, Muskogee, OK


July 16, 2014

Shade-lover brings light to dark

Brunnera is a clump-forming perennial for parts of the garden where moist shade prevents other ground covers from thriving. Not only is it low-maintenance, but it has long-lasting sprays of flowers and is rabbit and deer resistant.

The most common name used for these plants is bugloss, from two Greek words meaning ox and tongue, because the rough leaves looked and felt like ox tongues to the person who named it. The new hybrids look more like silver and green or cream and green hearts than ox tongues, but still have lovely clusters of flowers.

The old medicinal variety, Echium vulgare or viper’s bugloss, is sometimes found in seed catalogs listed as blueweed (see Richter's Herbs To see several other echium varieties, look no further than Annie’s Annuals at

Another common variety, Lycopsis arvenis, is called small bugloss. It has waxy, toothed leaves and its flowers are wheel shaped.

Historically, viper’s bugloss was used to expel poisons and venom, and to cure the bites of a viper, hence its name. The snake head appearance of the seeds led people to think it was a cure for serpent bites. Echis is the word for viper and echium stems from that history.

Water steeped with bugloss root was taken for a trembling heart, swooning, and sadness caused by passions and melancholy. Water steeped with the leaves was made into a cordial used for headaches and nerve. The seeds were steeped in wine to comfort the heart.

The brunnera used in shade gardens is in the same plant genus. Be sure to look for brunnera when shopping for the seeds or plants unless you specifically want the medicinal.

Brunneras are cold hardy from zone 3 to 9 and appreciate quite a bit of shade in our zone 7 because the leaves burn in too much sun. Most varieties mature at a maximum of 18 inches tall when in bloom and are a ground-hugging clump the rest of the time.

The generic Brunnera macrophylla is a tough plant with solid green leaves. The varieties available for purchase have other leaf colors. Companion plants with similar cultural requirements include hostas, hellebore, lamium, Japanese painted ferns and bleeding heart.

When found in stores and catalogs, these plants will have Brunnera macrophylla or anchusa in their names.

Brunnera m. Diane's Gold has gold-yellow leaves and blue flowers.

Brunnera m. Jack Frost has silvery leaves with green veins. Jack Frost was the 2012 Perennial Plant of the Year and is available through Plant Delights Nursery (

Brunnera langtrees or silver spot has green leaves dotted with silver and are heat and cold hardy.

Brunnera Looking Glass has leaves that are so silver they look metallic. Bluestone Perennials has Looking Glass plants at They call it false forget me not.

Bluestone also has Brunnera m. King’s Ransom which has silver, gold and green variegated leaves and blue flowers. This one is called Siberian bugloss.

Skagit Gardens ( is one of the plant breeders that brought new varieties to market. Their Brunnera m. Sea Heart has silver leaves with thick, dark green veins. Sea Heart has clusters of flowers that open pink and become blue.

Brunnera m. Silver Heart has pure silver leaves with light green veining. The flowers are blue.

Digging Dog Nursery ( has heartleaf brunnera plants, which they also call Siberian or common bugloss and alkanet. They also have Brunnera m. Hadspen Cream. Its leaves are mostly green with white margins.

Alkanet seeds are available from Sand Mountain Herbs at /1qOn. The seeds are started in the fall. Once you get alkanet started in a shady spot, it will re-seed.

All varieties of brunnera are great-looking additions to shade gardens.

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