New HCG Plants for Spring 2012: #1

A large patch of Pterocephalus in my garden.

Carpeting Pincushion Flower (Pterocephalus depressus)


Groundcovers are so important in the garden. They create the garden’s carpet and weave the various plants together into a more harmonious

whole. They grow as a beautiful edge to flower beds, walkways and patios. They often provide both ornamental flowers and foliage to give them a very long s

A close-up of the captivating flowers.

eason of interest. So when I come across a new, truly remarkable groundcover that has been unknown to me, it’s very exciting.


Pterocephalus (te – RO – cefalous) depressus is currently at the top of my plant list. I got my original plants from a remarkable rock garden nursery in Ft. Collins, CO, Laporte

Avenue Nursery. After growing strongly in my rock garden for the past two growing seasons, (in a sort-of dry year followed by a severe drought year) I’ve seen the many

Evergreen foliage tolerates light foot traffic.

virtues of this carpeting beauty.  Closely related to a very popular genus of cottage garden

perennials, Scabiosa(Pincushion Flower), this alpine species is from the high mountains of Morocco, on the northeastern corner of Africa.  Blooming in early to mid-summer, the plant has huge mauve-pink flowers that sit right on the foliage. The flowers are followed by

fuzzy pink seed heads that decorate the plant for many weeks after blooming has finished.



But I have to say that as wonderfully ornamental as the flowers and seed heads are, the tight mat of evergreen foliage is equally interesting and useful. The stems root as they grow and cover themselves with nicely textured, tightly congested foliage that tolerates foot traffic and is as weed-proof as any groundcover I’ve ever seen.  Recommended for USDA zones 5-8, Pterocephalus is ready to move from list of specialty rock garden plants into the mainstream of gardening and will prove itself to be a superior garden carpet.

13 thoughts on “New HCG Plants for Spring 2012: #1”

  • Dawn Nowak

    Is this a slow or fast (thuggish) spreader? Also, how would it do on the south side of my brick house? I'm thinking it might work to fill in some places that my thyme has trouble in...

    • David Salman

      This is a slow to medium spreader which roots as the stems cross the soil making a very dense mat of evergreen leaves. It doesn't re-seed. It is much more durable than creeping thyme. Note that the foliage is larger and not fragrant. Not for the hot, humid southeastern US.

  • Taylor

    Will it grown in dappled shade? Like under a desert willow?

    • David Salman

      This would be a good choice as a groundcover under a desert willow. In the southwestern US, it is best for higher elevations that don't get the extreme heat of Tucson/Phoenix.

  • Dan

    The only mention I see of culture is 'rock garden'. I presume lean, well-drained soil is required?


    • David Salman

      Yes, the soil should be well drained and "lean' (not too fertile), but this plant doesn't mind water during the growing season. In my experience, it is quite easy to grow.

  • David Payne
    David Payne 12/01/11 at 12:56 am

    How does one voice "te RO cefalous" without lingual agony, without
    turning the botanical name into something like "the Joseph" or
    "teh Ro sah" with the final syllables disintegrating into a blur?
    Better (? and more accurately) silent P, then te-ro-CEH-fah-lous.
    Thanks for the suggestion for using it as a groundcover under a desert willow. Desert willow (Chilopsis) will fill the gap left
    by the demise of 60-yr-old juniper/cedars in a Lubbock backyard.
    At an altitude of 3,500 feet, desert willow seems to do well here, so this pincushion flower would seem an excellent companion.

  • Faith Crosby
    Faith Crosby 01/04/12 at 6:55 am

    Thought I would rework a bed after looking again at Monets 'Water Lily Pond'. No water, but ground covers creating that pallet. This little beauty is just the thing. Thanks again for your vision.

  • Theresa Taggart
    Theresa Taggart 02/07/12 at 6:18 am

    Lovely - USDA zones 5 are just on the edge up here in Taos. Would you think this can survive on our southside of the house which routinely stays warmer in the winter?

    Thanks for your advice.

    • David Salman
      David Salman 03/09/12 at 9:35 pm

      Pterocephalus would be an excellent ground cover in Taos. It will thrive on the south side of your home. A very tough, durable and cold hardy groundcover, you'll find that it thrives elsewhere in your yard as well, especially between flagstones.

  • Mary G.

    I'd like to use this plant to replace the grass in the front "boulevard" area (the space between the sidewalk and the street). That space receives full sun most of the day. What is your opinion? I live in a zone 5 area of Michigan. Thanks.

    • David Salman
      David Salman 03/09/12 at 9:38 pm

      I think it is worth a try. However, if your community salts the roads in winter, Pterocephalus has unknown salt tolerance. So I'd start with a small patch of 5 to 6 plants and test it.

      Please let me know how it does.

  • Karin Lerew
    Karin Lerew 03/31/12 at 3:55 am

    What ground cover would you recommend for a Santa Fe garden that has four dogs walking about? My concern is the occasional tendency for them to "rake" their paws across something softer than the gravel paths.

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