Prairie Alumroot at the edge of my back garden mixed in with the arching leaves of Sprengell's Sedge (Carex sprengellii). Photo: TBeckjord
Heuchera flower panicles show gold in the late afternoon light; particularly in contrast to the Foxglove Beardtongue shaded in the foreground and the dark background of the Virginia Creeper on the fence. Photo: TBeckjord
The cellophane - or plasterer - bee, Colletes aestivalis, is a specialist bee on Heuchera richardsonii Photo: Discover Life
Did you know that we have our very own native Heuchera here in northeast Illinois? It’s not as showy as all the Coralbells sold in garden centers but I like it just the same.
Our native Heuchera richardsonii, or Prairie Alumroot as it is commonly called, is a nice, short, well-behaved native plant that adds a quiet deep green textural presence in the garden. Its basal rosette of palmately-lobed leaves grow 3-5” high; the entire plant is typically a low-growing mound that is no more than about 8-10” wide. In the fall the leaves will occasionally turn reddish.
The flower, too, is not what you would automatically picture if you’re thinking Coralbells. Most of what is commonly found in garden centers under the common name has been heavily bred for flower color (white to deep red) or leaf color and pattern. Rather, the flower of our native species is identified as green, sometimes with hints of yellow or red when grown in the full sun. Alumroot blooms in late spring to early summer, usually in early June in my garden. A cluster of several plants together can positively glow when lit by the sun, a happy vision I’ve enjoyed in my garden over the past several years.
Prairie Alumroot is not fussy about soil or soil moisture. In fact it prefers rocky loam, clay-loam or sandy loam that are mesic to dry. Definitely no need to amend soils for this wildflower. It likes tougher conditions where there is less competition. It will grow successfully in full sun to light shade. When established it is an easy carefree native for the front of the garden
The small flowers have no fragrance but do offer both pollen and nectar rewards to the small bees that visit the flowers including Halictid and Cellophane (Coletidae) bees. In fact, one bee species, Colletes aestivalis, is a specialist pollinator of Heuchceras. Their larvae need the pollen of this plant to properly develop. Coletidae are ground nesting species. This coupled with habitat and subsequent species loss of their required food sources as land has been developed has led them to become rare. Dr. Hilty, in Illinois Wildflowers, reports that deer browse this plant only sparingly.