Perennial foliage adds more to a plant's appeal than simply form and color. Many perennials offer "feel-appeal" with soft, fuzzy leaves. The downy hairs covering their foliage soften the leaves' colors as well as their texture. Many fuzzy perennials have striking silver or grayish-green leaves. Mixing fuzzy-leaved perennials among your smooth-leaved ones adds a soothing, inviting dimension to your garden design.
Fuzzy leaves pair a functional purpose with their ornamental appeal. Many downy-leaved plants grow in hot, dry environments. Others face frigid conditions at high elevations. The tiny hairs covering their foliage bounce strong sunlight off plants in hot areas, and slow the movement of air across the leaves' stomata, or pores. Doing so limits the plants' moisture loss. Fuzzy foliage also gives alpine plants extra protection from cold and wind.
At 3 to 6 inches high and up to 9 inches wide, mother of thyme (Thymus polytrichus subsp. britannicus) makes a dainty, aromatic ground cover. Its delicate mounds of fuzzy, blue-green leaves bear clusters of tubular white or pinkish-purple blooms in early to midsummer. The flowers attract bees and butterflies. Mother of thyme tolerates winter temperatures to U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone 5 and minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. It remains evergreen in the milder parts of its range. Pussytoes' (Antennaria plantaginifolia) modest, pinkish-white spring and early-summer flowers nod on slender stems above clumps of fuzzy, paddlelike leaves. The Zone 3–hardy perennial's grayish-green foliage spreads as much as 18 inches. Both plants thrive in sun and rocky, dry infertile soils.
Edelweiss (Leotopodium alpinum), a European mountain perennial immortalized in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music," blooms from midsummer to early fall. Its white-bracted, yellow flowers appear above a spreading mat of downy gray foliage. The narrow, tapering leaves spread by their roots to colonize rocky, limestone-based alpine soils. Edelweiss survives temperatures to minus 30 Fahrenheit. Big betony (Stachys macrantha) "Superba," a Missouri Botanical Garden Plant of Merit, shares edelweiss' Zone 4 cold hardiness. At 12 to 18 inches tall, it has fuzzy, wrinkled green foliage. Spikes of tubular purple flowers open above the scallop-edged, heart-shaped leaves in late spring. This clumping perennial flourishes in sun and well-drained, consistently moist soil.
Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) brings a long season of magenta-pink flowers to gardens in Zone 4 and higher. The 2- to 3-foot perennial's long-stemmed, trumpet-shaped flowers begin opening above branches of fuzzy, silver-gray leaves in late spring. Cutting back spent blooms encourages continuous flowering through the summer. As with those of hibiscus, rose campion's 1-inch blooms last only one day. Nettle-leaved mullein's (Verbascum chaixii) foxglovelike, purple-stamened yellow flower spikes open atop 2- to 3-foot stems. They illuminate perennial borders from late spring into midsummer. The plant’s clump of wooly, grayish-green leaves measures up to 2 feet across. This Zone 5–hardy duo loves sun and dry, poor soil.
- Clemson University Extension; The Grapevine; Wet and Wily Plant Adaptations; December 2008/January 2009
- National Park Service Canyonlands National Park: Field Trip Plant Adaptations
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Thymus Polytrichus Subsp. Britannicus
- United States National Arboretum: USDA Plant Hardiness Zones Map
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Antennaria Plantaginifolia
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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