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The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support
or recommend plants featured in "Plant of the Week." Please consult your local Extension
office for plants suitable for your region.
Mass merchants have flourished using the 80/20 rule. Their premise has been that 80
percent of sales is generated by 20 percent of the merchandise on their shelves, so
by carefully stocking the high demand items both volume and profits can be increased.
Using this mass appeal approach, everything from the cars we drive to the toothpaste
by the sink becomes more homogenized.
The 80/20 principle holds true in the plant world too, and I’ve been intrigued by
what forces pigeonhole a plant into the high demand or also-run category. Coralbells
(Heuchera sanguinea) has long languished in the also-run category, but renewed interest seems to be pushing
it towards greater popularity. One might logically ask why?
Coralbells is a member of the saxifrage family and is native to the mountains of New
Mexico and Arizona. It is an herbaceous, evergreen perennial that forms clumps to
16 inches across but less than 8 inches in height. Its leaves are about 2 inches across,
rounded, toothed and borne on 4-inch long petioles. Most selections have mottled,
gray-green leaves that vaguely resembles that of a geranium.
My personal favorite amongst the coralbells is a cultivar called Snow Angel. It has
the characteristics of the typical coralbells except the foliage is white-variegated,
producing an effective display even when the plant is not in bloom.
In late spring, coralbells produces 18-inch tall, open panicles bearing an array of
dainty, bell-shaped flowers about the size of a pea. The Latin epitaph - sanguinea - translates as blood, the typical flower color of the species. Breeders have extended
the normal red flower color to pink, coral and white forms. Plants remain in bloom
until early summer.
The path coralbells took from the wilds of the American West to gardens throughout
the world is uncertain, but it seems likely to have been gathered into the fold by
Europeans who began growing rock garden plants in the 1880s. By the turn of the 20th
century, it was well known in the horticultural literature.
But, though it was offered, coralbells became neither rich nor famous. As one writer
put it, the plant is "in all respects an unassuming, pleasing plant." Yikes! Unassuming
- the kiss of death in the popularity poll of life.
But we are here to save the day. The Arkansas Green Industry Association and University
of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service have selected Heuchera as one of the Arkansas Select plants for 2003. Plant breeders, lead by Oregon nurseryman
Dan Heims, have been busy little bees in recent years producing upwards of a hundred
new Heuchera hybrids.
These hybrids have been mass produced in tissue culture and a bevy of these new garden
gems await you at your local garden center or nursery. For a comprehensive look at
the Arkansas Select plants, visit the Arkansas Extension Home and Garden website at
Coralbells are easy to grow in any moderately rich garden soil. In the garden, they
are best situated in light shade or in full sun if protected from the scorching heat
of late afternoon.
While they have good drought tolerance, some attention to watering will give better
garden performance. A topdressing with fertilizer in the spring encourages robust
If left unattended for many years, coralbells will begin getting smaller and smaller,
eventually disappearing completely. To avoid this, lift and dive the plants every
three to five years and replenish the site with fresh compost.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals Extension News - April 18, 2003
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists
of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery
or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing