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Umbilicus (Chiastaphyllum), what’s not to love?

Why is this beautiful six-inch high Umbilicus oppositifolium (pronounced um-BIL-ih-kus op-po-sit-ee-FOH-lee-um) not better known? The spoon-shaped, succulent, evergreen leaves look great year-round. In spring, you also have yellow, bead-like flowers dangling from its racemes. It evokes the same feeling when you go outside on a warm spring day after being cooped up inside all winter. 

Umbilicus oppositifolium
Umbilicus oppositifolium syn. Chiastophyllum

Perhaps the reason is that it’s an alpine or rock garden plant; people believe it will need to grow in a specialized rock garden. The plant requires well-drained soil but grows pretty well in regular garden soil. Surprisingly, it’s a succulent that grows best in light shade. I grow it in sun or light shade, yet I prefer how it looks and grows better in shaded conditions.

I started my initial collection from seed before the turn of the century and carried it to a new garden a few years later. The little perennial grows under a coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sangokaku’) mixed with baby tears (Soleirolia soleriolii). After the flowers fade, the foliage on the stem takes on tan and red hues. I pull the flower stem and the faded floret of leaves with it, and new green foliage quickly takes its place. This perennial politely spreads around and is easy to pull out and transplant to other areas.

For more information: Umbilicus Plant Gallery and Growing Guide.

Original date: 07/29/2010

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