29 January 2015

Indian Pink, Pink Root, Worm Grass, Spigelia marilandica

Said to be the most beautiful woodland native plant in the US, Woodland Pinkroot is a plant worth seeking out. And, adding this hummingbird native to our shade gardens will take effort.

The seeds are not available from any supplier. Woodland Pinkroot plant divisions are for sale in various sizes from tiny plugs to 4-inch pots. Purchasing and planting a few starter pots will turn into a colony over time since they spread by underground rhizomes.

There are 50 species of Spigelia, which is spelled Spigela in some catalogs and references. They are annual and perennial plants that grow in moist woods and thickets in North and South America. All of them have hummingbird-attracting trumpet shaped flowers in colors from red to purple with yellow accents.

Spigelia marilandica is native to the US from the east coast through OK and TX. The common names include Woodland Pinkroot, Native Indian Pink, Pink Root and Worm Grass.  The marilandica in its name refers to its being first discovered in Maryland.

Cold hardy in zones 5 through 9 and Heat zones 9 through 2, Pinkroot is an ideal selection for bright shade where the soil stays relatively moist.  Each Pinkroot plant forms a clump of perennial, stalkless, mid-green leaves about 4-inches tall. With the flower clusters, the plant grows to 24-inches tall.
One commercial plant supplier, NorthCreek Nurseries (Northcreeknurseries.com) sells plugs to nurseries but not to gardeners. Nurseries purchase the plugs and grow them larger to sell to the public. They call Spigelia (Spi-geel-e-a) “One of the most striking and beautiful of the native perennials ... A very hardy plant for gardens and containers … A favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds, it is at home in the bright woodland or sunny border.”

Operation Ruby Throat (www.rubythroat.org) is dedicated to supporting hummingbirds in the Americas.  They recommend Indian Pink. “It is under-used by hummingbird gardeners but is an excellent plant for a yard with tall, established trees that cast light shade beneath them.”

Plant Delights Nursery (www.plantdelights.com) and Prairie Nursery (www.prairienursery.com) offer 3 or 4-inch pots by mail ($9 to $17). Plant Delights calls the plant “Little Redhead”.

At one time Spigelia marilandica was plentiful, growing in moist places in all the states along the eastern US.  Henriettes herb books (www.henriettes-herb.com) called it Carolina Pink.  In the 1800s it grew “in dry, rich, soils, and on the borders of woods in the southern states”. 

In order to use Spigelia marilandica medicinally it was collected into bales and sold to doctors who made the rhizomes and roots into bittersweet preparations. Though no longer widely used, its name Worm Grass refers to its being used to treat ringworm and tapeworm. Eating the plants’ roots is no longer recommended.

To grow Spigelia marilandica gardeners should replicate conditions similar to their native preferences. Whether you grow it in containers or in beds, site selection is important. Bright shade at the edge of a wooded area, alongside water or near irrigation is ideal.

The plants emerge fairly late in the spring, so it is best to mark the area where they are planted so you can watch for them the first year or two. A more satisfying butterfly and hummingbird patch of flowers would come from planting them in swaths so when they bloom from late spring through early summer there would be a consistent supply of open flowers.

One native plant observer in Northeast Arkansas (http://ozarkedgewildflowers.com) says it grows not only in rich, moist woods but in deep woods, with a preference for rocky sites. 



Spigelia marilandica plants will be available at the Master Gardeners’ plant sale during Daffodil Day at the Thomas-Foreman Historic Home, March 28 from 10 to 2.

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