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(Tiarella cordifolia)

by Virginia Chatfield

Family: Saxifragaceae (Saxifrage Family)

Habitat and distribution: Foamflower, also called Allegheny Foamflower and False Miterwort, is often found in wet hollows and mossy places in deciduous and mixed woods. It is sometimes associated with cedar and hemlock. Michigan is at the western edge of the range of this species, which is native to woods from Nova Scotia to the eastern edge of Wisconsin and south through the Appalachians to Georgia and Mississippi. Foamflower has been reported in nearly every county in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan and in the thumb area, as well as Genesee, Oakland, Macomb, Wayne, Washtenaw, and Jackson counties. However, it seems to be totally absent from the southwestern Lower Peninsula except for Berrien County, where it was collected in 1917 and again in 1977. Tiarella wherryi is a related species with pink flowers and a clump-forming habit, which is native from Virginia and Tennessee to Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Description: Foamflower is a low, evergreen woodland plant that has dainty maple-like basal leaves and white flower spikes. Its tiny bell-shaped flowers begin blooming in mid-April and continue for nearly a month. Foamflower will quickly colonize a moist area, forming a dense mat 6–10” high. It grows much like a strawberry plant, sending out underground stolons (instead of runners), which root and form new plants.

Seed and Cultivation: A moist soil, pH 5–6.5, high in organic matter, is ideal for foamflower. It should be mulched well and watered in times of drought. Plants can be increased by lifting mature clumps in fall or early spring before flowering and gently separating the crowns. Every three years, plants may be divided and replanted 12” apart. A mature plant should yield from four to eight crowns. Flowers mature from the bottom of the spike to the top. Begin looking for ripe seed approximately five to seven days after the uppermost flowers have faded. When the minute, shiny black seeds are mature, cut the stalk below the bottom seed capsule and carefully deposit in a paper bag. Seeds are easily lost, so move slowly and hold the seed pods over the bag before tilting them into the bag. The seeds may then be refrigerated until a later time for sowing. Since seeds are so small, direct sowing in the garden is not recommended. In early spring, seeds may be thinly sowed in a seed flat or pot and placed in a warm, sunny place indoors, or outdoors in a cold frame. The germination rate is usually high. Seedlings are ready for transplanting to 2–3” pots about six to eight weeks from the sowing date.

Planting Design Combinations: This plant is one of the best and easiest-to-grow native groundcovers for shade in moist areas. It will even work under the fairly dense shade of evergreens. It quickly forms a groundcover of bright green leaves through which a multitude of other wildflowers can grow, such as false Solomon's seal, wild geranium, spring beauty, blue cohosh, wild columbine, wild blue phlox, and even ferns. Its foamy white mass of flowers creates a lovely backdrop for these other flowers, lending an almost ethereal quality to the planting. Foamflower can be used to sweep along a path, puddle around the trunk of a tree, or flow like a small stream through a wooded area. This is definitely a plant worth trying if you don't already have it.

Article reprinted from the Winter 2001 issue of Wild Ideas,
the Flint Wild Ones Newsletter.
Copyright © 2001 Wild Ones–Natural Landscapers, Ltd.


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