Bergenia Plant Profile

Shade Garden Favorite for Foliage Lovers

Bergenia plants blooming.

 Ron Evans / Getty Images

Pigsqueak is not as widely grown as it should be. This member of the Saxifragaceae family tolerates some tough conditions and offers clusters of colorful flowers. It is an even nicer foliage plant: Its large, shiny, leathery leaves provide a coarse texture that contrasts nicely with more delicate plants. This plant is a must-have for gardeners with lots of shade and an appreciation for what interesting foliage brings to a landscape.

  • Botanical Name: Bergenia cordifolia
  • Common Name: Pigsqueak, bergenia, heart-leaved bergenia
  • Plant Type: Herbaceous, with a perennial life cycle; may be evergreen in warm climates
  • Mature Size: 12 to 18 inches tall and wide (for species plant)
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade
  • Soil Type: Moist, well-drained, humusy soil is ideal, but plant tolerates a range of soils
  • Soil pH: Neutral to slightly acidic or slightly alkaline
  • Bloom Time: April to May
  • Flower Color: Pink (for species plant)
  • Hardiness Zones: 3 to 8
  • Native Area: Central Asia

How to Grow Bergenia

You can grow bergenia from seed, but buy plants already started at garden centers for immediate impact. The plant's tolerance for conditions that many other plants will not grow in is one of the strong suits of bergenia. These conditions include:

  • Deep shade
  • Poor soil
  • A wide pH range
  • Wet soil

Care tasks for bergenia are carried out largely for aesthetic reasons. These include:

  • Cutting off any leaves that have died in winter at the beginning of the next growing season
  • Deadheading the flowers

Deer tend not to eat it, thereby reducing the pest-control work needed in your landscape. Likewise, it is not a favorite food of rabbits.

Underneath the clumps of established bergenia plants, you will find a thick layer of rhizomes. The plants can spread via such rhizomes, but they do not spread quickly enough to pose a maintenance problem. You can divide bergenia every few years if you want to grow more of it somewhere else on your property. Spring is the best time to perform such division.

Light

Bergenia is not a good plant for sunny spots but will perform well in a range of shady areas, from those with deep shade to those that get a bit of sun.

Soil

While bergenia tolerates poor soil, it prefers a richer soil. You can achieve this by amending the ground that you plant it in with compost.

Water

Keep the soil evenly moist.

Fertilizer

If you are not able to grow it in soil that has been amended with compost, feed bergenia with a balanced fertilizer.

Origin of the Common and Botanical Names

The common name of "pigsqueak" comes from the squealing sound that comes from the plant when you rub its leathery leaves between your fingers. The genus name is based on the last name of a famous botanist (Bergen), while the species name refers to the shape of the leaves (cordifolia meaning "heart-shaped leaf" in Latin).

Varieties of Bergenia

There are other species of bergenia besides B. cordifolia, as well as cultivars of it. Some of the nicer cultivars are:

  • B. cordifolia Angel Kiss: A shorter cultivar, sometimes reaching just 9 inches tall; blooms white to pink
  • B. cordifolia Ballawley: A taller cultivar, sometimes reaching 2 feet in height; flowers and flower stalks red
  • B. cordifolia Solar Flare: A relatively small bergenia at 10 to 16 inches tall (with a slightly greater spread), this plant is most valued for being variegated, the leaf having a green center, creamy-yellow edge, and even hints of pink in fall. Its flowers are magenta-purple.
  • B. cordifolia Winter Glow: at 12 to 18 inches tall by 18 to 24 inches across, it is wider than it is tall; deeper-pink flower than the species plant
ballawley bergenia
Ballawley bergenia. James Steakley / Wikimedia Commons / Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Uses for Bergenia

Bergenia makes for a good cut flower. But its most common use is as a ground cover in the landscape. Its big (up to 10 inches long and 8 inches across) leaves are effective at choking out weeds. Due to its tolerance for wet soil, bergenia can be grown around water fountains without fear that its "feet" will get too wet from all the splashing.

It is especially welcome in woodland gardens and as an edging plant along a walkway in a shady area. Bergenia's nice leaves look especially good in late fall or early winter, when they become purplish-bronze, giving you winter interest in the yard before any permanent snow cover arrives.