Common names: Heart Leaf, Heart-leafed Bergenia, Siberian Tea
This plant family was named after Karl August von Bergen (1704-1760) a professor in Germany at Frankfurt an der Oder. He wrote the descriptive Flora Francofurtana published in 1750.
The plant is native to Eastern Asia up into Siberia and this results in the common name ‘Siberian Tea’. I have to assume that somebody used to use some part of the plant for tea but I have been unable to find a reference that recommends the plant for this use.
- Sun needed: Full to light shade
- Bloom color: White, shades of red/violet
- Bloom time:Early spring
- Height:12” to 18”
- Planting space apart: 12” to 18”
- Propagation method: Division or seed
- Hardiness: USDA 4
- LIfespan: 2-3 years for me in cold area longer in warm gardens
- Soil preferred: Light soil – no standing water although it is a native plant in damp meadows. It will also grow in clay without standing water
- Potential disease problems: none serious
- Potential insect problems root weevils but not a major problem. If you see “notch-shaped” chewing on the leaves, then you might want to dig the plant in the fall, clean off the damaged roots and move it to another part of the garden.
- Use: Sun or shade garden depending on how far south you are. Very early container plant with large leathery leaves.
Growing Conditions For Bergenia
This is an easy plant to grow; simply put it in the ground and it seems to live. Do note that the plant does not like clay or standing water, even though it is a native to damp meadows. The soil is best if it is evenly moist and permanent mulch is an excellent method of creating that environment.
Getting Bergenia to flower is a bit trickier if you live in zone 4 or colder. Even though it is native to colder zones, it has never done that well in my garden. Because it wants to bloom very, very early in the spring, I often found that the buds would get frozen by a late freeze and the resulting flowers would be deformed and ugly. Perhaps when it thaws up in the far north, it does not have to contend with a secondary freezeup.
It is also sold as an evergreen perennial; this too is true if you are warmer than zone 4. While the leaves do stay on the plant over the winter, by spring they are very brown-edged and ratty looking – not something I was ever pleased to have in the garden. The winter weather is not kind to it. These problems will not be an issue if you live in zone 5 or warmer.
In warmer and hotter gardens, it also will thrive in dappled shade along with Hosta. Do mulch to preserve soil moisture in hot climates.
It is very slow to come from seed and the seedling seems to take forever to develop into a plant big enough to be transplanted into a pot. It is much easier to purchase a two or three year root from a garden center. Divisions in the early spring or fall are the easiest way to obtain new plants.
- Bergenia cordifolia is the most commonly available species, from both seed companies and nurseries. While the plant is easily started from seed, it is slow to grow and will often take three years to bloom. For this reason, impatient gardeners often purchase larger nursery grown plants.
- ‘Red Bloom’ (also sold as ‘Rotblum’) is a rose-red form
- Bergenia crassifolia is a hardy specieswhose leaves may be less damaged by winter than others. It is not as easy to find but if you do see it, purchase a plant or two.
‘Red Star’ is a good red color.
- Bergenia x hybrida ‘Bressingham Ruby’ This is a compact growing form, with deep pink flowers and dark red fall foliage.
- Bergenia x hybrida ‘Bressingham White. A white form of the Bressingham Ruby, is not “dirty” white like other whites but is a clear white bloom.
- Bergenia x hybrida ‘Morning Blush’ (also sold as ‘Silverlight’, ‘Silverlicht’) Early spring flowers are white fading to reddish. This one is more drought and sun tolerant than the species.
- Bergenia x hybrida ‘Baby Doll’ A compact form with flowers in multiple shades of pink on the same stem. They change color as they age to produce this effect.
- Bergenia x hybrida ‘Pink Dragonfly” (pictured) a relatively compact plant with lovely pink blooms and darker centers.