By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART
Photographs by Therese Ciesinski
A few years ago I was scrolling through an online plant catalog, looking for something different, and Indian pink caught my eye. It was new to me. A perennial with a tight, upright habit, it was topped with tubular red and yellow flowers that resembled firecrackers or tiny candles. Cute.
This Indian pink seemed like Goldilocks: Not too tall, not too short, not too flashy, not too boring. I was looking for something to fill an open spot in a border, and it looked like it would do the trick. And it hasn’t disappointed.
Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica) is a perennial native to the southeastern U.S., from Maryland, Illinois, and Indiana in the north, down south to Florida and west through Texas. Besides Indian pink, its common names include pinkroot and wormgrass.
The flowers appear in early summer, end of June into July. Twelve to eighteen inches tall, it has small, pointed, bright green leaves and a compact habit. It’s one of those plants that you can tuck in an empty spot and it will play well with its neighbors.
Indian pink performs best in part to full shade, but can take a few hours of direct sun a day. It needs moist, rich, well-drained soil, and is hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 to 9. Sources state that it attracts hummingbirds, which are its pollinators, though I haven’t seen them at my plant.
Since I had never seen it sold before, I assumed it must be fragile and finicky. Not a bit. It is way tougher than I thought, and though I underestimated it for years, I don’t any more.
Indian pink is a late sleeper. The spring growth emerges after most perennials; at the end of May in my area. It took a few Aprils of me fretting that it had died before I relaxed, realizing it was coming back faithfully.
I originally planted it in the middle of a shade bed with hostas and hellebores. The pink grew slowly, and didn’t get too much bigger over time, staying under 18” tall and less than a foot wide. Over the years lily of the valley steadily encroached into its territory, but it didn’t seem to mind. But I hesitated to move it, worried that transplanting would kill the plant.
Then I made the mistake of planting a meadow rue beside it. As time went on, the rue got to be five feet tall, and started swallowing the pink wholesale. It looked like a chihuahua next to a great Dane. Something had to be done.
So at the end of this past May, I transplanted it to the very front of the garden, during the first drought Pennsylvania has had in years. Then I went on vacation.
That had to kill it, right? Eight days without water?
When I got back, the plant was drooping. It looked sad. I gave it a good soak, and crossed my fingers. The next morning, it was fine.
Other than watering it when transplanting, my Indian pink has needed absolutely no care. It hasn’t been bothered by insects or diseases. Now that it’s blooming in its new spot, it makes a great “skirt” at the base of a leggy echinacea. It looks great. I’m a slow learner, but over and over, this plant has taught me how awesome it is.
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