Heartleaf or Elephant-ears
"Ah, Love, there is no fleeing from thy might,
No lonely place where thou hast never trod,
No desert thou hast left uncarpeted
With flowers that spring beneath thy perfect feet."
Bergenia crassifolia is in full bloom much earlier than B. cordifolia. We have both species, besides a hybrid of the two, called 'Silberlicht,' & most of our varieties are growing together in a no-maintenance hillside garden down the alley, where they thrive & where one or the other is in bloom winter & spring.
The two main species look rather identical but the difference in bloom time means both are essential to maximize the length of time their candelabrum flowers are present. The earlier-blooming B. crassifolia starts flowering gorgeously in our garden as earlky as December. The photo at right was taken in January, & that particular bloom lasted until the beginning of April when it was finally so ratty-looking I clipped it off.
The following winter it bloomed again in December through January, but the blooms didn't last nearly so long, perhaps because it was an unsually mild but wet winter. It did, however, rebloom in April. The topmost photo is from March of another year. What differences induces it to bloom December some years and March others I wouldn't hazard, but it reblooms in April only in years when it had a very early flowering to start with.
The third photo below left was snapped a year later in April. This shows how its flowers are closer to lilac rather than the more common pink or purple, but it is definitely not this paler color every year. For our crassifolia the rare random spike of blossoms will occur unpredictably out of season all the way up to autumn, which doesn't happen with cordifolia. For either species, the huge blooms are long-lasting in bouquets.
It makes a nice foot-tall & occasionally taller ground cover of enormous leaves. The short spikes of purple bells on B. crassifolia are stubbier than the very tall upright candelabra on B. cordifolia.
Though the wild natural forms of both species have purple flowers, there are now many other colors as well, though mostly varying shades of pale pink to bright magenta. There are additionally hybrids such as our B. cordifolia x crassifolia 'Silberlicht' with blooms that start out silvery white & age to pale pink.
The ones I had as a kid were the plain wild variety as originally found in the Himalayas & China (the other commonly offered species B. cordifolia is from Siberia). The ones presently in our garden probably have some hybridization in them because most due nowadays.
Bergenias have sundry traditional uses, the leaves having provided a "poor man's tea," & the high tannin content of the roots & stems having made it a useful ingredient in leather-tanning agents, wine preservative, tonic, or astringent.
Root extracts have been used in Indian & Chinese medicine for treatment of kidney & gallstones, pulmonary infections, topically for blisters & haemorrhoids, & many other purported values. The active ingredients of extracts include bergenin & gallic acid, which at the very least have analgesic & astringent value so should indeed help haemorrhoids, though its value as an internal medication lacks such clear evidence.
For the garden they are strongly evergreen every day of the year & call for no maintenance at all. They spread overground by thick stolons. If new specimens are desired, a mature clutch of leaves can be separated along the stolons to plant elsewhere.
Bergenia cordifolia 'Winterglut'
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