Rodgers Flower

Waterside Plant With Big Leaves, Flower Spikes

Rodgers flower image.
Rodgers flower offers a showy plume of flowers and lush foliage at the edge of a water garden. David Beaulieu


What Is 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:

  1. R. aesculifolia
  2. R. henricii
  3. R. pinnata
  4. R. podophylla
  5. R. sambucifolia

I, myself grow a cultivar from the R. pinnata species. Its full botanical name is Rodgersia pinnata 'Elegans' (picture).

Appearance, Best Features

Rodgersia pinnata 'Elegans,' sometimes referred to as "featherleaf Rodgersia," produces showy, foot-long plumes of light pink flowers in June and/or July in my 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 large, 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:

  1. In the colloquial sense, veining on the foliage offers a rough texture that you can feel with your hands.
  2. In the landscape design sense, the size of the leaves offers a coarse texture, with which you can create a contrast by juxtaposing smaller-leaved plants.

Leaf shape may not be very consistent, but that does not stop gardeners from consistently lauding the foliage 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 me of horsechestnut leaves.

The plant attains a height of 3-4 feet when in bloom, with a spread slightly less than that.

Where Does It Grow 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, if given adequate water, they will sometimes tolerate sunny conditions. I do grow mine as a full-sun plant, but it receives a lot of water, being at the edge of a water garden. One July, during a hot spell (peaking at 95 degrees Fahrenheit), some of my plant's leaves were scorched, but it recovered just fine when cooler temperatures returned. Nonetheless, it is simply easier to grow the plant in shade.

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

Care for Rodgersia Plants

Your most important task in caring for Rodgers flowers takes place right at the beginning: site selection (see above). If you locate it in a shady area, you won't have to worry so much about keeping the plant irrigated.

Add humus 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).

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

Other Popular Cultivars of This Species of Rodgers Flower

  1. ‘Alba': white flowers, vibrant green leaves
  2. ‘Chocolate Wings': deep-pink flowers, good retention of bronze coloration in the leaves
  3. ‘Fireworks': red flowers, bronze leaves in spring
  4. ‘Superba': rosey-pink flowers, a hint of bronze in the leaves in spring

What's in a 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 (namely, "Roger's flower"), while widespread, is clearly illogical, as it incorrectly implies that the plant is named after someone whose first name was Roger.

But What Does the Wildlife Think?

Back off, Bambi and Bugs, because these are deer-resistant and rabbit-proof flowers. But as plants that attract butterflies, you'll enjoy Rodgers flowers as magnets for those magnificent winged wonders that delight us as they flutter from flower to flower in their never-ending quest for pollen.

Landscaping Uses

The average gardener is unaware of Rodgers flowers. What a pity! These are striking perennials useful in numerous ways in one's landscaping, including: 

  1. As edging plants along a path that winds through the woods
  2. In the back row of a shaded flower border
  3. As foliage plants in a woodland garden
  4. For cut Flowers or dried flowers
  5. Along the edge of a water feature