R. pinnata at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden, Federal Way, Washington.

Several years ago, I had a memorable conversation with Alex LaVilla, perennial plant buyer extraordinaire at distinguished Swanson’s Nursery in Seattle, Washington. I asked him, “Are there plants you would like to be able to offer your customers that you’re having difficulty sourcing from regional wholesale nurseries?” On the list was Rodgersia, a deciduous perennial genus native to East Asia, including China, Japan and the Korean peninsula.

Rodgersia make a bold impact in the woodland garden with large pinnate or palmate leaves, depending on species, and Astilbe-like flowers ranging from white to red. They are ideal for large borders in full sun to partial shade, or as a larger background planting. Larger forms reach a height of 3-4 feet, with flowers held another 12-18 inches above the plant. They prefer moist, rich soils with lots of humus. Regular watering is necessary during dry weather. The plants spread slowly from rhizomes, or by seeding.

The plant was named after Admiral John Rodgers who commanded a naval expedition to Japan and Korea in the 1870s where seed of Rodgersia podophylla was first collected. Subsequent horticultural exploration in East Asia has yielded six species of Rodgersia, with R. aesculifolia, R. pinnata and R. podophylla being the most horticulturally and commercially significant. It should be noted that there is considerable cross pollination and interbreeding between Rodgersia species, leading to numerous hybrids. Garden settings with multiple species of Rodgersia can begin to exhibit genetic drift over time, as seedlings grow and mature in a planting. This is important to understand from a grower’s standpoint — make sure the seed or plugs you purchase or collect are from a known, reputable source where cross-pollination cannot have occurred.

Why grow Rodgersia?

  • The large leaves and size of the plant make it an eye-catching focal point in the garden.
  • It has visually attractive flower panicles ranging from white to red.
  • It’s highly attractive to pollinators.
  • It’s resistant to common pests like slugs or cutworms.
  • It’s an excellent choice for large containers.
  • Rodgersia makes a stunning border.

 

Mark Leichty is the Director of Business Development at Little Prince of Oregon Nursery near Portland. He is a certified plant geek who enjoys visiting beautiful gardens and garden centers searching for rare and unique plants to satisfy his plant lust. mark@littleprinceoforegon.com