Shredded Umbrella Plant

In the list of “top plants that have been around for too long to not be popular,” Syneilesis aconitifolia or “shredded umbrella plant” should be near the top. I first came across Syneilesis in 1998 growing extremely well in Raleigh, North Carolina. I saw it again in 2000 in Pennsylvania growing like gang-busters. Now that I am in Boothbay, Maine (USDA zone 6a), what is one of the strongest growing plants? Syneilesis aconitifolia!
Syneilesis aconitifolia, shredded umbrella-plant

Any plant that can look awesome from Maine to North Carolina (does it grow further north and south?) certainly deserves more respect in our gardens. As a matter of fact, maybe we should rename this the “Rodney Dangerfield aster.” It certainly gets no respect and although it is hard to believe, it is in the aster family. Before your mind goes astray with images of big purple and pink flowers, stop right there. The flowers on this plant are an acquired taste. They are small and at 3′ high, they are quite nice. Nice as in “I really like you but let’s be friends.”

Syneilesis aconitifolia emerging

The beauty of the umbrella plant is its foliage. Emerging in the spring like wooly mushrooms or mayapples, the leaves eventually open up like umbrellas left in the crate with our Belgian shepherd puppy who chews anything. Once the leaves open fully in late spring into early summer, they are 2′ tall parasols of coolness. You can still stump people with this plant in your garden.

Syneilesis aconitifolia

We have one mass of umbrella plant in full sun and another in partial shade at CMBG. They do well in both locations but I think the farther south you go, the more shade these plants will enjoy. Once established, they can take dry shade so they are good to add under small trees.



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rodney eason

Rodney Eason - Director of Horticulture and Plant Curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, father of 4, husband to a Renaissance woman. I spent the first part of my life in North Carolina, the middle in Pennsylvania, and now I am determined to become a Mainer  while keeping my southern drawl. I consider the rhetorical question, "you're not from around here, are you?" a compliment. I love great gardens, beautiful plants, and inspiring architecture. Because of this, I am on a lifelong quest to find a garden that artistically combines beautiful plants while being centered around an evocative building. For me, this would be Beatrix Farrand's Dumbarton Oaks, with the plants of Lotusland and Chanticleer, around Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. My wife and I are now making our new home and garden in a 130 year old New England house with a farmer's porch near the Damariscotta River in coastal Maine. When our kids get into college, we want to hike the Appalachian Trail as a family over a summer break. My likes (in random order): the smell of fresh basil and rosemary, bold foliage, India Pale Ale, good running shoes, Top Gear, the smell of New England in the fall (it reminds me a bit of English Leather, which my grandfather wore), and the sound of our family laughing together around the dinner table. I dream of one day owning an old Toyota 4X4 pick-up and seeing the Avett Brothers in concert.
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  1. Matt on June 5, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Syneilesis is one of my top 5 plants for the garden, I can’t get enough of them. It’s one of those plants which suffers from not being photogenic, yet once one sees a mature clump in my garden, their notebooks come out!

  2. James Peng on June 20, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    I am trying to add Japanese Flowering Apricot or Prunus Mume to my garden. I am in Boston MA. I read your older article about the Japanese Flowering Apricot. I am wondering do you find any Japanese Flowing Apricot which can be planted in New England area? If yes, where I can get them?


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