In the list of “top plants that have been around for too long to not be popular,” Syneilesis aconitifolia or “shredded umbrella plant” should be near the top. I first came across Syneilesis in 1998 growing extremely well in Raleigh, North Carolina. I saw it again in 2000 in Pennsylvania growing like gang-busters. Now that I am in Boothbay, Maine (USDA zone 6a), what is one of the strongest growing plants? Syneilesis aconitifolia!
Any plant that can look awesome from Maine to North Carolina (does it grow further north and south?) certainly deserves more respect in our gardens. As a matter of fact, maybe we should rename this the “Rodney Dangerfield aster.” It certainly gets no respect and although it is hard to believe, it is in the aster family. Before your mind goes astray with images of big purple and pink flowers, stop right there. The flowers on this plant are an acquired taste. They are small and at 3′ high, they are quite nice. Nice as in “I really like you but let’s be friends.”
The beauty of the umbrella plant is its foliage. Emerging in the spring like wooly mushrooms or mayapples, the leaves eventually open up like umbrellas left in the crate with our Belgian shepherd puppy who chews anything. Once the leaves open fully in late spring into early summer, they are 2′ tall parasols of coolness. You can still stump people with this plant in your garden.
We have one mass of umbrella plant in full sun and another in partial shade at CMBG. They do well in both locations but I think the farther south you go, the more shade these plants will enjoy. Once established, they can take dry shade so they are good to add under small trees.
Photos: dancingoaks.com, carolynsshadegardens.com