Loving those Leaves: Plants with Showstopping Foliage

Share the flowers!

When picturing plants in our minds, we often envision colorful flowers. But there are many plant species whose leaves are the star of the show. These plants show off their colorful foliage all through the growing season, so you don’t have to wait for a brief bloom time to get maximum color.

Artemesia is a group of plants in the daisy family with charming soft, silvery leaves and tiny flowers. This silver-leafed family of plants is quite diverse in its habitat, with some species growing where no other vegetation can survive.

Many of the varieties of artemesia have tiny “hairs” on the leaves, making them feel fuzzy, to the delight of curious children. Most artemesia has a bitter taste, with the exception of tarragon, an herb commonly used in French cuisine.

The Japanese painted fern adds a touch of dramatic color to your shade garden. The silvery leaves with a hint of burgundy on the stem make the fern look as though it is always dancing in dappled sunlight.

Japanese painted ferns are hardy in most of the US, returning each spring after a dormant winter period. These graceful ferns are low maintenance and are generally unappetizing to hungry deer.

Coral bells are named for their tiny stems of bell-shaped flowers. However, their leaves are the real showstoppers. With brilliant shades of chartreuse, red, or purple, there are hundreds of varieties to choose from. Native to North America, coral bells are a lovely choice for a partial-shade garden.

Coleus plants are grown outdoors as annuals (completing their life cycle in one year) in much of the US. However, these brilliant plants can be grown in the house with much success. There are over 600 varieties of coleus, with variegated or spotted colors ranging from deep burgundy to bright apple green.

In general, the darker the coleus leaves are, the more direct sunlight they can handle, whether indoors or outside. If your coleus receives sun at noon, be sure to give it an extra drink of water so it doesn’t dry out. If you wish to prolong the life of your coleus plant, pinch back any blooms it produces.

Poinsettia plants are synonymous with the Christmas holiday. What many people don’t realize about poinsettias is that the festive red, pink, or white “flowers” are actually leaves! The true flower is a tiny yellow cluster at the center of the colorful foliage.

With plenty of direct sunlight and regular waterings, you can keep your poinsettia alive throughout the year. About two months before Christmas, place your poinsettia in a location where it will have 12-15 hours of complete darkness each night. This will force the plant to bloom again after 6-8 weeks, in time for the upcoming holiday season.

When choosing plants as a gift for someone who loves gardening, don’t just focus on flashy flowers. There are countless choices that offer fascinating foliage for a long-lived, vibrant display. These colorful foliage plants would make a unique gift for a birthday, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Look for plants with season-long interest and let the luxurious leaves steal the show!

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