A shady perennial blooms for months

Corydalis ochroleuca, or yellow-white blooming corydalis, is a shade-loving perennial that begins blooming in spring and continues for months.

Courtesy of Gene Bush
Yellow-white blooming corydalis (Corydalis ochroleuca) begins blooming in mid-March in southern Indiana, and continues well into November. Here it grows in a shady spot with painted fern.

A few perennials in my garden have become backbones over the years -- perennials dependable not only for their good looks, but also for performance.

One such perennial at the top of my list is Corydalis ochroleuca, or yellow-white blooming corydalis. It begins blooming in mid-March here in southern Indiana, and continues well into November. An abundance of bloom on any perennial lasting this long in the Midwest is just short of a minor miracle.

Corydalis ochroleuca has creamy-white, pendulous blooms, with a soft-yellow lip.

Blooms are shaped like small tubes in a raceme. Flowers are always carried well above the foliage for a quiet, but very effective display. Height is about a foot or so, and it grows up to 18 inches across, with somewhat succulent stems. Leaves are multiple compound forming a full and bushy plant in softest blue-green. Seeds are tiny balls of dull black formed in slender pealike pods.

Where does it grow best?

When I think of perennials with delicate good looks, I tend to think along the lines of the more beautiful the plant, the more persnickety it is. This is certainly not the case with yellow-white corydalis. It performs best in dry, rocky shade.

My plants have prospered year in and year out on an embankment shored up by stones along a path. They have formed a drift located under two dwarf hemlocks which are, in turn, located under a mature cedar. The only moisture they can receive must come from storms which are strong enough to blow rain in and under all the evergreens.

Fresh seed falls among the stones extending the drifts. When the drift becomes larger than I want for the area, the shallow rooted seedlings are easily pulled.

A long bloom period

The gentle pastel colors of yellow-white corydalis easily pair up with other perennials and bulbs.

I have bulb companions of Corydalis solida in pink and red during very early spring, and hardy cyclamen (C. hederifolium) bloom in pink with silver foliage in fall.

Our native ginger, Asarum canadensis, with its large, heart-shaped leaves of heavy substance, is probably my favorite foliage companion. Ferns such as any cultivar of Japanese painted fern are almost a must.

Corydalis ochroleuca is quite lovely in formal or informal gardens, performs well in decent to difficult conditions, is not hard to locate, and has been around long enough not to be expensive.All good recommendations for adding it to your shade garden.


Gene Bush, a nationally known garden writer, photographer, lecturer, and nursery owner, gardens on a shaded hillside in southern Indiana. His website is www.munchkinnursery.com. He also writes the Garden Clippin's Newsletter. To read more by Gene here at Diggin' It, click here.

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