointed!
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Foamflower plants grow from a fibrous-rooted crown, forming a central foliage rosette that reaches a mature height of 25 cm (10 in.). The light green, five-lobed leaves are covered with scattered hairs, giving them a soft, furry look and feel. In fall, the leaves turn a lovely russet colour.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Small, starry white to pale pink flowers are produced in late spring, forming erect, conical clusters on short stems that rise just above the foliage. In full bloom, the airy flower spikes remind me (and others) of little soft bottle brushes that have lathered up a fine, frothy foam, hence, its common name of foamflower.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Close inspection of individual flowers reveals the source of its botanical name, Tiarella, which is a diminutive of tiara, the Greek word for crown – its bright yellow pistils rise above the white petals like a tiny, golden crown. Greeks often presented foamflowers as a token of their love.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Foamflower, which is a native woodland plant of North America and eastern Asia, spreads into somewhat loose open colonies by runners; new plantlets root at nodes spaced at intervals along the runners in much the same way that strawberries claim an ever-expanding domain.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)A close relative of Tiarella cordifolia is T. wherryi (also sold as T. cordifolia var. collina). It is a compact, slow-growing, clump-forming plant much like T. cordifolia, but without its spreading habit. It produces hairy, three-lobed pale green, maroon-tinted leaves that are heart-shaped at the base. Pink-tinged flower spikes are borne in late spring and early summer. 
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Many of the new foamflower hybrids are also non-running. Although slightly less hardy than the species, they offer a wide selection of leaf colours and textures, and are definitely worth a try.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)‘Bronze Beauty’ has dark red-bronze foliage and light pinkish white flowers. ‘Dark Eyes’ has dark green, maple-shaped leaves with a dark blotch at the center of each, and a semi-running habit. ‘Eco Red Heart’ has light green leaves and a heart-shaped red zone; it bears pink flowers.  ‘Filigree Lace’ produces deeply-cut, lacy foliage and white flowers. ‘Inkblot’, as its name suggests, has dark green foliage with a large, inky-black blotch; it is topped with clusters of pink flowers. ‘Oakleaf’ is a choice hybrid, producing attractive foliage lobed like oak leaves and deep pink flowers. ‘Skeleton Key’ has very delicate, lacy foliage with a bronze flush.

Cultivation and propagation

1pt.gif (86 bytes)Plant foamflower in dappled or full shade. Although it tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, foamflower prefers, cool, moist, humus-rich soil. Apply an organic mulch of compost, shredded leaves, or shredded bark to help maintain soil moisture.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)You can deadhead flowers after they have finished blooming to tidy the plant’s appearance.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Clump-forming foamflowers can be divided in spring or fall; rooted runners can be removed and replanted any time.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Foamflowers are relatively disease and pest free. However, they are occasionally prone to rust and are also apparently a tasty treat for slugs, although that has never been a problem for me. Slugs seem to zero in on hostas in my garden.

Landscape use

1pt.gif (86 bytes)Tiarella cordifolia makes an exceptional groundcover in shade and woodland gardens, forming soft mats of weed-excluding foliage. Plant it along the edge of a path, in the dappled shade of shrubs or trees, or on the north side of an east-west fence. Clump-forming Tiarella wherryi is delightful in a shady spot at the front of perennial or mixed borders; it is also a welcome addition to shady rock gardens.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Foamflower is effective when planted in large, ever-expanding drifts but is equally engaging in combination with other woodland plants. Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata), creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera), wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), hostas, and ferns are all good companions. Other plants that make perfect partners for foamflower are western Canada violets, primulas, barrenwort (Epimedium spp.), bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia), and pulmonaria.






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