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The Green Thumb Almanac Library of Select Plants contains varieties of plants chosen for their superior performance in the garden.

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What's in a name? Leaf Characteristics

Posted on February 11, 2018 at 10:55 AM

It is not uncommon, in the botanical world, to identify a plant from a leaf sample. The shape, texture or color of a leaf can give you a clue as to what it's botanical name might be. Also, if you know the botanical name of a plant, you can often get an idea of what it might look like. For instance, Helianthus salicifolius, is also known as Willow-leaved Sunflower. Salicifolius means 'with willow-like leaves.' The following is a partial list of descriptive species names of plants as they relate to foliage.

acutifolius = with sharply pointed leaves

alternifolius = with alternate leaves

angustifolius = narrow-leaved

brevifolius = with short leaves

capillifolius = with hair-like leaves

cardiophyllus = with heart-shaped leaves

chrysophyllus = with golden leaves

cordifolius = with heart-shaped leaves

dactylifolius = with finger-like leaves

dentatus = toothed

digitatus = hand-shaped; with fingers

dissectus = deeply divided

diversifolius = leaves of differing shapes

filicifolius = with fern-like leaves

filifolius = thread-leaved

glaucophyllus = with glaucous leaves

grandifolius = with large leaves

integrifolius = with undivided leaves

latifolius = broad-leaved

longifolius = long-leaved

macrophyllus = with large leaves

microphyllus = with small leaves

millefolius, millefoliatus = with a thousand leaves

oblongifolius = with oblong leaves

oppositifolius = opposite-leaved

ovalifolius = with oval leaves

palmatus = palmate

polifolius = grey-leaved

planifolius = with flat leaves

rhombifolius = with diamond-shaped leaves

rotundifolius = with round leaves

rubrifolius = with red leaves

sagittifolius = with arrow-shaped leaves

serratifolius = with serrated leaves

stenohyllus = with narrow leaves

tenifolius = with thin leaves

Information adapted from: "Plant Names Explained, Botanical Terms and their Meaning," Gorden, Sue, Editor, Horticulture Publications, Boston, Massachusetts 2005

Butterfly Weed

Posted on January 24, 2017 at 11:20 AM

Asclepias tuberosa - Butterfly Weed

  • Height: 2 - 3' T x 2' W
  • Hardiness:  USDA hardiness zones 4 - 9
  • Uses:  Meadow or Prairie Gardens, Beds & Borders, Cut Flower

Asclepias tuberosa are butterfly magnets.  Flowers are a nectar source for many butterflies and the leaves are a food source for the Monarch butterfly caterpillar.  Butterfly Weed is the perfect addition to a meadow or prairie planting as well as semi-formal or formal urban plantings.  Flower arrangers find it to be a long-lasting cut flower.  It grows best in full sun and well drained soils.  New growth tends to emerge late in the spring. Plants are easily grown from seed, but are somewhat slow to establish and may take 2-3 years to produce flowers. Mature plants may freely self-seed in the landscape if seed pods are not removed prior to splitting open. Butterfly weed does not transplant well due to its deep taproot, and is probably best left undisturbed once established.

2017 Perennial Plant Association perennial of the year.

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Not Your Momma's Poinsettia!

Posted on December 18, 2016 at 9:05 PM

For generations nothing has quite said 'Merry Christmas' like a bright red poinsettia...but why should we have to settle for just red?  Now is the time for millenials and those non-traditionalists among us to celebrate because the poinsettia world has exploded with a variety of new colors!

Here are four new varietes that are sure to please.  At the top we have 'Jingle Bell Rock,' a new introduction from the Paul Ecke Ranch.  'Jingle Bell Rock' is a vigorous, late flowering poinsettia with a bright red background color and a blaze of white along the midvein.  This poinsettia is highly variable with some bracts appearing totally white and some spotted.  To the right is another new variety 'Green Envy.'  This variety is from Dummen Orange Ecke and sports an unusual light green or chartreuse colored bract.  I find this variety to be particularly stunning on cloudy days when it almost seems to glow!  For interesting effect put it with a traditional red or pink poinsettia.  At the bottom is 'Autumn Leaves' poinsettia also from the Paul Ecke Ranch.  This variety opens up a whole new category of poinsettias with yellow and pink leaves reminiscent of fall.  Since it is an early variety it can be used for your Thanksgiving table as well!  Similar to 'Autumn Leaves' is the next variety 'Gold Rush.'  Introduced by Dummen Orange Ecke this variety produces bright gold or yellow leaves but has less pink than 'Autumn Leaves.'

If you like your plants variegated then here are four poinsettia varieties that will get you excited.  At top is 'Tapestry' a traditional red poinsettia with a twist.  It has green and yellow variegated leaves!  To the right is 'Ice Punch,' a very popular variety sporting a pinkish/white splash on the center of its red bracts.  At bottom is 'Marbella' a pink poinsettia with white edges.  Last is 'Red Glitter' with its traditional red leaves speckled with white spots!

 Princettia 'Hot Pink'                              'Premium Lipstick Pink'

If you like the unusual then you will also like the 'Princettia' series of poinsettia.  Princettia poinsettias currently come in four colors: white, light pink, hot pink and dark pink.  Here is 'Princettia Hot Pink.'  Princettia poinsettias are a more compact variety, usually just 7 - 10 inches tall.  Their small bracts cover the plant in a dome of color.  Compare this with 'Premium Lipstick Pink.'  This pink variety has large medium pink bracts with darker veins and some fading on older bracts.  I love the shading from dark to light pink!

Princettia Max White                                Glace Early White

If pink isn't your color how about white?  Most white poinsettias usually appear more ivory or off-white.  If you're in search of a true white poinsettia then try these two varieties:  'Princettia Max White' and 'Glace Early White'.  Princettia 'Max White' is a hybrid with a true white bract color that is much better than any of the poinsettias. In fact, the color is as white as a sheet of paper.  'Glace Early White' is a larger light-green leaved poinsettia.  While not as white as it's parent plant 'Glace' it is still whiter than most other poinsettia varieties.

So whether you're feeling naughty or nice this Christmas remember to pick up a poinsettia at your local independent garden center.  It might not be your Momma's poinsettia...but I won't tell!

Upright Elephant Ear 'Calidora'

Posted on August 10, 2016 at 7:00 PM

Alocasia macrorrhiza 'Calidora'  Upright Elephant Ear

  • Height:  12' - 15'  tall and 6' - 8'  wide
  • Hardiness:  USDA hardiness zone 9-11
  • Uses:  Beds & Borders, Containers

One of the easiest plants to grow is the Upright Elephant Ear.  It adds a tropical flair to any planting.  Happiest when planted in morning sun it can also grow well in full sun with ample moisture.  Over time the bulb develops an elongated trunk which can be dug up and stored dormant over the winter or can be grown on if indoor space is available.  Spider mites can be a pest of this plant indoors.  Small 'baby' plants or 'pups' will form at the base of the plant which can then be divided.  This is the most common variety of Alocasia found at retail garden centers.

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Parrot's Feather

Posted on August 10, 2016 at 6:10 PM

Myriophyllum aquaticum Parrot's Feather

  • Height:  1 - 6 inches tall, spreads 2 - 3 feet
  • Hardiness:  USDA hardiness zones 6 - 10
  • Uses:  Water Gardens

The fine textured foliage of Myriophyllum gives it the  common name of Parrot's Feather or Diamond Milfoil.  This plant should be potted in a container with about 6" of water over the rim of the pot.  From there it will grow up and spread out across the water's surface.  It will grow in part to full sun and is beneficial in providing shade for the fish in your pond.  Myriophyllum brasiliense has colorful red stems.

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Persian Shield

Posted on August 10, 2016 at 5:45 PM

Strobilanthes dyerianus Persian Shield

  • Height:  18 -36 inches tall
  • Hardiness:  USDA zones 9 - 11, annual in northern zones
  • Uses:  Beds & Borders, Containers, House Plant

No other plant gives you the iridescent, colorful leaves of purple, green and silver that Persian Shield offers.  The beautiful foliage is attractive all season.  While Persian Shield can tolerate full sun it is happiest in a part sun location which keeps the leaves from bleaching out.   This plant prefers rich, moist well drained soil.  Pinch if necessary to prevent legginess and promote bushiness.  Persian Shield can be over-wintered indoors as a house plant.

Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens 'Top Picks' 2004, 'Best of the Zoo' 2007, and 'Top Performer' 2010

Other images courtesy of Proven Winners

Variegation is the Spice of Life!

Posted on July 24, 2016 at 9:35 AM

So the heat index is 105 degrees F., and your summer flowers have decided that it's too hot to bloom.  What's a gardener to do?  I decided to take a trip to the garden center to find a solution.  The place to go in Kansas City is Family Tree Nursery.  They are known for quality bedding plants with big beautiful flowers.  Surely they would have something that can stand up to the summer heat...and they did.  What I also discovered is that they have a wide assortment of plants with beautiful variegated foliage...plants that would give me color no matter what the temperature.

Every gardener eventually learns that blossoms are fleeting.  Trees, shrubs and perennials may only bloom for a few weeks a year and annuals can often fizzle in the heat of summer.  It is foliage that holds the garden together and colorful foliage adds excitement even when there are no flowers.  I was on the look-out for plants with interesting foliage and quickly found two examples in Family Tree's beautifully landscaped parking area.

Annual ice plant has been around for a long time and has recently seen renewed popularity.  Variegated ice plant, or 'Mezoo,' is a must have for a low maintenance trailing plant in containers, hanging baskets, or as used here, a low annual groundcover.  Its succulent green and white foliage is attractive and the small red flowers are an added bonus.  Being a succulent it is quite drought tolerant.  Another plant that has been popular for several years are the many varieties of sun tolerant coleus.  Here the beautiful mounding habit of coleus 'Marrakesh' has been paired with Scaevola for an interesting effect.  Terra Nova describes 'Marrakesh' as having a "very shy flowering tendency" which means that there will be little dead-heading required.  While I love low-maintenance summer annuals I'm also quite fond of reliable perennials which come back year after year.

Everyone is quite familiar with the hundreds of varieties of variegated hostas which are a mainstay of the shaded garden.  Two other perennial plants that I discovered that will bring both flowers and variegated foliage to the shade garden are Pulmonaria 'Trevi Fountain' and Polemonium 'Touch of Class.'  Pulmonaria, also known as Lungwort, has cobalt-blue flowers in spring.  Polemonium, or Jacob's Ladder, has light-blue flowers in late spring/early summer.  Their variegated foliage brightens up the shade garden when not in bloom.  For a sunnier area I found Sedum telephium 'Autumn Charm.'  This variety of stonecrop has light green leaves edged in cream and blooms late summer into fall with pink flowers that eventually darken to a brick red.

No sunny perennial garden would be complete without some sun-loving grasses.  Arundo donax, or Giant Reed Grass, is a tall grass with bamboo-like foliage.  'Golden Chain' has green and yellow leaves which hold their color all season and tops out at about 7' tall making it an excellent choice for smaller gardens.  The variety 'Peppermint Stick' has beautiful green and white leaves and grows up to 12' tall...very dramatic!  For contrast plant it with the fine textured Miscanthus 'Morning Light.'  'Morning Light' is a hardy maiden grass with narrow green leaves edged in white.  The foliage has an overall silvery appearance.

Two other perennial grass-like plants are variegated Liriope and Acorus 'Ogon' also known as sweet flag.  While not true grasses they give a grass-like appearance and both are short which makes them an excellent choice for edging beds and borders.  Liriope muscari is a clump-forming perennial which produces lilac-purple flowers in late summer.  It is a low-maintenance groundcover or edging plant which can grow in sun or shade.  I use it in my shade garden around  the base of  shrubs.  Acorus 'Ogon' has rich golden-yellow striped leaves and spreads very slowly.  Acorus is a water-loving plant which can be used in a water garden or in wet areas around your yard.  The crushed leaves give off a delightful scent.  Plant it in a part-sun to sun area.

I decided to stroll through Family Tree's nursery department and see what kind of variegated trees and shrubs I might find.  I was not disappointed!  I've always loved dogwoods and I found three variegated varieties that are 'must-haves.'  First is Cornus 'Ivory Halo.'  This is a bush-type dogwood similar to red twig dogwood but not as aggressive a spreader.  It can mature to 4-6' tall and thrives in part-sun moist areas.  The small white spring flowers produce white berries which attract birds.  Second and third are varieties of oriental or Chinese dogwood.  Cornus 'Summer Fun' has white flower bracts in late spring which complement the rich, boldly contrasting green and cream-white leaves. Leaf margins are brighter white than those of other variegated dogwoods. 'Tri Splendor' has leaves which are green and white dappled with some gold at the base on new growth. Creamy white bracts appear in the spring.  Each can grow to 18-20' tall and thrive in part-sun areas.

If you want to add some interest to your perennial or shrub border try adding some of these variegated beauties.  The combination of Abelia Radiance's white and silvery-green variegated foliage along with red stems, give the plant outstanding color and impact year round.  'Radiance' is a full to part-sun plant which produces fragrant white trumpet shaped flowers in summer, is deer, drought and disease resistant and only grows 2-3' tall.  'My Monet' Weigela is another short, 12-18", deer resistant plant.  It produces pink trumpet shaped flowers in spring and has lovely  green and white leaves.  'Lemon Beauty' box honeysuckle also is a compact growing shrub which holds its green and gold leaves through winter, similar to a boxwood.

Speaking of boxwoods, how about a variegated variety called 'Elegantissima?'  ‘Elegantissima’ is a dense, mounded, compact form of boxwood that features bright variegated foliage. Elliptic to oval, evergreen leaves are medium green with broad but irregular white margins. Plants will typically mature to 5’ tall by 4’ wide over the first 15 years unless pruned shorter.  Nothing quite says evergreen like a pine tree.  I was stopped in my tracks when I saw the Dragon's-eye Japanese red pine.  I simply have to have one!  The needles of this slow growing pine have two yellow bands which, when looked at straight on, give the illusion of a dragon's eye.  This adaptable tree grows in full to part sun and reaches about 25 feet tall in 15 years.  It's awesome!

I decided it was time to venture into Family Tree's greenhouse to see what variegated treasures I could find there.  The greenhouse at Family Tree is where you can find tropical plants, annuals, houseplants and edibles.  It seems that when it comes to variegation Mother Nature was on overdrive in the tropical area.  The first to catch my eye was the blood banana Musa acuminata 'Zebrina.'  A dwarf banana, 'Zebrina' can easily reach 5-6' tall in one summer.  The large red and green leaves give a tropical flair to any patio or deck.  This banana can but rarely produces fruit.  The greenhouse was loaded with beautiful variegated Bougainvillea hanging baskets blooming in shades of pink, red, purple and orange.  I have a love-hate relationship with Bougainvillea.  This plant tends to bloom in cycles so it does not always have flowers.  Otherwise it is easy to grow as it likes lots of sun, heat and is drought tolerant.  The variegated varieties are especially pretty and during the non-blooming periods there is still the attractive green and creamy-white leaves.  Beware!  They have thorns!  Lately I have been obsessed with elephant ears.  Colocasia esculenta 'Mojito' is one particularily striking variety.  It has green and black mottled leaves and loves moisture.  In fact it is often used as a water garden plant.  It will reach 3' tall, shorter in drier sites.

More plants that seemed oblivious to the heat are the fancy leaved caladiums, long a staple of the annual shade garden, they absolutely love it hot and dry!  As a matter of fact the only thing that seems to kill them are cool temperatures and too much water.  The plants have traditionally come in shades of pink, red and white.  A newer introduction is one called 'Frog in a Blender.'  This caladium has variegated green and yellow leaves and looks like, well, the name says it all!  Another heat lover are ornamental pepper plants.  'Calico' is a wonderful variegated form with purple, green and white leaves and dark purple/black peppers.  The peppers are very hot and although edible are really grown for their ornamental value.

Two unusual tropical plants which you don't see very often are the variegated Tapioca, Manihot esculenta and the variegated Dwarf Screwpine, Pandanus veitchii.  These plants look really neat when used in summer landscape beds with other summer annuals.  Variegated Tapioca grows quickly to 3-6 feet and enjoys full to part sun.  Combine it with black elephant ears and sunpatiens for a tropical looking garden.  Although the roots are poisonous when raw, when properly cooked it can be eaten.  It sometimes goes by the name cassava.  Pandanus is another plant that can add a tropical look to your garden.  A striking variegated screw pine, veitchii has long, strap-like leaves arranged in a rosette. They are yellow with a deep green margin. A very low maintenance plant, Pandanus will maintain it's leaf color whether in sun or shade.

My journey into the world of variegated plants didn't end outside...I also found a wide assortment of houseplants with beautiful foliage as well!  No list of variegated plants would be complete without mentioning the Croton family.  These brightly colored plants come in an array of leaf shapes but all usually can be found in colors of orange, yellow, red and green.  Very common as a bright light houseplant they have also become very popular in outside combination pots for summer and fall.  The Dracaena family also is represented with the striking blue-green and chartreuse 'Lemon Lime.'  This plant is very useful for low light interior locations or as a vertical accent in shade combination pots outside.  Don't think that Philodendrons are boring.  Newer varieties like 'N Joy' with its bright white and green leaves or the satin pothos 'Silver Splash' can be used outside as well as a trailer in shady pots or hanging baskets!

My mind was swimming at all of the variegated options that Family Tree offered.  I didn't even mention the striped leaves of Sanseveria or the pink, green and white leaves of the variegated rubber tree Ficus 'Ruby.'  The annual fountain grass Pennisetum xadvena 'Cherry Sparkler' was tempting me or maybe the variegated Japanese forest grass Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola.'  Oh, and the herbs!  I could plant some Tricolor Sage, variegated peppermint or the green and white 'Pesto Perpetuo' basil!  The list goes on and on.  Who really needs flowers anyway?

(Family Tree Nursery has 3 locations in the Kansas City area.  You can visit their website at )

Daffodil or Jonquil?

Posted on March 8, 2016 at 12:00 PM


With March comes the first flowers of the spring season and one of my favorites is the daffodil.  Their bright, cheery colors are a welcome break from the gray and brown winter scene.  Depending on where you live these flowers may be referred to as daffodils or jonquils.  Did you know, however, that all jonquils are daffodils but not all daffodils are jonquils?

Both daffodil and jonquil are common names for types of bulbs in the genus Amaryllidaceae - the Narcissus.  Each flower has a trumpet or cup (the corona) and petals (perianth).  They come in a variety of colors, usually yellow, white, orange and pink.  Most are fully winter hardy in zones 3 - 9. Horticulturally, Narcissus are split into 12 separate divisions of which jonquils is one.

Jonquils                                          Daffodil varieties

So what is the difference between a jonquil and a daffodil?  The name 'daffodil' can be used to refer to any bulb in the Narcissus family.  'Jonquil' however only refers to one type of daffodil.  Jonquils technically are those daffodils which have 2 or more flowers per stem.  They are often fragrant (think paperwhite narcissus) and have short, round petals.  Most people use the name daffodil to refer to the large trumpet shaped flowers that we usually see in spring.

Miniature Tete' a Tete' daffodils

Narcissus prefer to be planted in a sunny or light shade area with well-drained soil.  Dead-head the flowers after blooming.  The bulb will then put all of it's energy into renewing the bulb for next year rather than making seeds.  Remember to let the foliage die naturally.  This is how it stores food for next year's flowers.  If your daffodils don't seem to produce many flowers it might be time to divide them.  Gently lift the plant, pull the bulbs apart and re-plant them.  The rule of thumb for planting depth is to plant them 3 times the width of the bulb...usually about 5-6 inches deep.

Daffodils can be forced to bloom indoors (see our bulb page for instructions) and also make great cut flowers.  They are one of the easiest plants to grow and will reproduce naturally, providing you with years of color!


Posted on March 22, 2015 at 8:00 PM

Euphorbia marginata  Snow-on-the-mountain

  • Height:  to 3 feet
  • Hardiness:  USDA Zone 8, annual in northern zones
  • Uses:  Good for Xeriscaping

Snow-on-the-mountain is an annual plant that adds a pop of white to your flower border with its variegated green and white leaves and 5 petaled white flowers.  A native plant of dry prairies, fields and pastures, it has been cultivated in backyard gardens as an ornamental and may escape back into the wild.  It reaches 3 feet tall, has average to dry water needs in the garden and blooms summer to fall.

The latex milky sap is a skin irritant to some people.  Cattle avoid eating it.

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What's in a Name? Color Clues

Posted on March 22, 2015 at 8:20 AM

Botanical plant names contain a wealth of information.  The species name (or specific epethet) usually gives us information about the plant.  It may indicate where the plant is from or its growth habit.  For instance the name Cornus alba, the common dogwood tree, tells us that its flowers are white; alba = white.  The following is a list of some common color terms that you will find in the plant world.

ater, atro- = dark, blackish

bicolor = bicolored

concolor = the same color all over; of the same color

discolor = of different colors

floridus = bright

fucatus = painted, colored

fulgens, fulgidus = shining, brightly colored

fuscopictus = dark-colored

fuscotinctus = dark-tinged

fuscus = dark

impolitus = matt

iridescens = iridescent

laetus = bright

lucidus = shining, clear, transparent

margaritaceus = pearly

mutabilis = changing, changeable (e.g. in color)

nitens, nitidus = shining

obscurus = obscure, indistinct, dark

opacus = shady, dark, opaque

pallescens = rather pale, becoming pale

pallidus = pale

pallidulus = rather pale

phaeus = dusky

pictus = (literally) painted; vividly colored

polychromus = many-colored

pullus = dark in color

purus = pure

refulgens = shining

splendens = brilliant

squalidus = dirty

tricolor = three-colored

vernicosus = varnished

versicolor = in various colors

Information adapted from: "Plant Names Explained, Botanical Terms and their Meaning," Gorden, Sue, Editor, Horticulture Publications, Boston, Massachusetts 2005

Lantana 'Luscious® Citrus Blend'

Posted on March 19, 2015 at 12:00 AM
Lantana camara  Lantana ''Luscious® Citrus Blend'™

  • Height:  18 - 30" tall, space 20 - 30" apart
  • Hardiness:  USDA hardiness zones 9- 11, annual in northern zones
  • Uses:  Bedding, containers, hanging baskets

Lantana 'Luscious® Citrus Blend'™ displays brilliant tones of red, orange and yellow producing a vibrant display of color.  It is also heat and drought tolerant with a light, sweet fragrance.  If you are looking for a tough plant it's hard to beat lantana. Lantana are heat tolerant, use little to no supplemental water in the landscape, will tolerate less than ideal soils and usually don't need to be deadheaded. If you are looking for a plant that will thrive on neglect, lantana is the champ.
According to the Humane Society of America Lantana leaves can be toxic to pets. This means that the plants are generally identified as having the capability for producing a toxic reaction.
2012 Top Performer University of Minnesota - Morris, Top Perfomer University of Wisconsin, Top Perfomer Texas A & M - East Texas Bedding Plant Trial, Gardener Choice Texas A & M - East Texas Bedding Plant Trial, Top Performer University of Tennessee, Top Performer The Oregon Garden, Very Good Boerner Botanical Garden, Top Performer Longwood Gardens, Best of Breed Ohio State University - Columbus, Leader of the Pack Ohio State University - Columbus

Other images:  courtesy of Proven Winners

Juncus 'Curly Wurly'

Posted on March 18, 2015 at 9:50 PM
Juncus effusus 'Curly Wurly' Corkscrew Rush
  • Height:  12 - 18" tall, space 16 - 20" apart
  • Hardiness:  USDA hardiness zones 5- 9
  • Uses:  Containers, water gardens

'Curly Wurly' has dark green, twisted, spiraled foliage.  It adds texture to water gardens and container gardens.  Despite a preference for abundant moisture, soft rush will perform surprisingly well in average garden soils as long as they receive consistent irrigation. Clumps are often slow to establish, but once established will spread by creeping rhizomes. Soft rush may be grown in tubs or containers sunk in the mud to control unwanted rhizome spread. Plants will also naturalize by self-seeding. In cold climates, clumps die to the ground in winter. Cut back old foliage in early spring

Information and images courtesy of Proven Winners