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NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.


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Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.


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Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.


Plant Profiles

Two-lobed False Hydrangea

These translucent flowers are ravishing in their own right, but the one of the left should merit a double-take: It's a sterile flower—no pistils or stamens at all—and looks like it belongs on a hydrangea. But hydrangeas are shrubs or vines, and this one is borne by a perennial.


Deinanthe bifida flowers 070614 915


Welcome to this hydrangea cousin, an Asian perennial with a greek genus name of Deinanthe: deinos meaning wondrous, and anthe in reference to the flowers. Wondrous, indeed.


Below, the colony overall. From any distance at all, the foliage is the plant's most arresting feature.


Deinanthe bifida 070718 overall 915 


Each leaf's two pointed lobes make it seem partly unzipped. 


Deinanthe bifida bifid leaflet and fingers 070614 915 


"Bifid" is the term for anything that's divided into two equal portions by a deep cleft. On the base of foliage alone, then, this perennial could be Deinanthe bifida. But flowers of that species are white, whereas these are lavender.


Deinanthe bifida four leaflets of the stem 070614 915 


Flowers of Deinanthe caerulea are lavender—but its leaves are entire, not bifid. This perennial has its blue(ish) flowers, but the bifid foliage of D. bifida because it's a hybrid of the two. D caerulea is native to China, and D. bifida to Japan, so natural hybridization is most unlikely. Rather, these two species' individual calling cards, foliage and flower, were so remarkable that a cross-pollination experiment was inevitable in hopes that progeny could flaunt both.


Thank goodness it was a success.




Here's how to grow this rare herbaceous hydrangea:


Latin Name

Deinanthe caerulea x bifida.  Pronounce the genus name "die-NAN-thee," as if it were an old-English command to an inferior. The species names of this hybrid are pronounced "sa-RULE-ee-uh" and "BIFF-uh-duh." 

Common Name

Two-lobed false hydrangea, but that is ungainly and ugly, so just use the genus, Deinanthe, as the common name. When you do so in writing, the name is neither capitalized nor italicized. The genus may be Deinanthe, but the common name is deinanthe.


Hydrangeaceae, the Hydrangea family.

What kind of plant is it?

Herbaceous perennial


Zones 5 - 7. This hybrid is generally listed as being only as hardy as its caerulea parent, Zone 5; Deinanthe bifida is listed as being hardy to Zone 4. Deinanthe caerulea is less heat tolerant, as well: only to Zone 7, not the Zone 8 of bifida. This trait, too, seems to have carried over into this hybrid.


Stems emerge directly from the rootstock, typically bearing two pairs of leaves, and terminating in a flower cluster. My decade-old clump bears just a dozen or so stems. 

Rate of Growth


Size in ten years

In ideal circumstancse—likely, a cool-summer climate as wel as rich soil with good drainage and generous soil moisture—to two feet high and wide. Summers in southern New England can be steamy, and I almost never water my colony (which is growing in deep, heavy, rich soil in nearly full shade, so this isn't crazy). The colony is ten years old, and is—huzzah!—also about two feet high and wide. Deinanthe seems a bit more tolerant than I had feared when I first planted it.


Dense and mounding. With more plentiful moisture than I provide for my colony, deinanthe would likely grow so thickly that it could serve as a groundcover. 

Grown for

its conceptual sophistication and rarity: Any deinanthe is startling, because few of us ever consider that any plant bearing hydrangea-like flowers could be anything other than a true hydrangea, all of which are woody, not herbaceous. But every form of deinanthe is herbaceous. The plants are always rarities in gardens. This hybrid is doubly so, combining the odd pronged leaves of Deinanthe bifida (whose flowers are typically white) with the lavender-blue flowers of Deinanthe caerulea (whose leaves have just one point). The two-lobed ("bifid") leaves on the first are considered more desirable, as is the blue-ish ("caerulea") color of the flowers of the latter. The hybrid offers the best of both.


its unusually-shaped and somewhat large foliage, which is a welcome contrast to the "normal" shaped and, often, smaller foliage of other shade-garden partners. (See "Plant partners," below, for suggestions.)


its ravishing but shy fertile flowers, whose nodding position usually places them somewhat out of direct sight if you aren't willing to get on your knees for a closer look.

Flowering season

Much of July here in southern New England. 

Color combinations

The foliage goes with everything, but the pastel flowers would be at home only in the company of pink, blue, white, silver, and burgundy. Avoid nearby yellow, orange, or red.

Partner plants

Nearby plantings can not only enter into aesthetic conversation with deinanthe, but also, through strategic choices in their height and density, assist in ensuring that deinanthe either enjoys dappled shade all day or experiences direct sun only early in the morning.


Ferns of any scale are a natural choice, and the taller ones—Matteuccia and Osmunda, say—could assist in providing late-day shade for deinanthe if they are growing west and south of the colony. Deeply-lobed foliage of comparatively enormous perennials such as Actaea racemosa and A. simplexLigularia japonica or L. palmatilobita, and Napaea dioica could also provide both textural contrast and dappled shade, because they are all more sun-tolerant than deinanthe. The Brunette cultivar of Actaea would be particularly striking, in that its foliage is both ferny and deep burgundy.


Shade-loving grasses such as Carex and Hakonechloa would achieve a similar degree of contrast as the ferns, but via foliage that is dramatically narrower than that of deinanthe, not dramatically more complex in shape. 


At an elevation of just inches, not feet, the flowers and foliage of burgundy-leaved cultivars of Ajuga would be stunning. Check that prostrate layering stems of these eager groundcovers don't interfere with the upward thrust of emerging stems of deinanthe. 


Although deinanthe's striking foliage is somewhat large, it could be just the small guy near such shade-garden giants as darmera, massive hosta cultivars such as Princess Wu and Sum & Substance, and Astilboides tabularis.

Where to use it in your garden

Deinanthe is a peerless and elegant oddity for a shade garden: The unusual foliage attracts even novices, while the gorgious flowers make the hearts of cognoscenti flutter. Even so, choose your location first for its full embrace of the cultural requirements, because with too much sun, or any drought at all, deinanthe foliage can turn brown. Locations that guarantee no full-strength sun from mid-day through dusk are wise. Dappled shade all day is also fine, because the specific patches of direct sun shift minute by minute as the day progresses.


Next, site at the front of its bed, lest visitors kneel atop whatever's in front to better examine the nodding flowers.


Never in less than rich but draining soil.

How to handle it: The Basics

Plant either in spring or fall, ensuring enough water for establishment. Be especially solicitous with spring planting, because the colony may struggle to absorb enough water during its first summer.


Other than monitoring for sufficient water, deinanthe needs no attention during the growing season. After frost, clip or gently pull free dead foliage. In Zone 6 at least, deinanthe needs no winter protection. 

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

In my experience, deinanthe is one of the ultimate long-term perennials. Like a herbaceous peonies, it seems to thrive year after year after year without division. If for some reason transplanting or division were desirable, do this in early spring, before new foliage has emerged. Lift the entire colony carefully, then explore respectfully—with your hands and fingers, not hand tools—to determine if the clump will segment easily. If not, submerge it in a bucket of water to wash enough soil free to reveal more of the structure of the base of the colony. Try to segment with minimal disturbance, and replant promptly. As is the theme with deinanthe, ensure that sufficient water is always available.

Quirks and special cases

This hybrid deinanthe is nothing but quirks and special cases. See all the other boxes in this table.


Deinanthe is always reported as being intolerant of drought or heat—but, even so, has been available at this nursery in steamy-in-summer North Carolina. What seems certain is that deinanthe is intolerant of heat associated with direct sun, as well as the soil-drying potential of such sun. Site only where sufficient shade is a given and where you can ensure adequate moisture. Then, you may have more luck with getting deinanthe to thrive in climates where day as well as night temperatures in the growing season can be high.


Blue Wonder is a form of Deinanthe caerulea with notably darker flowers that, despite the "blue," appear to be dark lavender in photographs. 


On-line and at specialty nurseries, but only rarely.


Division; I'm not aware if this hybrid comes true from seed.

Native habitat

Deinanthe bifida and caerulea are both native to mountainous regions of East Asia: bifida to Japan and caerulea to China.

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