The Plant Native

Alum Root (Heuchera)

Highlights

Want some color in your shady garden? This is the plant for you. Alum Root or Heuchera (it goes by both names) is a short native plant known for its colorful leaves. They keep their leaves year-round—even in cold climates. Spring brings tall, delicate flower stalks. Heucheras are perfect for shade gardens, super easy to grow, and are easily found at most plant nurseries. Scroll below to find planting tips and types.

Shade –
part shade

No full sun

16″ tall

Great for borders

Semi-Evergreen

Leaves year-round in most climates

Deer-food

Sadly, deer love this plant!

Yes—this is all heuchera!

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant native Heuchera / Alum Root

Table of Contents

Why is it important to plant native plants like heuchera?

Planting native plants makes our yards and spaces gorgeous while helping the birds, butterflies, and animals (and helping save us time!) Here are three reasons why planting native is worth it:

  1. Without native plants, iconic animals like Monarch butterflies and songbirds won’t have the food or homes needed to survive
  2. Native plants save time and money: after the first year of getting established, native plants are happy with rain
  3. Native plants are gorgeous! Heuchera is a perfect example of how beautiful and resilient native plants are—they are always the best choice for our gardens.
 

Is alumroot the same as coral bells?

This plant has many common names: alum root, alumroot (one word), American alum root, and coral bells. We’ll call it by its Latin genus name Heuchera. No matter what you call this plant, it loves to be planted in shade or part-shade gardens.

How do I say heuchera?

It’s pronounced whooo-ker-ah. Imagine you’re a wizened owl from a kids’ movie to get the first sound right (whoooooo likes whoooooo-ker-ah!)

Heuchera are low-to-the-ground plants, with flowers on long elegant stalks in the spring

Heuchera is very easy to grow

Heuchera is a very easy-to-grow shade-loving native plant. No matter the color, all Heucheras share the same basic benefits and characteristics. They are:

  • Shade or part-shade lovers
  • Mostly evergreen, even in cooler climates
  • Short—no taller than 16 inches (don’t put them behind taller things, or they will be hidden!)
  • Low maintenance: no fertilizer or special needs are required for heuchera to thrive
  • Perennials: they will come back year after year. Once you plant them and they are happily established, you can enjoy them in your yard for years to come.

Where is the best place to plant heuchera?

Plant heuchera in borders, entryways, and garden edges

Heuchera are low-lying plants (around 6-16″ tall), so plant them along the edge of your garden to see them shine. (They can disappear behind taller plants.) They work great in front walkways and entryways; their mostly evergreen leaves keep your front door verdant.

When does heuchera bloom?

Heuchera blooms in the spring. Every spring, they have delicate spikes of flowers.

How do you take care of heuchera in the winter?

Heuchera is mostly evergreen—even in cold climates. In places with very cold winters, heuchera will sometimes die back, or have fewer leaves. If this happens, don’t worry! It will be back in the spring with new leaves.

Types of Heuchera

Native heuchera

There are many native types of heuchera. Each type is known for being native to a specific region (there is even one type that is native to Connecticut!) To give you an idea of how large this plant family is, the USDA plant directory returns 77 native heucheras in America alone.

However, you probably won’t find native heuchera to buy

It is actually rare to find true native heuchera at plant nurseries. Heuchera cultivars have overtaken native varieties because the cultivars have been bred with so many incredible traits (crazy colors! drought tolerance!) The true native varieties simply don’t look as showy—and sell as well—as the cultivars.

A rainbow of baby heucheras ready for your shady garden

Heuchera cultivars​ offer a rainbow of leaf colors

You might not find true native heuchera, but you will find a rainbow of cultivars! (Wondering what a cultivar is? Here’s a short cultivar overview.)

Every year, new heuchera cultivars come out. Many heuchera cultivars are hybridized for different foliage colors and shapes, from deep purple to vibrant orange, red, and yellow, and from round to ruffled, lobed, or deeply cut leaves. Here are just a few with leaves (and names) that really stand out: 

Heuchera cultivars include:

Heuchera 'Midnight Rose'

Heuchera ‘Midnight Rose’ reminds you of what a Jackson Pollock painting might look like under a black light.

Heuchera 'Peach Flambé'

Heuchera ‘Peach Flambé’ sounds and looks like a color of nail polish.

Heuchera 'Electric Lime'

Heuchera ‘Electric Lime’ does indeed look like a margarita plugged in. Plant this cultivar alongside other green leaf colors to help all nearby plants look extra spectacular.

Heuchera 'Forever Purple'

Plant some Heuchera ‘Forever Purple’ in your yard, and neighbors will not believe it’s real.

Heuchera cultivars also look great when planted together. The similar heights and rainbow of leaves help their differences shine.

Which heuchera should I plant?

The answer to this question at The Plant Native is always the same: plant what you love and plant what you find. Sometimes finding a very specific native plant can be difficult. It’s better to visit your local nurseries with an open mind. Oftentimes, what you find is even better than what you had hoped for.

If you’re looking for heuchera cultivars that will do the best in your garden…

Mt. Cuba Center—the largest native plant garden in America—looked at 83 different cultivars and found ten Heuchera cultivars that stood out.

According to Mt. Cuba: “After three years of evaluating plant habit, vigor, bloom time, flower color, sun tolerance, pest and disease resistance, and overall adaptability, ten cultivars stood out as top performers.

These prominent heuchera performers are: ‘Citronelle’, ‘Bronze Wave’, ‘Cajun Fire’, ‘Color Dream’, ‘Steel City’, ‘Caramel’, ‘Apple Crisp’, ‘Frosted Violet’, ‘Southern Comfort’, and ‘Spellbound’.”

What is heuchera’s native range?

Heucheras will grow easily in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, some of the Northeast, and most of the South (map from the USDA)

How to grow heuchera

Heuchera is easy to grow from seed and easily found in a rainbow of colors at local plant nurseries and plant sales. 

Grow heuchera by seed

Heuchera is easy to grow by seed. You can plant them directly in the garden in the fall or start them in small pots in the spring (replant them in your garden when they are big enough.)

Fall planting

To plant heuchera in the fall, scatter seeds and loosely throw mulch or dirt over the seeds. Seedlings will emerge in the spring. (Yes, it really is that easy! Remember, native plants have survived for thousands of years without us and our trowels.)

After the seedlings emerge, water them daily for the first two months to ensure they get enough moisture to grow.

Spring planting

In the spring, you can start heuchera outside when the soil is warm 65°F (18°C) — or start plants inside.

Grow seeds outside

Take the seeds individually and plant them into holes 1/8″ deep. Water daily for the first two months to ensure they get enough moisture to grow. Watch the seedlings emerge in the spring, grow greenery that summer, and bloom in future summers.

Start seeds inside

Start heuchera inside in small pots under grow lights. When the danger of frost has passed, move the pots outside to get used to the wind/light/environment (this is called ‘hardening’.)  Plant after they have been ‘hardened’ for a week. Water daily for the first two months to ensure they get enough moisture to grow. 

Buy heuchera seeds online

There are several great places to buy heuchera seeds online (it can be difficult to find heuchera seeds—even at local nurseries.)

Grow heuchera from plants

You can almost always find heuchera at your local plant nursery (and sometimes even at big box stores.) Since they are so easy to grow and so fun to look at, you can consistently find heuchera plants for your garden. Here are three ways to find or buy heuchera plants:

1

Buy from a local plant nursery

Your local nursery will have heuchera plants to buy, especially at the end of spring / early summer. Whenever possible, buy native plants from local nurseries. Home Depot and Lowes cannot beat the plant selection at local nurseries.

2

Find a local plant swap

Heuchera are easy to dig up and give away. Search local gardening groups on Facebook to find local gardeners who often give away plants during the spring and fall.

3

Visit local plant sales in the spring

Almost all local plant organizations and gardens host plant sales in the spring. These plant sales often include plants that are not available at conventional nurseries. Check your local garden websites for dates.

What pairs well with heuchera?

Heuchera looks great planted alongside other native plants that like shade or part shade, like native Azalea, Celandine Poppy, Golden Alexander, Rhododendron, and Mountain Laurel, Foamflower, and some native shade-loving Asters. Here are some stellar pairs:

flame-azalea-native-plant-shrub

Azalea

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Celandine Poppy

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Foamflower

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Golden Alexander

mountain-laurel-native-shrub-flower

Mountain Laurel

rosebay-rhododendron-native-shrub-flowering

Rhododendron

Heuchera is perfect for shady gardens

To say it simply: heuchera is a stunning shade-loving plant that looks great year-round, thanks to its semi-evergreen leaves. Dozens of leaf colors come from a stream of fun cultivars making it easy to bring color and excitement to your native garden. Enjoy building a crayon box in your shade garden, filled with heuchera colors. Happy planting!

UPDATED —
02/19/2024
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