Heartleaf – Brunnera macrophylla

Heartleaf - Brunnera macrophylla

How many gardeners have wished for a lovely perennial that would naturalize in a shady spot where only weeds seemed to grow? Brunnera macrophylla is that plant.

Brunnera’s flowers are a looalmost Forget-Me-Nots look alikes for they both have the showy true-blue, tiny blooms with a yellow/white center and are often called False Forget-Me-Nots. Here the resemblance stops for Brunnera is a strong, not fussy, long-lived excellent perennial for zone-three western gardens while Forget-Me-Nots acts like an annual, creeps on the ground and has mildew problems. Brunnera is so carefree it can be used as a replacement for Hosta and will not attract snails.

Heartleaf - Brunerra

Brunnera breaks dormancy early in spring and forms a charming clump of small heart-shaped leaves. As the days warm, the branched slender stems start to rise above the clump and will wind their way through and above the Tulips, Jacob’s Ladders, Hosta or other neighboring shade plants. The graceful blooms open and the shade garden becomes a breathtaking blue-lace delight. As the season progresses and the blooms fade, the stems can be cut off at the basal plant clump or left to seed, which only happens rarely. The rhizomatous clump will slowly spread into a thick ground cover, one-foot tall and two-feet wide. The leaves as they mature, enlarge becoming even more perfectly-shaped hearts, thus the common name Heartleaf.

Heartleaf Brunerra Macrophylla
The attractive foliage of “Heartleaf” shows how it gets its name.

Many new hybrid varieties of Brunnera macrophylla are showing up on the market but none have the endurance and easy care of the original macrophylla. Many have silver leaves with fine dark green veins and some of new hybrids have variegated foliage. The blooms are still the same on these hybrids, but they will not reseed.  The hybrids prefer acidic soils while the original macrophylla grows perfectly in a neutral alkaline soil. They have become so popular that the original Brunnera may be difficult to find. As usual, the tried-and-true plants that grow in the diverse climatic conditions of western mountains are forgotten. I lose the new hybrid Brunneras in my mountain gardens at Bear Lake, Idaho, so I keep the original plant available for my customers.

Photo: Walters Gardens
Photo: Walters Gardens

Growing Burnnera depends on its being in a partial-shade or shady spot with adequate water. If this shapely plant gets dried out the leaves will brown and crinkle and will need to be removed. Other than water, there is no fussing needed with Brunnera!

Brunnera Macrophylla – Growing Tips

Here are some terrific tips for growing Heartleaf from Susan at the “How Does Your Garden Grow” YouTube channel. She describes ways to use Brunnera in place of fussy cottage plants or plants like Hosta that tend to have more issues with slugs or snails.

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