What are Astilboides?

Mary McMahon

Astilboides is a genus of perennial plants with a single known species, A. tubularis. This species was once placed in the genus Rodgersia and is sometimes mistakenly still referred to as a member of the Rodgersia genus. Known by the common name of shieldleaf, Astilboides is a physically distinctive plant, with giant leaves like platters held up on stems that can exceed three feet (one meter) in length in a healthy and well established plant.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The stems of this plant are light green and hairy, and the leaves resemble slightly crumpled lilypads with ruffled edges. The leaves are usually concave, with a depression in the middle of the leaf at the point where the stem connects. The bright green foliage is topped with tall stems of white flowers when the plant goes into bloom, but even while flowering, the foliage is usually the focal point.

Astilboides is an Asian native and can be grown in USDA zones three through nine. It prefers full sun to partial shade and benefits from moderate to wet conditions. The soil should be rich and well drained to prevent mold and rot and fertilizing in spring can encourage the plant to recover from winter dormancy. Astilboides pairs well with hostas and ferns, as these plants thrive in the shade created by the gargantuan leaves.

It is important to plant Astilboides in an area of the garden with some room to grow. The plants will sprawl over time and are often grown as a standalone garden feature or as part of a mass of plants. They can also be used for borders and background plantings. These members of the saxifrage family are especially well suited to gardens with a slightly wild and unkempt look. Slugs and snails can be a problem and mixing coarse materials like eggshells in with the upper layer of soil can help keep these common garden pests away.

Some garden supplies and nurseries carry Astilboides seedlings in the spring or can order them by request. Gardeners can also grow this plant from seeds. Seeds are available at nurseries, through mail order catalogs, and from gardeners already cultivating this plant. It is advisable to sprout seeds indoors or in a greenhouse in the early spring, transplanting them when the last chance of frost is over. Gardeners can sprout seeds in peat cups in a rich soil mixture to make transplanting the seedlings especially easy.

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