Persicaria: how to grow persicaria and the best cultivars
Persicaria are versatile perennials with late season, brightly coloured flower spikes on hearty green plants from July through to late October. Plantsman Rory Dusoir shares his advice on how to grow persicaria and where to plant it. Photographs Dianna Jazwinski
Persicaria and its near relations contain a broad variety of versatile garden plants, from vibrant, flowering dynamos and statuesque landscape plants to denizens of shady corners with atmospheric foliage. Its late season flowers, spanning four months from July to October, combined with its general hardiness, versatility and natural charm, has won it an important place in the plant catalogues of the New Perennial Movement as well as in more traditional gardening settings. The versatility of the species is highlighted by Piet Oudolf’s planting at the Hauser & Wirth gallery in Somerset.
Persicaria name change
Until recently, the genus that we now know as Persicaria used to sit within a much broader genus called Polygonum. As with so many other genera, molecular and morphological studies conducted this century have blown it apart into smaller constituent genera, including in Polygonum, Fallopia and Fagopyrum. For a time most of the pre-eminent horticultural species briefly resided in one genus, Persicaria. Some of these have now moved genus again (although as it may take some time for UK nurseries to catch up with the move, they are still listed below under their previous Persicaria name in brackets).
Among these is Persicaria amplexicaulis, which has now become Bistorta amplexicaulis, and can be considered among the most floriferous of cultivated plants available to gardeners in temperate regions. Breeding has spawned a wide variety of cultivars in vivid shades of a spectrum between crimson and scarlet, although for the faint of heart there are also some white and soft pink-flowered cultivars. The species Persicaria affinis has also now moved to Bistorta, while Persicaria x fennica and Persicaria campanulata have now moved to Koenigia.
The broader grouping contained some plants of infamously expansive vigour, including Russian vine (now Fallopia baldschuanica), and Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica). They may have damned some of their better-behaved cousins by association; however, although many of the species recommended here display a robust constitution and an agreeable self-sufficiency, they are all fairly easy to control when required.
What are Persicaria?
A varied and versatile genus of around 130 species of robust and colourful perennials. Along with other members of the Polygonaceae family, for example Bistorta with some 40 species and Koenigia with another 35 they are commonly known as knotweed, with the self-seeding Persicaria virginiana also known as jumpseed. Also included are former Persicaria species that have recently moved genera, such as Bistorta amplexicaulis, Bistorta affinis and Koenigia x fennica.
Origins of Persicaria
Persicaria, Bistorta and Koenigia are found in pretty much every country worldwide. The species covered here are found in a wide area emanating from the Himalayan region, while Persicaria virginiana is widespread throughout eastern North America.
When does persicaria flower?
Most of the species featured here will flower from July to September or October; some species have a late flourish of blooms in September but these may be considered primarily as foliage plants.
Size of persicaria
From 30cm to 2.5m, persicarias have a general preference for rich soil and sun, with a few exceptions, but most species are adaptable.
Most species are hardy to -20ºC with a hardiness rating of RHS H6 to H7, and are generally suitable for gardens within USDA zones 4a to 8b.
How to grow persicaria
Where to plant persicaria
Persicarias are rather varied in their garden uses and cultivation requirements, but they tend to have in common a completely robust approach to life and will generally flourish with a minimum of fuss. Slugs and snails may make an impression on the foliage of Persicaria virginiana and its cultivars, but even they are not bothered too much. In general, the gardener’s problems when dealing with the genus are more likely to concern containment of growth rather than its encouragement. As a tribe they tend particularly to enjoy rich, moist soil, but are surprisingly adaptable to poorer, drier conditions.
Is persicaria invasive?
Although they do not have the insidious habit of travelling hither and thither by root, the most vigorous clump-formers, such as Koenigia x fennica ‘Johanneswolke’ (formerly Persicaria x fennica ‘Johanneswolke’) and Bistorta amplexicaulis (previously Persicaria amplexicaulis) may surprise you with their competitive zeal above ground, and can swamp adjacent plants unless they are similarly competitive.
Poorer conditions will restrict their vigour somewhat, as well as splitting and re-planting their clumps regularly in autumn. But the best approach is to let them jostle with other big beasts of prairies, meadows and flower borders, such as Eupatorium maculatum and the aster Doellingeria umbellata, as well as anemones, Vernonia arkansana, Silphium perfoliatum and larger ornamental grasses such as Miscanthus sinensis, Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Transparent’ and Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’, which all have suitable vigour.
Persicaria virginiana (known as jumpseed) and its cultivars may self-seed quite prolifically, but this is quite an innocuous habit as it is easy to remove and indeed, many of its volunteers may be quite welcome.
Persicaria runcinata and Bistorta affinis (formerly Persicaria affinis) are both much more likely to pose problems and need to be sited with some consideration. Persicaria runcinata travels underground but needs decent light, so being hemmed in by shrubs or paving should be enough to contain its spread. Bistorta affinis is also quite a rapid coloniser, forming a solid interlocking mat of running stems. Its foliage is semi-evergreen so it makes a fairly formidable ground cover plant. This can be a considerable virtue if you are looking to cover a wide area with something attractive that will exclude even the most determined weeds; however, in the mixed border it can become a bit of a nuisance as the wiry stems gain considerable purchase on the soil with their roots, and are hard to extricate from neighbouring plants.
The best persicaria to grow
Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firedance’
now Bistorta amplexicaulis ‘Firedance’
This selection by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf has extraordinarily vibrant colouring. As the flower spikes are slender and accompanied by a proportionate amount of green leaf, as with wildflowers in nature, the colour does not appear too hard. 1.2m.
Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘September Spires’
Now Bistorta amplexicalis ‘September Spires’
Although the clump of leaves at the base of most Bistorta amplexicaulis is quite coarse and excludes all light, the upper reaches of the plant when it flowers give a diaphanous impression, especially in paler cultivars such as this one. 1.5m.
Persicaria runcinata ‘Purple Fantasy’
An atmospheric foliage plant. Although it will tolerate some shade, the purple and silver variegation is more marked with exposure to sunlight. Runs at the root and may need to be controlled. 80cm-1m.
Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Rosea’
Now Bistorta amplexicaulis ‘Rosea’
An older cultivar of the species, which is palest pink, enhancing its transparent properties. In common with other cultivars of the species the flowers are a magnet for pollinating insects – bees throng to it in sufficient numbers to make quite a racket. 1.5m.
Persicaria virginiana ‘Painter's Palette’
A variegated cultivar of Persicaria virginiana, with vivid pink chevrons; beneath this the entire leaf is heavily blotched creamy white. A rather more subtle and interesting plant than it may first appear. 80cm.
Persicaria x fennica ‘Johanniswolke’
Now Koenegia x fennica ‘Johanniswolke’
A tall and hearty plant with brilliant white flowers that darken at an imperceptible pace as they turn into ripened seed, eventually ending up a rich russet. The whole performance lasts from July to September. Sometimes sold as Persicaria alpina. 2.5m.
Persicaria campanulata ‘Rosenrot’
Now Koenigia campanulata ‘Rosenrot’
A robust plant that is refined and elegant in all its parts and should be grown more often. The leaves are dark green enlivened by pale midribs and a subtle pleating between the veins. The flowers are uniquely lustrous and in this cultivar fully suffused in soft pink. 80cm-1m.
Persicaria amplexicaulis Orange Field (= ‘Orangofield’)
Now Bistorta amplexicaulis Orange Field (= ‘Orangofield’)
One of the large number of Bistorta amplexicaulis cultivars selected and named by the Belgian landscape architect Chris Ghyselen. This one has coral flowers, which although extremely slender, are quite luminous and draw the eye from afar. 1m.
Persicaria amplexicaulis Taurus (= ‘Blotau’)
Now Bistorta amplexicaulis Taurus (= ‘Blotau’)
A further Chris Ghyselen selection, with full-blooded, crimson flowers displayed on particularly substantial inflorescences. An impactful cultivar of dense, saturated colour, lacking the subtlety and airy grace of many others. 1.2-1.5m.
Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Fat White’
Now Bistorta amplexicaulis ‘Fat White’
Another cultivar from Belgian designer Chris Ghyselen. This one is distinguished from other white-flowered cultivars by the increased length and breadth of its upright inflorescences, which have a distinct pink tinge, and large light green leaves. 1.2m.
Persicaria ‘Pink Elephant’
Now Bistorta ‘Pink Elephant’
The unique charm of this cultivar is that its flower spikes droop and rise again according to their fancy, somewhat in the manner of Lysimachia clethroides. Reminiscent of elephants’ trunks, hence the name. Smaller in stature than most Bistorta amplexicaulis cultivars. 70cm.
Persicaria filiformis ‘Lance Corporal’
The pronounced maroon chevrons on each leaf, contrast well with the pale-green background. Thin, spidery inflorescences appear in September. Not a plant for full sun, it appreciates ample moisture. 60-90cm.
More like this
Persicaria affinis ‘Superba’
Now Bistorta affinis ‘Superba’
Although it’s tempting to regard this species as a rather functional garden plant, it has fine decorative qualities. The flower spikes open white but mature by degrees to a deep crimson, and the plant will carry flocks of them at all their stages. 30cm.
Where to see persicaria
• Hauser & Wirth Somerset. Durslade Farm, Dropping Lane, Bruton, Somerset BA10 0NL. Tel 01749 814060, hauserwirth.com
• Sussex Prairie Garden, Morlands Farm, Wheatsheaf Road, Henfield, West Sussex BN5 9AT. Tel 01273 495902, sussexprairies.co.uk
Where to buy persicaria
• Abi and Tom's Garden Plants Halecat, Witherslack, Cumbria LA11 6RT. Tel 015395 52946, sussexprairies.co.uk
• Dove Cottage Nursery, Shibden Hall Road, Halifax, West Yorkshire HX3 9XA. Tel 01422 203553, dovecottagenursery.co.uk
Author Rory Dusoir is a Kew-trained plantsman and garden writer.
Rory Dusoir is a plantsman and garden designer. Having grown up in Northern Ireland, he studied Horticulture at Kew
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