2021 Plants of Merit

Every year since 1998, the Missouri Botanical Garden has partnered with other regional horticultural institutions to select Plants of Merit. Plants of Merit are chosen for outstanding quality and dependable performance in Missouri, southern and central Illinois, and the Kansas City metro area. To qualify as a Plant of Merit, the plants must be easy to grow, noninvasive, ornamentally attractive, less susceptible to common problems like insects or diseases, and reasonably available to purchase.


Elephant’s Ear, Alocasia low rider
Low rider is a dwarf selection of Alocasia ‘Portora‘. Mature plants will reach up to 2 feet tall with a similar spread. The glossy, heart-shaped leaves have wavy margins and are held on thick, stout leaf stalks. 

Begonia, begonia ‘Gryphon’
Begonia is a genus of about 1,300 species of annuals, perennials, shrubs and climbers. ‘Gryphon’ is bred for its superb foliage that combines majestic beauty with strength and durability. Its upright, mounded habit produces large, palmate rich green leaves streaked in silver. The undersides of the leaves and slender stems are deep orange-red.

Balloon plant, Gomphocarpus physocarpus

This milkweed family member is perhaps best noted for its soft, spherical, balloon-like, spiny, lime-green seed pods. Pods ripen to tan before splitting open in fall to release large numbers of silky-haired seeds to the wind. This plant is commonly sold in commerce by its original name of Asclepias physocarpus.

Lantana, Lantana camara LITTLE LUCKY SERIES

When grown in St. Louis, plants placed out in spring after last frost date may grow to as much as 3-4’ tall by the end of the summer. Tiny 5-lobed flowers in dense hemispherical clusters bloom summer to fall. Flower colors include white, yellow, orange, red and purple, often mixed in the same cluster. Flowers are attractive to butterflies.

Stonecrop, Sedum Lemon Coral

Lemon Coral is grown for its spikey, lime-green to chartreuse foliage with a spread of 10-14 inches. Its vigorous growth habit is mounded to stacking and trailing. Small yellow star-shaped flower clusters bloom June through August.


Elephant’s ear, Caladium ‘Burning Heart’

‘Burning Heart’ is a hybrid caladium selection that features bronzy-red foliage and a vigorous, upright growth habit. Mature clumps will reach up to 18″ tall with an equal spread. The heart-shaped leaves are speckled with flecks of pink and can reach up to 12″ long and 7″ wide.

Winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis

Eranthus hyemalis is a late winter bloomer that features cup-shaped, upward-facing, bright yellow, butter-cup like flowers on stalks to 3-4” tall. Each flower is subtended by a collar of leaf-like bracts. A true harbinger of spring, these rugged plants often send their shoots up through snow. Lobed, basal, green leaves emerge after the flowers.


Pak-choi, Brassica rapa (Chinensis Group) ‘Violetta’

‘Violetta’ is a purple-leaved pak choi cultivar that can be harvested at 30 days for baby greens or 50 days for full heads. The dark purple leaves have contrasting pale green undersides and venation. Mature plants will reach up to 18″ tall and 12″ wide.


Stromanthe, Stromanthe sanguinea ‘Tristar’

‘Tristar’ is a popular cultivar which features showy olive green leaves variegated with white, cream and pink. This variegated cultivar goes by a number of different cultivar names including ‘Tristar’, ‘Triostar’ and ‘Tricolor’.


Japanese spikenard, Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’

‘Sun King’ is a golden-leaved cultivar that features a large rounded clump of golden yellow compound leaves which is topped in summer by 2’ tall spikes of tiny white flowers. Deep reddish-purple to purplish-black inedible berries ripen in fall. Birds love the berries. Foliage retains good yellow color throughout summer unless grown in too much shade.

Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca
Asclepias syriaca, commonly called common milkweed, is a rough, weedy Missouri native perennial.  Domed, slightly drooping clusters (umbels) of fragrant, pinkish -purple flowers appear mostly in the upper leaf axils over a long bloom period from late spring well into summer. Flowers are a nectar source for many butterflies and leaves are a food source for monarch butterfly larvae (caterpillars).

Coneflower, Echinacea ‘Tnechkr’ Kismet Raspberry 

Coneflowers bloom from June to August with some sporadic later bloom. Attractive to butterflies and other insect pollinators. ‘Tnechkr’, sold under the trade name of Kismet Raspberry, is noted for its large, raspberry-colored flowers on upright, dwarf, compact plants. It has a long bloom time with abundant flowers of a deep rich color. 

Hellebore, Helleborus ‘Coseh 710’ PINK FROST
Hybrid hellebores, sometimes commonly called hybrid Lenten roses or hybrid winter roses, are bushy, clump-forming perennials. Flowers bloom in mid to late winter extending into early spring. ‘Coseh 710‘ is an upright, freely-flowering selection of hellebore that features dark green foliage and pink and white bicolor flowers. The buds are dark pink and open to reveal 3″ wide, outward-facing, single, creamy white blooms blushed with pale rose-pink. Mature plants will reach up to 1.5′ tall and spread to fill a 2’ area.


Oriental spicebush, Lindera angustifolia

Lindera angustifolia, commonly called Oriental spicebush, is a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub that grows to 6-8′ tall and 3-5′ wide. It is perhaps best noted for its foliage which is attractive year round. Elliptic-lanceolate glossy green leaves (each to 4″ long) with silvery undersides provide quality color during the growing season. Leaves turn showy shades of orange-yellow-red in fall.


Allegheny servicberry, Amelanchier laevis
Amelanchier laevis, commonly called Allegheny serviceberry, is a small, deciduous, usually multi-trunked understory tree or tall shrub. It typically grows 15-25′ tall and features showy, 5-petaled, slightly fragrant, white flowers in drooping clusters that appear in early spring (April) before the leaves. Flowers give way to small, round, edible berries which ripen to dark purplish-black in June and resemble blueberries in size, color and taste. 

Silver linden, Tilia tomentosa

Tilia tomentosa, commonly called silver linden or European white linden, is noted for its attractive foliage, which is glossy green above and silvery-white below. The foliage flutters in the slightest breeze, showcasing the silver and green leaf colors.


Rex begonia vine, Cissus javana

The common name rex begonia vine refers to the appearance of the foliage. This plant is a member of the grape family Vitaceae and is not closely related to begonias.

Catherine Martin
Public Information Officer

Photos by Tom Incrocci, Cassidy Moody, Matilda Adams, Claire Cohen, Marissa Billmeyer, and Kristina Schall DeYong.

Leave a Reply