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A Place for the Red Dragon

On red stems, leaves the shape of a heart stretched to a long point, basically burgundy-colored (except greener in hot weather); marked with a chevron of silver (or mint or plum) that parallels the leaf margins; with a metallic sheen and a red vein down the center.... But that's only a rough sketch: the intricate variegation of Persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon' is impossible to describe adequately in words.

When it was first available in 2000, I fell in love with this plant. I thought I had room, in a new bed next to my pink Ballerina rose. However they both grew fast, and soon were competing. If they had could have scrambled over and through each other, that would have been pretty — but the Red Dragon was taking over.

This plant belongs to the buckwheat family, many of which are invasive. But the Red Dragon was bred to be non-stoloniferous (the roots don't creep) and sterile. Still, the tag said "24 inches tall" and mine was a husky, dense four feet!

Moving it, I thought I gave it more space, between two hostas: 'Gold Standard,' which starts the season bright yellow-green, and then pales to a parchment color if it gets a little sun; and 'Fragrant Bouquet,' with leaves the color of a Granny Smith apple. Some cobalt 'Crystal Palace' lobelia completed a striking color scheme.

But the hostas, rescued from a spot where they'd been dwindling, responded magnificently to their new home. The Red Dragon was crowded on both sides. It reached out to the front, over the lawn. I felt my space invaded even though I knew it wasn't going anywhere. Just one of those Feng Shui effects that shape has on vibes.

Next I picked a decidedly inhospitable location for the Red Dragon. In a bed full of the roots of a hundred-foot pine tree (water thief), I hacked out a three-foot hole and filled it with good soil to get the persicaria started. By the time the pine started growing roots back there, I figured, the Red Dragon would be established, and they could fight it out. In addition, bracken fern and herb Robert would give it plenty of competition.

This strategy seems finally to be working. The Red Dragon grows into and through its equally vigorous neighbors — a pretty tangle that surprises the eye in an out-of-the-way corner of my yard.

© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark


Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 9 May 2003

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For more information

This article was inspired by the Pepperell Garden Club. Members asked me "what is that plant?" At the time, I couldn't remember (partly because the botanical name for persicaria has changed freqeuently). So here's the answer. Thanks for the question!

Persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon' — a detailed article from GreanBeam.com, a site for horticultural business information.

Polygonaceae- The Red Dragon's family, with lots of pictures of relatives.