Heuchera or Coral Bells

Heuchera, commonly called Coral Bells or Alumroot, is a genus of more than 40 species in the Saxifragaceae family.  All are native to North America.  While several species of coral bells have long histories as medicinal plants, their primary popularity today is as an ornamental plant in the home landscape.  Many of these


A heuchera in Moline. Photo Courtesy of Cynthia Haynes. 

ornamental plants are complex hybrids between several species and represent a vast array of colors and sizes of leaves, flowers, and habits.  

Leaves can be green, red, orange, burgundy, silver, yellow, peach or variegated.  Leaves also have strong central patterns and/or a silvery overlay. Many cultivars also produce attractive flowers.  Some have open, airy clusters of tiny, bell-shaped flowers while others have tightly bundled flowers on upright flower stalks.  Flowers are available in red, pink, white or combinations thereof.  The flowers are attractive to many pollinators, including hummingbirds.  Hundreds of cultivars are currently available, with new cultivars introduced each year.  

Heuchera species

Each species below has been used in breeding many of the popular cultivars on the market today.  While these species may not be as flashy as their offspring, you can see some distinctive characteristics imparted in their lineage. The table shows some of the species used commonly in breeding programs.

Species

Height (inches)

Bloom time

Comments

H. americana

12-15

Late spring

Native to woodlands in the Midwest

H. micrantha

12-18

Late spring

Native to dry areas in Western US; prefers good drainage

       

H. richardsonii

12-18

Late spring/early summer

Midwestern native

H. sanguinea

8-12

Late spring/early summer

Native to higher elevations in Southwestern US; noted for flowers

H. villosa

18-24

Late summer/fall

Native to woodlands in Southeastern US; larger leaves with velvety pubescence

Care

Some cultivars of Heuchera are more durable in the landscape than others.  As you might expect, those bred from species more tolerant of diverse sites tend to be more adaptable.  Regardless, most Heuchera grow best in partial shade to full sun in moist, but well-drained soils in Iowa.  Plants have shallow root systems, thus they may need supplemental water during establishment.  Newly planted Heuchera also have a tendency to frost heave their first winter in the home landscape. The freezing and thawing cycles of the soil  lift the plant out of the soil.  Mulching heavily after the first hard frost in fall will help prevent such temperature extremes and provide added weight to prevent heaving. A couple of years after planting, the root system should be fully established and less likely to heave.

Some durable varieties of Heuchera for Iowa include the “old fashioned coral bells,” ‘Obsidian’ (dark foliage), ‘Green Spice” (green leaves with dark central markings), and ‘Southern Comfort’ (large orange leaves).

*Steadfast Plants, LLC develops new varieties of Heuchera sp. and related genera for commercial markets. 

Authors: 

Cynthia Haynes Professor

Dr. Haynes is a Professor of Horticulture at Iowa State University in Ames.  Her primary responsibilities are in teaching and extension.  She teaches several courses for the Department of Horticulture including Home Horticulture and Herbaceous Ornamentals.  She also has extension r...

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