Red Dragon persicaria is versatile perennial

Red Dragon persicaria is versatile perennial

Posted: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 8:01 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

If my memory serves me correctly (a big if), I don’t believe I have ever written here, except perhaps in passing, of persicaria Red Dragon.
It has, throughout the years (10 or so), come to be one of my favorite foliage perennials, but with small baby’s breath-like white flowers late in the season that are nothing to sneeze at either.
This is a variety of Persicaria microcephala and is not invasive as many other persicarias are. I have, for instance, another persicaria, Persicaria amplexicaulis Firetail, which will run out anything in the vicinity if not diligently controlled at the root.
I had great hopes for Firetail, after reading the description of its flowers.
Most information calls the little narrow pokers of florets red or scarlet, and I planted it in a red border.
There are precious few red perennials, and I try every one I can find. To make a long story not as long, the flowers are not red, but a muddy ersatz crimson, diluted with something like pink.
I have put up with it, reluctantly, only because I haven’t found anything better, but that will come.
Red Dragon is another story and a horse of another color indeed. The leaves of this plant are its femme fatale, an alluring deep red (really maroon), pointed and some three inches or so long. Each leaf has a chevron of a darker or lighter color.
The foliage is brightest in spring. On first emerging they are brilliant, and, though dulling somewhat with heat and maturity, stay wonderfully fresh until frost.
Red Dragon will attain three feet in shaded or crowded conditions, two feet with more sun. I pinch some of my clumps back to control size, which delays flowering.
That is no significant loss; the flowers simply come later and, in fact, in more abundance.
Those little white flowers begin to appear about now on unpinched plants, but not until late summer on plants that have been cut back.
Each one is perhaps a half inch across, and they are presented in loose clusters at the tips of the stems, somewhat above the foliage. Definitely nice, but not sensational.
Red Dragon makes an unusually notable summer pot plant, alone or with other ingredients. It is particularly intriguing with chartreuse foliage and would be smashing with one of Rita Randolph’s chartreuse ferns — contrast of both foliage form and color.
For a harmony, plant it up with flowers of pink, mauve or red. Best of all, it is free, if you have already have it growing it in your ground garden. Simply dig out a small piece early on and stick it in your pot. Even a cutting will root forthwith if stuck in a pot or in the ground.
Though early literature rated Red Dragon as hardy into zone 4, it has never overwintered for me in a pot outside. That is of no consequence, since I have abundant ground plantings to pick from for potting up.
On the other hand, it has never been hurt in the ground.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.

Published in The Messenger 5.31.11

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