Accolades from people in the know – mostly horticulturalists and native plant people – extolling the perennial Indian Pink, Spigelia marilandica, are everywhere online and in print. Flying under the radar for many people, Indian Pink is coming into its own – finally. A long-lived perennial that brings stunning colors to the summer garden, hummingbirds flock to these red and yellow tubular flowers arranged in clusters. Similar to firecrackers exploding in the garden, this unique native plant stops people in their tracks when they see it in my garden.
Curious about the name, I found that the Genus name honors Adrian van der Spiegel (1578-1625), professor of anatomy at Padua and the species means of Maryland. I assume that means it was discovered in Maryland but haven’t been able to confirm that.
Late to come up in the spring and steadily increasing in size, a well-grown clump of Indian Pink, will flower in early summer, and then sporadically through the remainder of the growing season. The plant can hold more than 75 of those colorful tubular (perfect for hummers) flowers that catch your eye as soon as you look at the garden. Indian Pinks are highly sought after from perennial nurseries and they have trouble keeping them in stock. In fact, some of the nurseries I talked to ship them to British clients instead of the U.S., because they are mad for them! A southeastern US native hardy to zone 5b, it has been planted as a novelty in the U.S., and is now reaching mainstream status.
Mt Cuba Center grows Indian pink in shade or partial shade and notes that: “Spigelia marilandica combines well with Dryopteris intermedia, Chrysogonum virginianum, Lilium superbum, and Aquilegia canadensis”. I grow my Indian Pink here in Maryland, in almost full sun, though most of the culture information I have read says that it likes partial shade to shade, so I think it is very adaptable. I have grown it for about 5 years in full sun in a well-drained spot next to some Coreopsis and have been very successful with it in that location. Making sure it has some extra water in dry periods probably has helped it to thrive. The ones that I planted in partial shade haven’t been as full of flowers but are still beautiful. Resistance to deer browsing adds to the desirability of this plant. But that I have friends who say deer have eaten it.
The common name of Indian Pink refers to its medicinal properties. The dried roots are used as a hallucinogen and a de-wormer, nothing to fool around with. Use it horticulturally – not medicinally!
Highly sought after by wildflower enthusiasts, I think that everyone should include this great native in their garden to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. New cultivars called ‘Little Redhead’ and ‘Rajun Cajun’ are now available. Reported to be much more compact and packed with flowers, these are available from Plant Delights in North Carolina and at local nurseries.