Alchemilla alpina – cute, cuddly and carefree!

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I first laid eyes on it when a relative brought a small clump of it home. It was a gift to her from a gardener friend at Bergianska Trädgården – the botanical institution at the Stockholm University in Sweden – and she gingerly gave it an honorary spot in her garden. I remember being thoroughly impressed with the caliber of her connections, but even more so I was completely floored by this dainty little plant. It was absolutely adorable, and until then I had never seen anything like it!

Each leaf is only between 1-2" in diameter, so this is a small-scale groundcover - which sets it apart from its relative Alchemilla mollis.

Each leaf is only between 1-2″ in diameter, so this is a small-scale groundcover – which sets it apart from its relative – the much larger Alchemilla mollis.

It is native to arctic and mountainous areas of Europe, and has medicinal properties in that its leaves can be used to heal cuts and external injuries. It’s name – Alchemilla alpina – will give you an indication of what kind of growing conditions it prefers, but I wouldn’t let whatever images conjure up in your mind deter you. I have found that this unassuming little work horse does well – and even multiplies – in even the most adverse conditions, like dry shade, or packed, relatively clayey soils. It even selfseeds and thrives in both the sunny and shady part of my hellstrip! The individual plants never mat together, so it is very easy to transplant and start a new swath wherever you desire. Or to dig up a start for a friend, or two.

I adore its silvery edging! So cute!

I adore its silvery edging! So cute!

If you turn the leaf over, you see that the underside is covered in silvery hairs - absolutely endearing!

If you turn the leaf over, you see that the underside is covered in silvery hairs – absolutely endearing!

The Alchemilla part of its name, I just learned, has some interesting origins. Per Wikipedia: “…is especially valued for the leaves in wet weather, as the water beads and sparkles on the leaves. This is due to the remarkable dewetting properties of the leaves, whereby the contact force between the water and the leaf is so disfavoured that a thin layer of air penetrates the solid-liquid interface. These beads of water were considered by alchemists to be the purest form of water. They utilised this water in their quest to turn base metal into gold. Hence the name Alchemilla.”

Here surrounding irises, you can see how, like with the more common Alchemilla  mollis, the water collects like a gem in the center of the leaves.

Here surrounding irises, you can see how, like with the more common Alchemilla mollis, the water collects like a gem in the center of the leaves.

The kinship with Alchemilla mollis is evident when you see the flowers.

The kinship with Alchemilla mollis is evident when you see the flowers.

Soon after I had first seen this hairy little marvel, we moved to Oregon. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled over a few pots of them during a leisurely stroll through the plant section of our local grocery store. Seriously, never underestimate the delightful surprises you might get at Fred Meyers when the timing is right! Giddy with excitement, I bought whatever they had left, which I think was around five. Now, several years later, they have grown into low, soft, lovely swaths of reliable silvery green, which increase as the years go by. It only gets to be a few inches tall – maybe 4-6″ in decent light – and its chartreuse flowers give away its genetic association with its much larger cousin Alchemilla mollis. Both also possess that unique way of collecting dew and raindrops. But when pitted against each other in a face to face beauty contest, alpina wins hands down – at least to my sensibilities! It has exquisite, bright green, divided leaves with an elegant silver outline. When you turn the leaves over, you see that the underside is endearingly covered in a silvery coat of hair – true to its arctic origins. This is a very pettable plant, and it has worked its way into my heart to such a degree that I consider it one of my top ten! As such, it will have to suffice for Foliage Follow-up Day for the month of July. Head over to Pam at Digging for a peek at what she and other foliage enthusiasts have growing in their gardens. Happy Foliage Day!

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About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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37 Responses to Alchemilla alpina – cute, cuddly and carefree!

  1. artzenflowers says:

    Hi Anna I know you are working now but are you interested in a Saturday shift at Powell?

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Linda coombs says:

    You’re it is very adorable, I think I can use a replacement for my far too many cousin ‘Mollis’

  3. What a little sweetheart! I wonder if it could be the answer for my disgustingly dry shade under the three large trees in the front garden? The vinca (vinca, mind you!) just isn’t cutting it.

  4. Pam/Digging says:

    Well, that IS awfully cute, and I enjoyed learning the origin of its botanical name too. Thanks for sharing!

    • annamadeit says:

      I’m glad you liked it! I still have to get your new no-lawn book, but I learned about something interesting today, that is probably in it – Pipolina microclover. I was researching decent groundcovers to replace blacktop at our kids’ school with, and it was mentioned.

  5. Ricki Grady says:

    What a fun, in-depth write-up. I think we will be queuing up for starts of this little beauty.

  6. Alison says:

    Anna, what a great little plant, I’ve never heard of it or seen it at the store. And you’re right about the name of my formerly unknown burgundy lily, it is definitely Llandini, that name rings a bell!

  7. This is a new one on me, only the second garden plant I’ve heard of in the genus Alchemilla. Very interesting background on the genus name! Alchemilla mollis has the same property of causing rainwater to bead on the leaves.

  8. Laura says:

    I love it! Great write up.

  9. Heather says:

    I’m so excited to have some of this! Thank you again for sharing.

    • annamadeit says:

      I’m so glad you’re a convert! 😀 I killed some time at Garden Fever today, and I saw that awesome grass you have – the Blonde Ambition. Very nearly walked out with one, but decided to hold off until I can give it a spot to shine – it is so cool!

  10. I adore it already! Thank you for the lovely new addition to my garden.

  11. jenmuddybootdreams says:

    I completely understand that giddiness of a unexpected find…you did well.

    It’s lovely.

    Jen

  12. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Way cool plant! Thanks for the intro and the cool fact about the family name. I always wondered where Alchemmila came from!

    • annamadeit says:

      Anytime! Did you come down to visit Jane’s garden last weekend? I brought some starts of it to share, but unfortunately had to run off in the middle of it. If not, there is always next time, if you are interested in one.

  13. Pingback: Tardy Foliage Follow-Up – September 2014 | Flutter & Hum

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