Rodgers Flower

Waterside Plant With Big Leaves, Flower Spikes

Rodgers flower near a pond.
David Beaulieu

The average gardener is unaware of Rodgers flowers. What a pity! These are striking plants useful in numerous ways in your landscaping. Their best feature may be their big leaves, which make a bold statement in the yard. 

The Facts About Rodgers Flower

Rodgers flowers are classified, botanically, as herbaceous perennials belonging to the saxifrage family and are distributed among five species within the genus, Rodgersia:

  • R. aesculifolia
  • R. henricii
  • R. pinnata (sometimes referred to as "featherleaf Rodgersia")
  • R. podophylla
  • R. sambucifolia

A popular cultivar to grow from the R. pinnata species is Elegans.

Appearance of the Plant

Rodgersia pinnata Elegans produces showy, large plumes (1 to 1.5 feet) of light pink flowers in June and/or July in a zone-5 landscape. But this perennial is valued just as much (if not more so) for its big leaves as for its flowers.

The leaves vary quite a bit in shape, not only from species to species but even on the very same Rodgersia pinnata plant. The leaves are big, as are those of a better-known member of the saxifrage family: Bergenia. Starting out with tinges of bronze on them in spring, they become fully green in summer, before morphing to a reddish-bronze color in fall. Their margins are deeply serrated. They provide "texture" in two different senses of that word:

  • In the colloquial sense, veining on the foliage offers a rough texture that you can feel with your hands.
  • In the landscape design sense, the big leaves offer a coarse texture, with which you can create a contrast by planting them next to smaller-leaved plants.

Leaf shape may not be very consistent, but that does not stop gardeners from consistently lauding the foliage of this big-leaved plant as "bold" and "architectural." Although it refers to a different species, the name, R. aesculifolia encapsulates the appearance of the leaves of Rodgersia pinnata Elegans quite well.

You see, aesculifolia means "having leaves like the horsechestnut tree, and the foliage of Elegans very much reminds you of horsechestnut leaves.

The plant attains a height of 3 to 4 feet (counting the flower spike when it's in bloom), with a spread slightly less than that.

Where the Plant Grows Best

Rodgers flowers are native to the Far East. They like wet (but well-drained) soil, making it easiest to treat them as shade plants (where moisture will evaporate less quickly). But, in the North, some gardeners do grow the perennial as a full-sun plant, in which case it must be given a lot of water (it would do well at the edge of a water garden). During a hot spell in the summer, some of the plant's leaves are likely to become scorched if the plant is grown in full sun. It may recover when cooler temperatures return, but it is simply easier to grow the plant in shade.

Allan Armitage emphasizes the difficulty in growing Rodgers flowers by stating that they have "serious limitations" (Armitage's Garden Perennials, pages 274-275). These perennials are relatively fussy about where they will grow, which is why they are listed for such a narrow planting-zone range of zones 5 to 7. As Armitage notes, they like regions with cool summers, such as the Pacific Northwest in the U.S.

Care for Rodgers Flower

Your most important task in caring for Rodgers flower takes place right at the beginning: site selection. If you locate it in a shady area, you won't have to worry so much about keeping the plant irrigated. Add compost to the soil for nutrients. Applying garden mulch will not only conserve moisture in the soil but also help the plant to overwinter (mulch is especially helpful in zone 5).

Back off, Bambi and Bugs Bunny, because these are deer-resistant and rabbit-proof flowers. But as plants that attract butterflies, you'll enjoy Rodgers flowers as butterfly magnets.

Deadheading and dividing this perennial will be your other care tasks, although neither is critical. 

Other Popular Cultivars of Featherleaf Rodgersia 

  • Alba: white flowers, vibrant green leaves
  • Chocolate Wings: deep-pink flowers, good retention of bronze coloration in the leaves
  • Fireworks: red flowers, bronze leaves in spring
  • Superba: rosy-pink flowers, a hint of bronze in the leaves in spring

Meaning of the Name

According to UBC Botanical Garden, the genus name derives from that of a 19th-century U.S. admiral named John Rodgers, whose expedition "included the first scientific collection of a Rodgersia species." The common name is obviously a direct offshoot from the genus name, which is why the alternate spelling ("Roger's flower"), while widespread, is clearly illogical, as it incorrectly implies that the plant is named after someone whose first name was Roger.

Landscaping Uses for Rodger's Flower:

Other Plants With Big Leaves: