A Splash of Color in Dappled Shade: Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’…. { PS: Please Don’t Confuse Me with My Wicked Cousin }

August 6th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’, Variegated Virginia knotweed (aka Polygonum virginianum/Tovara virginiana) in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Who says a plant needs flowers to be interesting? Be they speckled, lace-edged or luminous as stained-glass, leaves are often incredibly fascinating. In fact, some of my favorite species in the great Kingdom of Plantae never blossom at all —and if they do, their flowers are relatively insignificant. Take Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’ for example (photographed above in my Secret Garden). Isn’t this some of the most beautiful foliage you have ever seen? The colors —swirling and mottled in a marble-like pattern— and the lovely leaf shape make this outstanding plant a true, artist’s dream. Unfortunately, Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’ (aka Polygonum virginianum/Tovara virginiana) needs a bit of public relations help. Sadly, this lovely, native, knotweed cultivar is suffering from a case of mistaken identity; similar to the troubled and tarnished reputation with which lady Rhus typhina struggles (previously detailed in a post I wrote about our gorgeous, native Staghorn sumac last year). Let’s see if I can clear things up.

Polygonum cuspidatum, commonly known as Japanese knotweed, is a noxious —and in my opinion, obnoxious— invasive plant and rampant weed introduced to North America from Asia sometime in the 1800s. The Polygonum genus includes a large number of plants in the Polygonaceae (or buckwheat) family. Some members of this genus —including many weeds as well as several fine garden species— are native to North America. There is a movement to reclassify Polygonum virginianum as Persicaria virginiana; a taxonomic change which I wholeheartedly support in an effort to clear-up some of the confusion. To be sure, some members of the native Polygonum virginianum crowd can also be somewhat aggressive. But there is a real difference between an enthusiastic, spreading plant and an invasive one. Persicaria virginiana is not an invasive plant —this is a native species. And although some cultivars —including ‘Painter’s palette’— may self-seed, in my experience this Persicaria virginiana cultivar is easily managed, well behaved, and non-aggressive. If you are still concerned with self-sowing, simply deadhead the tiny flowers in late summer, or grow this plant in a container…

Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’ in the Secret Garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Unlike her aggressive, famously invasive Asian cousin (Japanese knotweed), Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’ (as I prefer to call this Virginia knotweed cultivar) is a truly beautiful, endlessly useful and quite mild-mannered plant. Hardy in USDA zones 4-8, ‘Painter’s Palette’ prefers dappled shade and moist (but very well drained) garden soil. When given the right growing conditions, this unusual cultivar forms lovely, arching mounds; roughly 1 1/2′ tall, and 2′ wide. The blooms are relatively insignificant –tiny pinkish-red spikes– however in autumn, beautiful red berries are a lovely, end-of-season surprise.

I love to combine this painterly plant with dark neighbors (including Heuchera ‘Palace purple’, Cryptotaenia japonica ‘atropurpurea’, and Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Brunette’, among others). Splashes of nearby gold from Japanese golden forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aurea’), or rusty tones from orange hook sedge (Uncinia egmontiana) and the dark-green hues of hosta and tall ferns (particularly the Cinnamon fern), also combine beautifully with ‘Painter’s Palette’. So, gardening friends, won’t you help this lovely, shady-lady out ? She may be related to Japanese knotweed, but let’s not hold that against her. Spread the word and help clear-up her reputation! Stunning Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’ is a gorgeous and environmentally-friendly addition to your garden.

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Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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