Mukdenia gets dramatic at just the right time

This shade-loving groundcover brings blooms in spring and color in fall.

It’s autumn. Instead of gazing upon pinks, reds, oranges and yellows mingled together in a brilliant marriage of nature and design, some gardeners find themselves staring out the window and hoping leaves will drop soon, so all the ragged bare spots of dirt will be covered. And then we vow to plant mukdenia in the spring.

The large, palmate leaves of mukdenia (Mukdenia rossii) remind some of oversized maple leaves. Others think of the foliage of coral bells and foamflower: both cousins of mukdenia. Though all three plants have a similar appearance in the spring—panicles of small blooms held above lush, intriguing foliage—and prefer the same moist, part-shade conditions, mukdenia, which hails from China and Korea, surpasses the others with its dramatic fall color. In the leaves of the species, a lovely deep red begins to show at the edges and creeps slowly inward as temperatures cool. In the leaves of M. rossii ‘Karasuba’ (a Japanese cultivar also marketed as Crimson Fans) this process starts earlier—just after flowering. ‘Karasuba’ is more readily available than the species.

If your fall garden holds more potential than satisfaction, and shady spots are on your list of problem areas, consider putting mukdenia on your to-do list.

Common name: mukdenia, hand fan
Botanical name: Mukdenia rossii (formerly Aceriphyllum rossii)
Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
Zones: 4 to 8
Height: 8 to 18 inches
Family: Saxifragaceae

Growing conditions

  • Sun: Part shade (tolerates full sun in northern part of range)
  • Soil: Rich and well-drained
  • Moisture: Consistent moisture with good drainage

Care

  • Mulch: None needed
  • Pruning: None needed
  • Fertilizer: None needed

Propagation

  • Division

Pests and diseases

  • Slugs and snails may cause damage

Garden notes

  • Mukdenia makes a lovely woodland plant and a good groundcover for those shady areas where grass refuses to grow. Unlike many other shade-loving groundcovers, it isn’t distressingly aggressive, but spreads at a sedate pace under favorable conditions.
  • Its native habitat is cool, moist woodlands at upper elevations, so mukdenia will struggle in full sun, especially in the hot and humid southern U.S.

All in the family

  • Most members of Saxifragaceae are found in temperate or subarctic zones, and nearly always in the Northern hemisphere. They’re often cultivated in rock gardens, but some prefer woodland or even wetland conditions.
  • Other genera of Saxifragaceae that you might be familiar with are Astilbe, Bergenia, Heuchera, and Tiarella.
  • The genus Mukdenia is very small: it contains just two species. Mukdenia acanthifolia is similar to M. rossii, except that its leaves are shaped more like a rounded heart than a maple leaf.

Where to buy
Digging Dog Nursery, diggingdog.com
Lazy S’s Farm Nursery, lazyssfarm.com
Plant Delights Nursery, plantdelights.com