Perennial Plant Feature--Lady's Mantle
By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Lady's Mantle is a great perennial for the front of borders or massed. It has been used as an herb since antiquity and has a fascinating lore.
The genus name, Alchemilla, is from the Arabic name for the plant, alkemelych. This name possibly may arise from the fact that ancient alchemists used this plant. They called the water droplets that bead up on the foliage, and look so attractive in the garden after a rain, "celestial water."
The common name is likely from the ancient legend of its use to adorn the Virgin Mary. Functionally, ancient herbalists used this plant for stomach ailments. Weavers and dyers used it to color wool green.
Being only six to 10 inches high, with flower stems hovering slightly above this, it can be used along walks or in the front of a border. Massed, it can be used as a ground cover. It requires part shade in the South but can take full sun in warmer climates provided there is adequate moisture. A moist, fertile soil is ideal.
Its light, gray-green leaves are generally rounded with finely cut or serrated margins. The species differ slightly in their heights and growth habits, but the main difference is in the size and serrations of their leaves. The leaves are also lightly hairy or pubescent.
The flowers are very small, under ¼ inch wide. Generally they are yellow, but they may be greenish in some species that are often lumped under the name vulgaris. The flowers are held above the foliage in sprays in spring or summer, the time again depending on the species.
About 300 species exist, but only about a dozen can usually be found and of these, a few are more distinguished than the rest. The Mountain Mantle (alpina) is only hardy to zones 5 through 7, creeping along the ground and rooting at the leaf nodes (where they join the stems). Its flowers are not showy.
Another Mountain Mantle (conjuncta) is similar to the first, only more robust. The Red Mantle (erythropoda) is so named for its leaf stalks and stems that may be red in the sun, contrasting with the lime-green flowers. It is hardy to zones 4 through 7 and has small, blue-green leaves with scalloped edges.
The most common species found at garden centers, the Common Lady's Mantle, is hardy in zones 4 through 7 and grows 12 to 24 inches tall, 24 inches wide. It received the award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticulture Society in England. The cultivar (cultivated variety) 'Auslese' is similar to the species, only with more chartreuse flowers. 'Robusta' is just that--more robust in all ways. 'Senior' on the other hand is smaller than all the rest of the plants in the species. 'Thriller' has many chartreuse flowers held over large, pleated leaves.
For more information on Lady's Mantle, as well as on many other choice perennials, check out Perry's Perennial Pages (http://www.uvm.edu/~pass/perry/) on the Internet.
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