Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Coral Bells

Coral Bells
"Coral Bells": photo by Cliff Hutson

Heucheras, also known as Alumroot or Coral Bells, are North American plants characterized by clumps of low dark green round or heart-shaped leaves and slender stems of small urn-shaped flowers, ranging from white to scarlet. A member of the Saxifragaceae – Saxifrage family, the USDA plants data base recognizes 37 species, about a third of which are found in California. Of these, eight are endemic (limited) to the state, e.g., Heuchera pilosissima.

Heucheras are frequently touted as drought-tolerant evergreen perennial plants that like filtered sunlight or shade. But, many California native varieties are adapted to a more rugged life. One citation states that they live in cracks in rocks where they bake in the sun, "and when rains come, they bloom their heads off." Saxifra'ga: is from the Latin saxum, "a rock," and frango, "to break," - referring to the fact that by growing in rock crevices they appear to break rocks. However, others do prefer a more gentle seaside climate and like regular water if planted in a garden.

Linnaeus named the genus for Johann Heinrich von Heucher (1677-1747), professor of medicine and Botany at Wittenberg University. It was stated that the name Heuchera should be pronounced following the person's name it commemorates so the proper pronunciation is HOY-ker-uh. But, I pronounce it as HEW-ker-uh as that is the way I first heard it, in my mind anyway.

At the botanic garden where I work, heucheras, most of which appear to be some shade of pink, do well in masses under oak tree canopies.  A noted horticulturist has said. "Full sun through the winter is fine and makes them bloom well, but they need shade during the summer, especially this far inland."

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