October 25, 2013

A Plant That Likes Me

I started with six tiny little plugs in four inch nursery pots.

I planted them in exactly the wrong spot, in too much sun, in dry soil. They normally grow in woodland shade near streams.

I put the six little plants along a raised free draining berm, competing with spruce tree roots and facing full west.

And yet, in hot sun those six tiny plants spread and filled in to become a stunning ground cover all along the berm. Out in the sun they have grown dense and twiggy and full. They color beautifully in fall, all coppery and bronze.

This is yellowroot, Xanthorrhiza simplicissima.

Not only did those six little plants spread into this curving stretch of dense ground cover, but I have dug and moved many to other spots, I have dug several to give away, and I have dug out a lot that were crowding the spruces and hollies. This woody one foot high shrub covers ground.

It's not aggressive, or a problem. It just happily bulks up and stretches out.

The yellowroot that I have seen growing properly in its preferred conditions is a more open plant, growing in individual clumps. In the deep forest or along stream edges it is delicate and I don't recall seeing any fall color.

In my garden, in the sun, it seems to be on steroids.

In summer the foliage is a clear, light green. The leaves look like celery and the roots really are bright yellow. It roots easily, wherever a stem touches the ground.


In April the upright woody stems sport subtle fuzzy purple flowers, just as the leaves emerge.


I did not do my homework when I planted yellowroot. I did not even consider the moisture or light conditions it needed.  I never intended a sweep of ground cover under the spruces, I thought I'd just have six little yellowroot clumps scattered about for effect between the spruces.

But this plant likes me.

It likes me a lot, and has performed beautifully in all the wrong conditions.

26 comments:

  1. I love when one plant looks so interesting in different seasons as this one does. It has filled in beautifully.

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    1. Kathryn, this one really does have multiple seasons of interest, although it's always somewhat subtle. In winter the bare upright stems are kind of neat too.

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  2. I have never heard of it before...but it looks gorgeous...I'll going to bookmaker this post for reference...I may have to find a spot for that!

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    1. Scott, I think it would do well in your garden. Although mine performs beautifully in dry sun, it does crisp and brown a little when temps get really high for a long time (high 90s, no rain for two weeks or more). I don't think you'll find it in nurseries, I got mine from Forestfarm.

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  3. What a glorious example of breaking the rules (whether inadvertently or intentionally) to great success. Proving yet again that plants can't read.

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    1. Lee, Plants definitely cannot read, and they rarely comply with any instructions that come with them!

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  4. Wow! That really is a nice plant. How many years have you had it growing there? I was inspired to research on wikipedia and I see that you have discovered most of the characteristics identified there. I think I'll be shopping for this plant come Spring. Cheers! Emily

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    1. Emily, I planted the little containers of yellowroot on the berm in 2007. They filled in right away, and covered the whole strip in just a few years. I hope you find some to add to your garden!

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  5. I still haven't added that plant to my garden, although one day I want to. It has done beautifully for you in the sun! Here it would've burned to a crisp.

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    1. Sweetbay, you probably do need to put this plant in shade. When it gets very hot here (upper 90s) and hasn't rained for two weeks, my yellowroot gets crispy tan at the leaf edges, so some protection where you are would help.

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  6. This was a brand new one for me - it looks like a beautiful addition to your garden. Amazing how plants have a mind of their own and decide to thrive in the "wrong" places. I wonder how it would do in my wet back garden. It seems to prefer sandy soil, which I most certainly do not have.

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    1. Sarah, yellowroot does not like sandy soil, mine is in sun and it competes with tree roots, but the soil is pretty rich. I think your heavier, wetter garden would suit it, although not where it actually floods.

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  7. Amazing. Sometimes plants just want to live - no matter what conditions we put them in. Your yellowroot is beautiful all three seasons. Hard to believe you started with just six tiny plugs! It sounds like the perfect groundcover.

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    1. Holley, I am impressed with how yellowroot performs as a ground cover. It's dense enough that no weeds grow through, and it's pretty. In winter the upright woody stems are nice too.

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  8. What ever seemed to be wrong was obviously right. What a great plant. I have never heard of it. Lucky you to have such an abundance.

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    1. LIsa, I'm glad to introduce you to a plant you had not heard of!

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  9. My yellowroot is doing well, but isn't nearly as impressive as yours. But I still love it and often think of you when I pass it. Your yellowroot hedge is stunning. Maybe I need to show these pictures to my small grouping. :o)

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    1. Tammy, I wondered how yours was doing. Other gardeners have told me they don't have much success with yellowroot --- I don't know why mine likes me so much!

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  10. What a great treat to have a plant love you and your garden so much. Love the colors throughout the seasons.

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    1. Donna, thanks so much. I have many failures and disappointments, so it is grand to have a plant do better than expected here : )

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  11. Wow! Your yellowroot is amazing. It is wonderful when a plant exceeds our wildest expectations and turns out to know just what to do, though we did not plan it that way! I love the colors in your garden!

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    1. Deb, thanks. This plant did exceed all expectations, and it clearly surpassed what I heard from others, who have said they can't grow it well. It likes me : )

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  12. That looks wonderful, just like a low hedge. Of course it likes you; you're very likeable.

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    1. Lyn, thank you! But there sure are a lot of plants in my garden that don't seem to like me very much.

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  13. Thanks for sharing this. I just planted some and hope mine do half as well as yours.

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    1. Curtis, I hope yours does well, I've heard from others that yellowroot petered out for them. For whatever reason it has thrived where I put it.

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