Foamflower is a charming woodland wildflower with masses of airy, star-shaped flowers that float above low-growing mounds of maple-like leaves. Wildflower enthusiasts know that a large colony of foamflowers is a wondrous sight in spring. Dainty, white to pink flowers with feathery stamens form a narrow, cylindrical “bottle brush” on the upper half of a slender stalk that rises half a foot above the foliage. The attractive, heart-shaped leaves (another common name is heart-shaped foamflower) often develop striking burgundy-colored veining, making this a popular groundcover for partly or fully shaded areas. The semi-evergreen leaves turn reddish bronze and remain through winter, producing new leaves in the spring. Because it’s usually found in partly shady, moist conditions, foamflower struggles when sited in full sun and dry soils; however, morning sun is acceptable, as is occasional drought. In order to thrive, foamflower needs to be in moist, well-drained, rich to average soils and partial sunlight. It can handle full shade and is a fine choice for containers in shade gardens or for gradually filling in spaces beneath trees. It pairs especially well with spring ephemerals and ferns.
Although foamflower doesn’t produce nectar, bees and butterflies are still attracted to the dense masses of lightly scented flowers for the pollen. Bumble bees, particularly the queens, “have been identified as the most important pollinators for T. cordifolia because the smaller insects [spend] a greater amount of time on a single inflorescence and thus were less likely to fully fertilize the flowers.” (Alexander F. Motten, 1986.)
While there is still some uncertainty regarding the taxa of Tiarella species in eastern North America, T. cordifolia is generally considered to be one of five Tiarella species native to the eastern US. Three-leaved foamflower (T. trifoliata) is native to the West Coast. In Ohio, T. cordifolia is found almost exclusively in the eastern half of the state, mainly on the rich soils of woodlands and along stream terraces (ohiodnr.gov). Tiarella is closely related to another genus in the Saxifragaceae family, Heuchera, which is similarly valued for its handsome foliage. Plants in the two genera are sometimes bred together to form hybrids called x Heucherella. Foamflower also bears a strong resemblance to the miterwort plant, leading some to call it false miterwort. The genus name comes from the Latin word tiara, which means “little crown” and refers to the shape of the seed capsules.
Foamflower is a low-maintenance plant, although it benefits from fertilizer when grown in containers. The foliage may suffer from rust or powdery mildew, and several insects may prey upon the plant, including black vine weevils. An infestation of these insects should be treated to prevent severe damage. The astringent leaves are usually a deterrent to deer and rabbits.
Native habitats include well-drained bottomland forests, rocky or wooded slopes, seeps and springy places, and stream or swamp edges. Use foamflower under trees; in fronts of borders; in pollinator, native, shade, or butterfly gardens; along streams; and massed as a groundcover for shady areas.
Grows 4-14” tall and 6-12” wide.
Prefers dappled sunlight or part shade. Tolerates full shade and morning sun.
Prefers rich, well-drained soils but adapts to a variety of average soils. Soggy conditions may cause root rot. Tolerates occasional drought but needs water during extended dry periods.
Flowers typically bloom April to June. Each ¼” flower has 5 petals, 5 sepals, and 10 stamens. Fruit capsules composed of 2 valves of differing lengths emerge May-June. Each capsule has up to 15 shiny, black seeds that are dispersed when the winged capsules shimmer in the breeze. Some seeds are further transported by water.
Smooth, egg-shaped leaves with heart-shaped bases are 1-3” long and wide and have 3-7 shallow, round-edged lobes with serrated margins.
Rhizomes spread underground to form colonies.
Foamflower is pollinated by butterflies, syrphid flies, and a number of bee species, including two-spotted bumble bee and the greater bee-fly. Ruffed grouses and mice eat the seeds. The plant is deer and rabbit resistant.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Various Native American tribes had many medicinal uses for foamflower, such as infusions to treat mouth sores and eye ailments, and poultices for treating wounds (from Native American Ethnobotany Database.) A root/leaf tea was used to help pass kidney stones and for loosening chest phlegm (Krochmal and Krochmal, 1973). A tonic is used to treat diarrhea and bladder and liver problems (Grieve, 1971).
There are no reported edible uses for foamflower.
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