Several years ago I planted Chrysosplenium macrophyllum in my garden. I bought it the first time I saw it without knowing much about it. I am sure I bought it at a flower show in Scotland, maybe from Crug Farm plants, but I knew as soon as I saw it that I needed it. It was my kind of plant: subtle, weird flowers, a genus that I didn’t know much about and potentially useful as ground cover in shade but a plant that needed moisture so a potential problem in my east midlands garden. I planted it in shade but near the base of a conifer so the soil was a bit dry but it was near a path so I could throw water on it if it looked too unhappy. I am glad to report that it grew well enough to allow me to dig up bits every year to give to friends, keeping the clump neat and small.
It’s a weird plant really. It is native to China and I am assuming it is a recent introduction to the West though I am not sure about that. Chrysospleniums are known as golden saxifrages and there are some native to the UK including Chrysosplenium alternifolium, which is a low, creeping plant with yellow flowers and lime bracts making it look like a euphorbia which is not native to Ireland and C. oppositifolium which is found in Ireland and is found in the woods around here in damp places.
Chrysosplenium macrophyllum (its a bit of a mouthful and I do not know of a common name) is in the saxifrage family, like bergenias, and this plant makes a mat of oval, roughly hairy leaves about 15cm long that grow in scruffy rosettes. It is evergreen but the leaves often brown and look a bit messy by late winter when the flowers emerge. The clumps produce upright stems about 10cm high, in March and the small, pinkish white flowers are surrounded by white or pinkish bracts that graduate in size,becoming smaller as they get closer to the flowers. As the blooms age the bracts lose their colour and change to white and then green so the clumps have some colour but also form. As flowering ends each rosette throws out long stolons that arch over the soil and root at their tip, so a clump of new rosettes is formed. If this feature is starting to worry you, relax because I cannot imagine that it could ever be invasive.
This is a good, unusual ground cover for shade and it prefers moist, humusy soils but it is not too picky. If my plants really get going I would be inclined to cut off the foliage in January, before growth appears and give it a loose, nutritious mulch and I think it would keep it healthy and show off the flowers to perfection. I would like to pop some blue scillas among it too, but I will have to wait till I have enough of it before I start experimenting.