Perennials with Fall Color

Care and How-To

Usually, we don't think of herbaceous perennials as having fall color. However, there is a select group of perennials that might surprise you with their brilliant foliage colors in fall. Yellow is the most common color for fall foliage on perennials. Reds, oranges, and purples can also develop in some species of herbaceous perennials, although it tends to be more variable from year to year.   

Amsonia with fall color
The bright yellow fall color of bluestars (Amsonia)

Many perennials have some color develop before they go dormant and disappear for the winter (brown and tan colors don't count!).  Those plants listed below have notable yellows, reds, oranges, and purples in their late-season foliage providing at least a couple weeks of good fall color every year. 

The fall color season for perennials is short (just like the maples and oaks so well known for their fall display). But even brief periods of fall color are appreciated in the garden. You might be impressed with the multi-season interest these plants can provide to your garden.

Most Notable Fall Color

Almost all Blue Stars, Amsonia tabernamontana (Blue Star), Amsonia ciliata (Downy Blue Star), and Amsonia hubrechtii (Arkansas Blue Star) are famous for the clear yellow foliage fall color. The Downy and Arkansas Blue Stars have narrow/thin foliage that also adds an interesting textural contrast throughout the gardening seasons. 

For the most reliable red fall color, Bloodred Geranium (Geranium sanguineum) is your best bet. After a hard frost, the foliage often turns a brilliant red color before disappearing completely a month later.


Perennials with Notable Fall Color (Listed by Height)

Common and Scientific Name Fall Leaf Color Light Height/Width (feet) Nativity
Barrenwort (Epimedium Burgundy-Red Full to Part Shade 0.5'-1.25'/1' Asia
Hostas (Hosta) Yelow Full to Part Shade 0.5'-4'/0.5'-4' Asia
Bloodred Geranium (Geranium sanguineum) Red Full to Part Sun 0.75'-1'/1' Europe/Asia
Pigsqueak (Bergenia) Burgundy-Red Full to Part Shade 1'-1.5'/1' Siberia
Columbine (Aquilegia) Orange-Red Full to Part Shade 1'-3'/2' North America
Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) Yellow Full to Part Sun 1'-3'/1'-3' Eastern United States
Blue Stars (Amsonia tabernamontana; A. ciliata; A. hubrechtii) Yellow Full to Part Sun 1'-3'-/3' Eastern North America
Gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) Bronze-Red Full to Part Sun 2'-3'/3'+ China, Japan
Balloon Flower (Platycodon) Yellow Full to Part Sun 2.5'-3'/2' China, Japan
Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium Copper-Orange-Red Full Sun 2'-4'/1'-2' North America
Monkshood (Aconitum) Yellow Full to Part Sun 3'-4'/1' Europe
Peonies (Paeonia) Burgundy-Red Full Sun 3'-4'/3'-4' Asia
Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) Yellow Full to Part Shade 3-4'/4' North America
Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) Red-Orange Full Sun 3'-6'/2' North America
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatumespecially certain cultivars Red Full Sun 4'-6'/2'-3' North America
Maidengrass (Miscanthus sinensis) especially certain cultivars Red Full Sun 4'-7'/3' Asia

Amsonia with fall color
Bluestars (Amsonia) with yellow fall color.

Pigsqueak with developing fall color
Pigsqueak (Bergenia) with developing red fall color.

More Information

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...

Aaron Steil Consumer Horticulture Extension Specialist

Aaron Steil is the consumer horticulture extension specialist at Iowa State University where he works with county Extension offices across the state to answer home gardening questions for all Iowans.  This includes information related to trees, shrubs, vegetables, fruits, herbs, perennials, ...

Last Reviewed: 
September, 2023