What is Leptinella?

Mary McMahon

Leptinella is a genus of flowering plants found distributed across alpine regions of Australasia. The plant has a low, creeping growth habit and some species are cultivated domestically for ornamental gardens. They are known by common names like brass buttons, dollhouse ferns, and Platt's black, and are often available at nurseries and garden suppliers. Gardeners who have trouble finding Leptinella may be able to get it through a plant exchange, and can also order from a nursery with shipping capabilities.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

This plant grows in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones four through nine, and may be evergreen in some places, depending on how hot or cold the weather gets. The small leaves are very feathery, looking similar to ferns, although members of this genus are actually related to sunflowers and other members of the aster family. The flowers appear in spring and tend to be small, adding a blanket of subtle color to the foliage before dying back.

Members of the genus tend to spread aggressively, using runners, and they need a lot of room to grow. They can be used to replace traditional lawns and are suitable for groundcover across the garden, preferring full sun to partial shade. The soil should be of moderate quality, with good drainage and a high moisture content. Fertilizer can be applied annually in the spring to stimulate growth, and in the case of plants that die back in the winter, gardeners should be aware that their Leptinella may develop bronzed, unsightly foliage, but it will recover in the spring.

The Platt's black variety developed in the Pacific Northwest has purple to black foliage, making it very visually striking. People interested in so-called gothic gardens, featuring dark plants, may find this plant a very suitable groundcover. It can also be paired with other dark groundcovers for more texture and layers of color, if desired. Platt's black is very readily available at nurseries, and it can sometimes be hard to find ordinary green cultivars in regions where it is popular.

People who want to grow Leptinella can purchase individual plants or plugs, or buy a large flat of the plant and cut it apart to establish separate plants. The more plants people buy, the larger the area they can cover and the quicker it will spread. Working the soil well to prepare it before planting with a mixture of compost and other soil amendments will help facilitate rapid growth, especially if people establish Leptinella in the spring, when plants tend to grow more quickly.

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