In honor of Halloween, let’s celebrate those plants costumed with hauntingly black (or nearly black) foliage. Just as black cats add mystery on Halloween night, black-foliaged plants add a sense of mystery to beds, borders and containers.
There are many plants that we grow as annuals in Zone 5 gardens with foliage as dark as the night.
The foliage of Alternanthera ‘Purple Knight’ is so dark reddish-purple, it is almost black. It stays short, but its trailing stems spread wide. Let it trail over the edges of containers, expand as a ground cover in the garden, or pinch it to keep it compact. The richest color occurs in a hot, sunny location.
Coleus ‘Black Prince’ is one of the darkest-leaved coleus. Nearly solid black, it grows up to 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide in full sun to part shade. Some of the leaves of ‘Under the Sea Fish Net’ are almost entirely black with chartreuse toothed margins; other leaves may be chartreuse with dramatic purplish-black veining.
Several varieties of ornamental peppers sport black foliage, but my favorite is ‘Black Pearl’. Leaves unfurl green but quickly turn shiny black. Small purple flowers in summer are followed by fruit that resemble black pearls until they turn red with age. Plants grow 18 inches tall and 12 inches wide.
‘Midnight Fire’ is a new variety coming from PanAmerican Seed that I can’t wait to include in my containers next year.
Known by most as Purple Baron Millet, Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Baron’ is an upright, wide-bladed grass that resembles corn stalks. Leaves emerge green but become very dark purple soon after. Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall and up to 2 feet wide. Birds love their seeds.
Sweet potato vines also offer a collection of dark-leaved varieties. Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’ grows vigorously with beautiful heart-shaped, deeply-notched leaves that darken from deep green to near black. ‘Ace of Spades’ also grows exuberantly, showing off its large, very dark purple, deeply cut leaves. The near black foliage of ‘SolarPower Black’ grows up to 3 feet long.
As ornamental as it is yummy, Basil ‘Opal’ is so dark purple, it appears almost black. The color of its foliage makes it ideal for use in herbal vinegar, as a garnish or in container gardens. Plants grow up to 18 inches tall.
Tropical plants offer varieties with black leaves, too.
Prized for both its large, brilliant red flowers and its nearly black, wide leaves, Canna ‘Black Knight’ grows 4 to 5 feet tall. Canna ‘Australia’ grows 5 feet tall with satiny burgundy-black foliage also topped with bright red flowers. Both are hummingbird magnets.
The Colocasia family gives gardeners several choices with dark foliage. ‘Black Magic’ displays dramatic, dusty black leaves. ‘Illustris’ boasts near black foliage with chartreuse veining and edges. ‘Black Coral’ shows off shiny, heavily corrugated, black-as-ink leaves.
If you’ve ever purchased one of those t-shirts with the saying, Friends Don’t Let Friends Buy Annuals, here are some perennials with foliage as black as the sky on Hallow’s Eve.
Grow a weed-choking, purplish-black carpet with Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’. The strongest color of their shiny, rounded, heavily-textured leaves is achieved in full sun.
Cimicifuga ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ is a striking focal point in the shade garden. Its very dark plum-colored, astilbe-like foliage grows just 2 to 3 feet tall, but its spikes of fragrant, near white, bottle brush flowers rise on stems up to 7 feet high in September. Make sure this stunner is planted in moist, but well-drained soil rich with organic matter.
There are many coral bells with dark purple foliage, but I think Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ may be the darkest and I’m quite sure it is one of my favorites. Its deep purplish-black foliage holds its color well into winter. Growing barely a foot tall and wide, it prefers a spot in the garden with morning sun and afternoon shade.
Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’ is perfect for hot, sunny gardens where it grows up to 18 inches tall and wide, flaunting rosy-red flowers over succulent black-tinted green foliage in August and September.
True black plants are rare, but there are lots of plants with purple, plum and burgundy foliage so dark that they appear black. Here are some design tips when using black-foliaged plants in the garden.
1) For high contrast, partner black foliage with chartreuse or silver foliage.
2) Hot colors – bright yellow, orange, red, bright pink – sizzle when combined with black foliage.
3) Pastel colors – soft pink, light yellow, lavender – are elegant when paired with black foliage.
4) White flowers and variegated leaves show off beautifully neighbored by black foliage.
5) Plants with black foliage are beautiful backdrops for other flowering annuals and perennials.
6) Black-foliaged plants stand out in full sun but tend to vanish in shade gardens.
Skillful use of plants with black, or near black, foliage lends sophisticated drama to the landscape. Treat yourself to some black magic. Garden with me!
Note: Many of these photos were taken over the past several years at the Gardens at Ball – amazing trial and evaluation gardens for new plant introductions. If you missed this earlier post, check out my visit during Ball Seed Field Day this past summer.