Earth Day

Geranium, Tiarella & Aquilegia

Just in time for Earth Day, we’ve approached that time of the season again where lots o’ crops are working on flushing themselves out, some of them inviting the gaze of admirers with the first colorful blooms of the season. It’s almost unfair and impossible to pinpoint simply one of the many lovely early Spring-flowering perennials that we offer here at Pleasant Run, so this week, we’re going to highlight several native selections that are in full spectacle and catching our eye. Without further ado, we bring you Geranium maculatum, Tiarella cordifolia ‘Brandywine’, and Aquilegia canadensis ‘Little Lanterns’.

Geranium maculatum, the prolific bloomer that prefers woodland edges with rich, humusy soils, and is covered with light-to-medium pink to lavender five-petalled flowers typically from May to June, is an undervalued part shade perennial that goes by many names. Known commonly as wild geranium, spotted or wild cranesbill, alum bloom (despite very much not belonging to the alum family), and a slew of other names, both its common and scientific names refer to the seed capsules which resemble the head and beak shape of a crane – “geranos”, the derivative of the word geranium, means crane. Its specific epithet, maculatum, means spotted (think: the opposite of an IMmaculate, or perfect/unblemished specimen, might be a maculate, or imperfect/spotted, specimen).

The First Nations people made good use of this plant far before early settlers had even step foot into North America. Due to its spreading and wide-clumping habit, this plant was almost always available in large swaths for harvest as a medicinal specimen, and was long-regarded into the 19th and even 20th centuries by medical professionals and scholars for its beneficial phytochemicals. Wild geranium was thought to be a helpful vulnerary used for treating open sores and wounds as well as an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and antihemorrhagic panacea capable of remedying various ailments as a tea, wash, or poultice of the aerial portions or roots (use of either was dependent on the specific ailment). Folklorically, wild geranium is often thought to help heal and protect the heart space, attracting happiness and prosperity to anyone that carries the root as an amulet.

While we’re on the topic of the heart space, what about the heart-shaped leaves of Tiarella cordifolia ‘Brandywine’? Green foliage with red venation graces this clumping, shade-tolerant perennial throughout the growing months, transitioning to a bronzy red in the fall. Impressively floriferous, upright panicles of airy white-and-pink-tinged flowers appear in a cloud-like mist over top of the foliage from April into May, and when arranged in a mass create a truly spectacular textural matrix. This selection was introduced by the Pharoah of Foamflower himself, Penn State extension educator Sinclair Adam of Dunvegan Nursery, as part of his Pennsylvania River Series. Sinclair recently passed away on April 9th, 2023, leaving behind a legacy that will be continued on through his expansive offspring of foamflowers.

Continuing our foray into shade-tolerant selections that look incredible flowering en masse, Aquilegia canadensis ‘Little Lanterns’ is producing a breathtaking display amongst itself massed in our production house, hinting at its spectacular future performance in the garden. This dwarf cultivar of the species is a prolific bloomer, typically reaching 10-12” in height and producing long-lasting, showy inflorescences that boast deep cardinal-red spurs, petals, and sepals, and sunshine-yellow pistils and stamens. Like the straight species, ‘Little Lanterns’ will seed itself into the garden if it’s happy with its conditions, making for a naturalistic composition once established. Also like the straight species, ‘Little Lanterns’ contains a nectar content very high in natural sugars, and are attractive to long-tongued pollinators such as hawk moths and hummingbirds. It is also the larval host for the Columbine Duskywing butterfly (Erynnis lucilius). Historically, Native Americans utilized Columbine for a variety of reasons: medicinally, the seeds and roots of this plant were thought to be helpful for treating many ailments including headaches, heart problems, skin irritations and various immunodeficiencies. When crushed, seeds were carried as a love charm, and used as a perfume, while whole seeds were rubbed into the scalp to deter and irradicate lice. Being as Aquilegia canadensis belongs to Ranunculaceae, the buttercup family, which is known for its toxic phytochemicals, modern medicinal use of Columbine is generally not recommended without the expertise of an herbal practitioner.

So, what have we learned this week at Pleasant Run’s School of Native Shade Perennials? Hopefully, you’ve gathered that these showstoppers are worth adding to your next order. We have rather sizable crops currently available of each of the aforementioned plants, as well as a large future crop of Geranium maculatum scheduled to be ready by early summer.

As always, thank you from all of us here at Pleasant Run, and Happy Earth Day!

Izel Native Plants. “Tiarella Cordifolia 'Brandywine'.” Tiarella cordifolia 'Brandywine' (heartleaf foamflower cultivar) | Izel Native Plants. Izel Plants, n.d..

Jefferson Library. Aquilegia canadensis (wild columbine). Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, 2009.

Mahr, Susan. “Wild Geranium, Geranium Maculatum.” Wisconsin Horticulture. University of Wisconsin - Madison, n.d..

Markham, Chris. “Penn State Extension Educator Sinclair Adam Dies.” Greenhouse Management. GIE Media, Inc., April 13, 2023.

McCormick, Carol Ann. “New Species of Foamflower.” North Carolina Botanical Garden. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, January 31, 2022.

Missouri Botanical Garden. “Aquilegia Canadensis 'Little Lanterns'.” Aquilegia canadensis 'Little lanterns' - plant finder. Missouri Botanical Garden, n.d..

Missouri Botanical Garden. “Geranium Maculatum.” Geranium maculatum - plant finder. Missouri Botanical Garden, n.d..

MSU. “Wild Geranium.” Native Plants and Ecosystem Services. Michigan State University, n.d..

NC State Extension. “Geranium Maculatum.” Geranium maculatum (Cranesbill, Crane's Bill Geranium, Spotted Geranium, Wild Geranium) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. North Carolina State Extension Service | NC State University, n.d..

North Creek Nurseries. “Tiarella Cordifolia 'Brandywine'.” Tiarella cordifolia 'Brandywine' foamflower from North Creek Nurseries. North Creek Nurseries, n.d..

Shinn, Meghan. “Little Lanterns Columbine: A Compact Variety for Shade.” Horticulture Magazine. The Arena Group, April 29, 2019.

Shoemaker, John V. “Geranium Maculatum.” Journal of the American Medical Association IX, no. 18 (1887): 555.

UNC. “Wild Geranium.” Sam W. Hitt Medicinal Plant Gardens. University of North Carolina, Sam W. Hitt Medicinal Garden, n.d..

White, Sarah A, and Cathy Reas Foster. “Rain Garden Plants: Aquilegia Canadensis – Eastern Red Columbine.” SC Waterways. Clemson University Cooperative Extension | Carolina Clear, May 2015.

See all our Perennials

Geranium maculatum