|Bowman's Root or Indian Physic|
The flowers in the photo belong to a native perennial that is attractive to butterflies but not eaten by deer or rabbits. Called Indian Physic and Bowman’s Root, Gillenia trifoliata has loose clusters of star-like white flowers on dark red stems from late spring to early summer.
Gillenia is a sub-shrub of the rose family or the spirea family, depending on which expert you consult. Native from the east coast to OK, Bowman’s Root is disease and insect free and cold hardy in zones 3 to 8.
Since they prefer filtered shade and grow two to three-feet tall and wide, they are suited to the front of a shrub row or native plant bed. Bowman's Root is also widely used in bouquets and dried for arrangements. It only flowers once but the blooms last up to three-weeks.
After the flower petals fade and fall, the red sepals (outer part of the flower) stay for a while. In the fall, the leaves become red-orange, adding another season of appeal. The seed heads remain into winter.
Indian Physic spreads by underground rhizomes and tolerate tree root competition for moisture, if they are mulched to protect them from drying out. Bowman’s Root can also grow in rocky locations if it is watered during the first two years.
Bowman’s Root should not be fertilized but it has to be cut back in late winter.
If Gillenia sounds like an ideal addition to your garden they are available as plants or you can plant seeds in the fall. Catalogs list them as Porteranthus trifoliatus, fawn’s breath, Ipecacuanha virginiana, or American ipecac.
The naming confusion is because Conrad Moench named it Gillenia in honor of German botanist Arnoldus Gillenius, but another of Gillenius’ fans named a different plant Gillena in his honor. Then, a Professor Britton renamed Bowman’s Root Porteranthus trifoliatus in honor of his friend Thomas C. Porter.