You are probably wondering, from the title of this piece, what on earth did I have to drink this afternoon, and I can assure you the coffee and chocolate covered coffee beans have not gone to my brain. I am really writing about three very similar, hard to identify plants grown for their incredible foliage. Heucheras, Tiarellas and Heucherellas come in a wide, and I mean wide, range of colors. Just Google it and see. They should be a part of every person’s garden, from full sun to deep shade.
Heuchera, or coral bells, is a excellent genus that has been hybridized across species within the same genus (known as an interspecific hybrid) and same species (intraspecific hybrid), creating a mishmash of great cultivar options too many to list. Heucheras tolerate a range of light conditions depending on foliage color. The darker the foliage color, the more light it can take. Yellow and chartreuse varieties need part shade or they will scorch, while the darker oranges and purples can stand full sun if supplied regular moisture. I would not recommend planting Heucheras in too deep of shade if you want the best color out of them, which is the main reason I plant them. They do produce little bell like flowers above the foliage, but not all varieties have flowers worth writing home about.
Tiarella, or foam flower, is a wonderful woodland plant, loving full shade and more moisture than most Heucheras. Tiarella varieties come in two different growth habits: clumping and running. Clumpers will form nice little mounds of beautiful foliage and spikes of gorgeous flowers, while runners are best planted in masses for dramatic impact. Tiarellas tend to have more vein markings and more deeply lobed leaves than heucheras, which makes it a little easier to identify when the dead giveaway flower spike is not present.
Heucherella, or foamy bells (or if that sounds too weird call it heucherella for short), is a cross between heucheras and tiarellas. The product of this type of breeding is called an intergeneric cross, since it is a cross between two related, but completely different genus. The foliage tends to be more finely cut than heucheras, but not quite as fine as a tiarella. They handle more shade and moisture than heuchera and more sun and less moisture than tiarella.
We have pushed the boundaries of planting conditions a bit with some of these plants, and I can testify varieties like Heuchera ‘Caramel’ can take full sun and somewhat dry conditions, as can Heucherella ‘Buttered Rum’ and ‘Sweet Tea’.
I have found some varieties of heuchera will inexplicably die out, where some of the plants in a mass planting are just fine and one will just slowly curl up and die, followed by another next year. The literature states a number of problems to be aware of with heucheras. They can suffer from some rots along with weevils. Older clumps may die out if not divided every three to four years and can be heaved out of the ground through frost as they age. I think the primary culprit, if proper conditions and care are observed, is parentage. As stated above, heuchera varieties are hybrids of eastern, southern and western species and the DNA may affect how well they perform in Indiana’s humid summers. If they do not like the humidity, they are more susceptible to secondary problems like rots and insects. But do not let the potential problems from planting a bazillion of every variety you can get your hands upon; they will reward you!