Plant of the Week: Brownies hairy alumroot

This October, we're celebrating the moments of transformation in the High Line gardens created to captivate, draw us in, and show us a different way of looking at nature. As part of Celebrating Fall at the Woodland Edge, we'll be featuring related plants throughout the month. Follow along on social media using #HighLineFallCelebration.

Photo by: Friends of the High Line

Our Fall Celebration is in full swing, and I would like to highlight a plant that is a strong performer in all seasons. Heuchera villosa 'Brownies' is a cultivar of hairy alumroot that looks like it has its fall color all season long. In spring it contrasts really well with the green of surrounding perennials and grasses. During fall and winter it begins to blend in more.

It might be easily overlooked if used as a stand-alone plant in your garden, however when used in a mass planting it has a much more striking effect. When the wind blows through a large sweep, the silvery underside of the leaves ripples and contrasts, bringing movement to the garden. While mainly grown for leaf color and texture, the flowers shouldn't be overlooked. In late summer flowering stems bring added color contrast, creating a delicate sea of speckled white flowers.

'Brownies' is a cultivar that is slightly larger and wilder-looking than some of the other Heuchera varieties. It can be aggressive but is also easily divided in spring. We cut it back hard in early spring, taking care not to damage the caudex, the short central stem from where the leaves emerge. I have also found that it will seed in readily although seedlings often revert to the straight species appearance, which is larger and green all year. This could compromise the overall look of your massing and should be edited so as not to muddy the effect.

Photo by: Friends of the High Line

To get the best results from this cultivar, plant in full sun with afternoon shade in well-drained, medium moisture soil. The full sun will keep the dark brown 'Brownies' color. This plant will also grow in full shade and can be utilized in a shade garden. Here on The High Line, we have had issues with reflected light from surrounding buildings causing leaf scorch. However, later in the season when the sun is lower we noticed that they rebounded quickly, showing just how hardy these plants are.

Heuchera villosa 'Brownies' can be found in a classic example of mass planting alongside Onoclea sensibilis and Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Firetail' in the Washington Grasslands, just north of the Standard Hotel and the Woodland Edge, between 13th and 14th Streets.

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