By Guest Author - Barry Glick
When Thomas Meehan, a Philadelphia Botanist, died in 1901, I'm sure he went to the big forest in the sky feeling proud that Nathaniel Lord Britton (1859-1934) named a genus of plants in his honor. I'd also bet that he didn't now how wonderful his namesake plant was. In fact most people don't know how wonderful Meehania cordata is.
Charles and Martha Oliver are proprietors of the Primrose Path Nursery in Scottdale PA and dear friends of mine. I'd noticed Meehania cordata listed in their catalog. After reading their description and hearing them extol the virtues about how charming this little plant was, I asked them to please bring me one on their upcoming visit. I had requested one the year before, but it always seemed they were sold out. So I was emphatic that I must have one, and intimated should they not bring me one, they may end up sleeping in my barn that chilly Autumn night. Tiarella, Heuchera and Heucherella are the main focus of their breeding work, so we had planned a day of Tiarella hunting in Wolfpen Hollow, a hauntingly mysterious woodland area near my farm. We'd just descended a summit into the foggy creekbottom when I heard Charles laughing hysterically behind me on the trail. I turned to see what he found so amusing and saw him pointing to the ground. There, all around him, the ground was covered with Meehans Mint. Talk about getting caught not "practicing what you preach". Me, who in all of my lectures on Native plants makes a point of telling people to "look in your own backyard"! Well, after I recovered from my initial embarrassment, we looked further, and found the entire West facing slope of the hill down to the creekbed was a veritable carpet of dark, almost glossy green, cordate, ( heart shaped, hence the specific epithet cordata) leaves, vining over rocks and decaying tree limbs basking in the deep shade of the Hemlock and oak woods above the water. I took some cuttings, not knowing whether they would root so late in the season but I had a gut feeling of optimism. Sure enough they rooted in a matter of weeks. The following Spring, I checked in on the population and found that the new growth was thick and lovely. In June, I went back to observe the flowers and found a sea of lilac, pink and lavender trumpet like blooms at the tips of the stems. They reminded me very much of Scuttellaria, another member of the mint family and close relative of Meehania. In my garden, now having many plants from the rooted cuttings that I overwintered under a dark bench in a poly tunnel (another testament to the virtues of Meehania is how deep a shade it thrives in), I proceeded to plant them under a small grove of Lilacs and Viburnums. They responded to the rich humus that had accumulated under these older shrubs and almost immediatly started to wind their way around on the ground.
Taxonomically speaking, Meehania cordata is a member of the Lamiacea (Mint) family. In North America Meehania cordata is a montypic (single) specie in the genus. Its reported range is from SW Pa to NC and TN. Its heart Leaves are on the small side, averaging 1-1 1/2 " wide at the petiole and are about 1" long. I suspect that it is hardy to zone 4, maybe even 3. I know of at least one other Meehania species in cultivation, that being Meehania urticifolia, Meehania cordata's Asian cousin. It can be found growing through the woods of the mountain forests in the Honshu area of Japan. The specific epithet urticifolia refers to the nettle like foliage. It's also very easy to propagate from stem cuttings and by division. Meehania cordata is one of the best plants I can think of for those dark and foreboding corners of the garden where there isn't enough light for most other plants. Even if it didn't have the added benefit of those really bright colorful flowers, I would recommend it as a very useful groundcover.
A NOTE FROM TIM:
From time to time I plan on posting articles written by plant hunter both that want to share their plant hunting experiences, plant stories and related observations. Today's Guest Author is Barry Glick.
Barry is the owner of Sunshine Farms & Gardens, a specialty perenial nursery with a focus on hellebores. Over the past 32 years he has amassed a diverse plant collection of well over 10,000 different, hardy to zone 5 perennials, bulbs, trees and shrubs from every corner of the Earth to test and grow on his 60-acre mountain top at 3000 feet in beautiful Greenbrier County WV.
If you are interested in submitting a guest article please contact me or send me your story at Hortusthird@yahoo.com.