Richardson's Alumroot is a perennial forb native to the U.S. and the only species of Heuchera native to Minnesota. It sends up 1 to 2 foot flowering stalks, rarely 3 foot, that have dense long stipitate-glandular hair.
Leaves: Leaves are all basal, forming a rosetted clump at ground level. They are roundly heart shaped with 5 to 7 deeply cleft rounded lobes, all together 3 to 5 inches wide. The leaf tip is rounded, the base is either truncate or slightly heart-shaped. Leaves are absent on the flowering stalk. Leaf margins have very coarse rounded teeth resembling small lobes on the larger lobes. The leaf underside and leaf stalk usually have the same glandular hair as the flowering stem. The upper surface may vary from having the same glandular hair to none at all.
The Inflorescence is a densely flowered spike atop the leafless flowering stem. Some flowers will occur in a small clusters on short side branches of the spike.
Flowers are short, about 1/8 inch wide, on a short stalk that has short glandular hair. The shape of the flower hypanthium is roughly bell shaped, inflated 5-14 mm above the ovary and strongly bilaterally symmetric; it is basically green, but picking up yellow to reddish-brownish tints when in more sun. The hypanthium shape graduates into 5 sepals, resembling fingers, 1.3-4.2 mm long. These are similar in shape with the sinus of the sepals wider than the actual petal of the flowers which appear between the sepal fingers. The sepal tips are rounded and the upper two somewhat drooping over the exserted stamens. The outer surface of the hypanthium and the sepals is short glandular hairy. There are 5 smaller green to greenish-white spatula shaped petals that are attached to the inside of the hypanthium and placed alternately to the sepals, but as they are smaller the sepals usually obscure them. There are 5 stamens placed opposite the sepals; these have greenish-yellow filaments and yellow to orange anthers; there are two styles; both styles and stamens are exserted beyond the throat of the flower. Yellow to orange nectary tissue is at the base of the styles.
Seed: Fertile flowers produce a dry ovoid seed capsule, 7-14.5 mm long, with two divergent beaks. The capsule contains dark brown ellipsoid shaped seeds. Seeds usually need 30 days of cold stratification and, because they are very small, light for germination so they need to be surface sown.
Habitat: Richardson's Alumroot grows well in moist to dry soils with sun in the northern part of the range (like Minnesota) but in the more southern range it needs light shade during the warmer summer months. Heavy soils or very sandy soils are not ideal. The root system has a branched caudex and fibrous roots. Propagation is best done by dividing the root mass and replanting the caudex part at soil level.
Names: The genus name Heuchera is an honorary for Johann Heinrich von Heucher, (1677-1747), German professor of medicine and botany at Wittenberg and author of several books on botany. The species name richardsonii, is also an honorary, named for Sir John Richardson (1787-1865), Scottish physician/naturalist credited with first observing this plant. There is some controversy about this as some references believe that the name comes from English physician and botanist Richard Richardson (1663-1741), but it seems Sir John is correctly named as it was John Richardson who accompanied the Franklin Expedition. Work on this species was also done by University of Minnesota Professor of Botany C. O. Rosendahl et al. See notes below the photo section on both Richardson and Rosendahl.
The author name for the plant classification - ‘R.Br.’ is for Robert Brown (1773-1858), Scottish botanist for whom ‘Brownian motion’ is named, and who provided names and descriptions of various plant families and was the first keeper of the Botanical Dept. of the British Museum. Brown wrote the appendix on plants that appeared in 1823 in John Franklin's Narrative of a journey to the shores of the polar sea, 1919, 20, 21 and 22. in which this plant is shown as plate 29 on page 766.
Comparisons: A variety of the species H. americana, var. hirsuticaulis, which exists in the Wildflower Garden, is considered an intergrade with H. richardsonii. There the leaf stalks are also dense with stipitate-glandular hair, but the flower hypanthium is only weakly bilaterally symmetric, the inflation of the hypanthium above the ovary occurs sooner (3-7.2 mm), the fruiting capsules are smaller (4-10.5 mm) and other more technical details of which Flora of North America (Ref. W7) has a full key. The other varieties of H. americana have more differing characteristics. Until the 1930s H. richardsonii was considered to be in the H. hispida complex. The work of Rosendahl et al separated the species. See notes below on Rosendahl.
Above: The flowering spike has little side branching. Drawing from ©Flora of North America .
Below: 1st photo - The small flowers have a green bell shaped hypanthium with color tints ranging from yellow to reddish-brownish. The green sepals with rounded lobes are much wider than the petals. Stamens and styles are exserted. 2nd photo - Basal leaf example.
Below: 1st photo - The underside of the leaf and the leaf stalk have long glandular hair as does the flowering stem (2nd photo). The inflorescence has short side stalks bearing 1 to 3 flowers.
Notes: Alumroot is thought to be indigenous to the Garden as Eloise Butler noted it in her Garden Log as Heuchera americana on May 25, 1907. However, H. americana is not native to Minnesota, it's territory is normally south and east of Minnesota; the species native to Minnesota, H. richardsonii, (Richardson's Alumroot) is well distributed throughout the state and that is the only native species of Heuchera in Minnesota as far as records go at the University of Minnesota Herbarium. The two species are quite close in appearance and the distinguishing characteristics involve technical points about the hypanthium. Eloise could have easily been mistaken and the species was actually H. richardsonii.
Martha Crone noted planting "Alumroot" in 1945, '46, and '54 and listed it on her 1951 census as H. americana. She did not list the scientific name of those planted so we do not know which species she planted or where she obtained it.
In Minnesota H. richardsonii is found in all but 7 counties, and those exceptions are in the heavily farmed counties of the southern half of the State. In North America it is found from the Great Lakes west to the Rockies, south as far as Oklahoma and north from Ontario to the west coast.
Carl Otto Rosendahl (1875-1956), American botanist, head of the Department of Botany at the University of Minnesota after 1930; specialist in mycology and spermatophytes. One of his doctoral students was Arthur Cronquist, developer of the Cronquist Taxonomic System for flowering plants. His relationship with Eloise Butler was as follows: He was in the botanizing party Eloise accompanied to Seaside Station in the Summer of 1901 on Vancouver Island. He was a signer of the petition to the Minneapolis Park Board in 1907 to create the Wildflower Garden in Glenwood Park. He and Eloise were members of the Minnesota Chapter of the Wildflower Preservation Society of America (Eloise in charge of Membership and Publicity), when Rosendahl and Wm. S. Cooper were organizing support for a law to prevent the digging of wild orchids. Finally, when Eloise was about to retire, she asked him if the University would take over control of the Garden, to which he replied that “it made no sense” for the University to do that, which sorely disappointed her. With Frederick K. Butters he published Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota.
A major work of Rosendahl on the Heuchera in eastern North America was a monograph published in 1936 with F. K. Butters and O. Lakela which revised the genus and separated out the species dealt with on this page.
Sir John Richardson: Richardson was one of those physician/naturalists who had a yearn for exploration. He was a member of the first Franklin Expedition to the northern Canadian arctic in 1819-1822. His journal of the expedition (The Journal of John Richardson, Surgeon-naturalist with Franklin, 1819-1822 details many things, but includes descriptions of the flora and fauna, including what has now been named Richardson's Squirrel, and Richardson's Alumroot.
That Franklin expedition was shipwrecked and only a portion of the men returned to civilization after months of starvation in search of help. He returned to the Arctic with Franklin for a second exploring and mapping expedition, but was not on the last Franklin expedition of 1845 which was lost in its entirety. Richardson was a member of one of the search parties (that of 1848-49) that returned to the area of the Northwest Passage in search of Franklin.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"