Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday: Yellowroot

Can you say Xanthorhiza simplicissima?

I'm learning to. Yellowroot is the common name and it's new in my garden. The name comes from the Greek xanthos (yellow) and rhiza (root). I love the tiny, delicate purplish flowers that bloom in the spring and the foliage that has been described as resembling both astilbes and celery. But, good looks was only one of the reasons it came to live in my garden.

Xanthorhiza simplicissima purplish brown flowers
It doesn't hurt that Xanthorhiza simplicissima has high wildlife value! According to "Wildlife Value of Native Plants" by Gary S Wildshoe, Yellowroot provides food and cover for over 50 different birds and mammals. This includes upland game birds, songbirds, and small animals that feed on the fruit. Because it can grow in fairly deep shade, the plant can provide understory habitat and food where few other plants can survive.

source wikipedia~The foliage does resemble celery!

A plant with good looks and great wildlife value are two extremely important characteristics for most plants that join the crowd here, but, the driving reason for choosing Yellowroot was it's reputation as a great groundcover. I needed a plant that could survive the wet winters and dry summers at Clay and Limestone and, one that could out compete the invasive vincas.

Yellowroot should fit the bill. It's been reported to thrive in either full shade or full sun and to survive short term flooding and drought. It can be found growing in Zone 3 to Zone 9. Gardenbloggers, that's Maine to Texas! I think it can make it in my Zone 7, Central Basin garden.

Here's a quote from the Arnold Arboretum that influenced my decision: (source)

A native American plant, found from New York to Florida, this makes an
excellent woody ground cover. True, it grows 2' tall, but in a planting in the
Arnold Arboretum we never have to give this planting any attention except to
pull out woody weed plants which appear every few years. It increases rapidly
by underground stolons and quickly makes a dense mat of upright stems and
feathery foliage. The flowers and fruits are not especially prominent, the bark
and roots are yellow. As a neat, uniformly high cover, this plant has no peers.

and a recent one from Jill Nooney, also at the Arboretum:

In 1929 Nathaniel Lord Britton, former director of the New York Botanical Garden,
wrote, "This low shrub has long been of great interest to botanists, pharmacists, and horti-
culturists." If so, in recent years the interest has been invisible and inaudible. Handsome,
tough, infinitely adaptable, it’s surprising that Xanthorhiza simplicissima has not captured
the imagination of a great many horticulturists. As a landscape plant, its combination of
virtues is hard to match.

I am sure Yellowroot is perfect for a muddy little slope in the Garden of Benign Neglect. You know me, I love under-appreciated plants.

Pleasant Run Nursery

Oh, yes, it has, and I quote "an indescribable shade of purple that persists for weeks during Autumn." that's according to one nurseryman. (source)

I know it's going to be perfect for Clay and Limestone and the Garden of Benign Neglect.

Welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not; and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please add your url to Mr Linky and leave a comment.

This post was written by Gail Eichelberger for my blog Clay and Limestone Copyright 2011.This work protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.


  1. Thank you for introducing me to this wildflower. It sounds spectacular and based on the description I fully understand why you choose it. Looking forward to seeing it through the seasons.

  2. Wow, this is a beauty. The bloom looks like an orchid.

  3. Thank you Gail! I have never heard of this, but it is going right on the top of the want list! The flowers remind me sort of Epimediums.

  4. Hi Gail,
    Wow! Another new wildflower to study. What a nice post and I'll reread it when I'm back home tonight! I'm dashing off to work, but posted our March wildflowers for all to enjoy. This is our top moment for wildflowers here in Houston.
    David/ :-)

  5. Fascinating, Gail! Not only can I not say the name, I've never heard of this wildflower before. It certainly looks like the perfect addition to your garden!

  6. Gail we have sinilar growing condditions and this sounds like a perfect plant to seek out for my garden...thx for sharing it...I will link in tomorrow as I am a bit busy today..thx

  7. Very cool Gail! Lots of great info! I don't have many wildflowers blooming yet although April will be sure to have some. I hope you've enjoyed the weather lately!

  8. I thought I knew native plants for dry shade, but I've never encountered this one. Thank you for introducing me to it. I have just the perfect neglected corner for it. I like the fall foliage color.

  9. Yellowroot is new to me Gail. The blooms are very sweet, and the fall foliage color is beautiful! Its appeal to wildlife makes it very attractive, as is its usefulness in shade to sun. I can see why it's found a home in your garden, and hope it thrives and spreads for you (and crowds out the vinca.:)

  10. Oh, thanks for a new-to-me native to consider! I am loving all of those that you introduce! I'm working on my WW post right now and will be back later to add it;-)

  11. I'm with the other commenters...I've never heard of yellowroot but it sounds fabulous! I have all kinds of trouble establishing groundcovers here (similar issues to your conditions, with periodic flooding and dry summers). I may have to try this!

  12. Loving the yellow root.
    Did you say "vinca" ?
    Can't get rid of the stuff !

  13. oh yah! it's one of my favourite posts of the month. The snow is still thick here so I can't join in just yet but I really enjoyed reading about this new plant you've found. Anything that could possibly outwit the vinca would be miraculous.

  14. A beautiful eastern native I haven't seen before. I love that Yellowroot has multiseason interest too, with beautiful flowers, and stunning fall foliage. I agree, the leaves are very celery-like!

  15. Perfect plant Gail and so pretty.
    I love the colour of those delicate little flowers.

    Vinca is a UK native....I struggle to get it to move. I planted it in an area where I needed ground cover and I am still waiting for it to do just that!!!

    Isn't gardening fun?

  16. Gail, you introduce me to so many unusual plants. I wasn't familiar with this one. Very beautiful!

  17. Does it grow easily from seed????.... for it seems I need to import some!! What an interesting post, Gail. Thanks!

  18. Dang, I forgot there were 5 Wednesdays this month. I've seen Yellowroot at the Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill (just the foliage, not the flowers) and it's a beautiful plant. I'll have see if it's for sale next time I go there.

  19. I learned something new today. I don't think I've ever seen this plant, but love it's cute little blooms. Thanks for the info.

  20. I have heard of it but have not seen it growing. I might have to take a trip to the Arnold soon. I am going to see Jill Nooney's garden in July. Want to come?

  21. Gail, I'd never heard of this before. What's so great is that You provided the information and fellow garden bloggers can profit. :-) thanks!

  22. Wow, I had no idea that Yellowroot had so much wildlife value.

    If you have the right spot for it, it's a great plant, to be sure.

    Thanks for reminding us about its attributes!


  23. I love those blooms! They almost remind me of the shape of amsonia blooms. I don't have a good spot for those.

  24. Love that little flower, but there is no way I can pronounce it!

  25. I would sound like I had way too much to drink if I tried to say it's name....lovely bloom. PPPP is showing off for you today.

  26. Quite a mouthful to say the name of the sweet flower, though at one glance they look like a type of orchid.Might join you later. Such a great idea to host this Wildflower Wednesday!

  27. This is a very valuable post--thank you for telling us about this wonderful plant! I am looking for beautiful and also useful plants to grow in the shady parts of my yard.

    I love flowering plants with thin petals--much like witch hazel.

    I read that yellowroot is toxic in high quantities (apparently some deer aren't so fond of it) but the Native Americans used it externally to treat skin ailments, and internally as a tea to treat stomach and mouth ulcers.

    I too am a lover of underappreciated plants--sometimes I fill a pot with soil I find somewhere, and let grow whatever is already in there. You can be surprised at the uses of a lot of these "Weeds".

  28. No wild flowers here. No flowers period for now. Yellowroot is a nice plant, especially being such a good food source for many. Your first image is a very pretty one.

  29. Still no wildflowers blooming here, but I just added a late entry to the Wildflower Wednesday posts, Gail.

  30. What a beautiful wild flower! I wonder if it can out do blasted Bishop Weed? Hmmm ...

  31. How exciting! An interesting new native plant, with flowers *and* fall colour, that might work in dry shade... and in my zone, to boot. Thank you so much, Gail. Need to suss this one out for sure.

  32. I'm so glad you told me about this post. I just got one of these at the PPSMT meeting this month. Joanne said it was native so I jumped on it. Someone brought a whole bag. It is sweet that it stays short. 2 feet is perfect for where I put mine. Thanks for the info. I was surprised to see it is the only plant in the genus.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson