Clusters of showy tubular blossoms and soft fernlike foliage make corydalis a standout plant for shade gardens. Its flowers appear in spring, then the plant virtually disappears (leaving room for summer bloomers) until the following spring. This plant adds a colorful, cascading component to containers and hanging baskets.
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Typically a soft shade of blue-green, the intricate, compound leaves of corydalis give the plant a soft, airy look that contrasts beautifully against shade plants with coarser textures, such as hostas. In spring and early summer, corydalis sports clusters of small, showy blossoms held above the foliage. The flowers' wide variety of colors, including creamy white, yellow, purple, pink, red, and blue, is somewhat unusual for shade-loving plants.
Corydalis Care Must-Knows
Corydalis grows best in humus-rich, consistently moist but well-drained soil. It also likes lightly sun-dappled conditions that resemble woodlands, especially in hot summer climates. South of Zone 7, this plant's growth may slow down or even stop. In the Pacific Northwest's cool summer climate, on the other hand, corydalis may bloom all summer long and well into fall. Too much shade results in lanky plants and sparse flowers. Letting corydalis sit in water risks rot.
Most corydalis species enthusiastically self-seed, sometimes almost to the point of being weedy. Young seedlings are easy to remove and transplant to more desirable spaces, though. Divide clumps every two to three years in the spring, but be aware that as corydalis gets older, it dislikes being disturbed.
More Varieties of Corydalis
'Berry Exciting' Corydalis
This variety of Corydalis has ferny golden leaves that set off the purple flowers. Hardy in Zones 5-9, it goes dormant in summer heat.
'Beth Evans' Corydalis
Corydalis solida has beautiful bright pink blooms that soften to lighter pink with age on this tuberous variety. Zones 5-8.
'Blackberry Wine' Corydalis
This variety of Corydalis sports fragrant wine-purple tubular flowers from late spring through early summer, or longer in cool climates. Zones 5-8.
Corydalis elata, at 16 inches in height in bloom, is taller than the other blue corydalis (C. flexuosa). Its cobalt blue blooms form a bit later and the plant is less likely to go dormant in summer. Zones 6-8.
'Blue Panda' Blue Corydalis
Corydalis flexuosa, like other selections in the species, has elongated blue flowers with spurs in springtime. It dies down midsummer but reemerges for a fall encore. Its name is in reference to its origin in China. Zones 5-9.
Corydalis ochroleuca is native to rocky woodlands of Europe. It grows and self-seeds in rock walls and other well-drained sites in Zones 5-9. Milky white blooms with yellow throats are borne on blue-green ferny foliage.
Sometimes called purple corydalis, Corydalis solida grows 6-12 inches tall and bears reddish-purple flower clusters in spring. Zones 4-8.
'Purple Leaf' Corydalis
Corydalis flexuosa emerges early in spring and bears clusters of blue flowers over purplish foliage. In warm weather regions, it will go dormant in summer. Zones 5-9.
Corydalis Companion Plants
This plant hardly grown 40 years ago is now one of the most commonly grown garden plants. But hosta has earned its spot in the hearts of gardeners—it's among the easiest plants to grow, as long as you have some shade and ample rainfall. Hostas vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive 4-foot clumps with heart-shape leaves almost 2 feet long that can be puckered, wavy-edged, white or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged—the variations are virtually endless. Hostas in new sizes and touting new foliage features seem to appear each year. This tough, shade-loving perennial, also known as plaintain lily, blooms with white or purplish lavender funnel-shape or flared flowers in summer. Some are intensely fragrant. Hostas are a favorite of slug and deer.
Barrenwort is a rare plant, one that thrives in the dry shade beneath shallow-rooted trees! It spreads at a moderate rate, forming a graceful, dense groundcover. Almost as a bonus, it also produces dainty flowers shaped like a bishop's miter, prompting another common name: bishop's cap. Its colorful foliage dangles on slender stalks, providing yet another moniker: fairy wings.
This elegant shade plant has gently arching stems and dangling creamy bells. Solomon's seal adds height and grace to shaded gardens in spring. It's an easy plant to grow, and will slowly colonize—even in tough areas where shallow tree roots rob moisture and nutrients. The foliage turns golden in fall.