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How to Grow and Care for Skeleton Flower (Diphylleia grayi)

How to Grow and Care for Skeleton Flower (Diphylleia grayi)

Skeleton flower is a somewhat unusual woodland perennial in the same family as the may apple and southern pixie umbrella (Podophyllum cymosum1). Large, umbrella-like leaves cover the crown of the plant and make for attractive ground cover as the plant colonizes shady areas under trees. But there’s one unique quality that makes the skeleton flower a real talking point: In June or July, the skeleton flower produces tiny white flowers that are ordinary at first but turn colorless and crystal clear when wet.

This happens because the petals of the skeletal flower are so thin that they become transparent except for the intricate skeletal veining. As the flowers dry, they turn to a faded white. In early fall, the reddish seed stalks develop clusters with showy light blue berries.

Skeleton flower is a slow growing species that is usually planted in early spring or early fall. It can take years to grow into a small colony, but once established it is a long-lived plant.

skeleton flower care
It’s best to buy established nursery plants from a nursery, but skeleton flowers are an unusual specimen that’s hard to find outside of specialty nurseries – and they often sell out very quickly. Sometimes the only option is to buy and plant seeds, although this can be a tricky operation as the seeds do not germinate well and it can take a full year for a viable plant to develop.

Skeleton Flower is a forest area native to the colder mountainous regions of China and Japan. To grow this flower, you must mimic these conditions: shady undergrowth under the canopy of deciduous trees, sheltered from high winds, and growing in constantly moist, undisturbed soil rich in organic matter from fallen tree leaves.
If you manage to provide the right location, the skeleton flower is quite easy to care for. During the growing season, simply remove the dead foliage to allow the new leaves to develop freely. The skeleton flower is not usually attacked by serious pests or diseases.

The skeleton flower is very sensitive to strong sunlight. It needs a shady spot, preferably in the woods, where it is fully protected from the hot midday and afternoon sun. Direct sunlight should be the morning sun.

The soil should be deep, rich in humus and consistently moist, but very permeable. Sandy soil with lots of organic matter is ideal. To mimic the plant’s natural habitat, where the skeleton flower is constantly fed with decaying organic matter, mulch the plant with a large amount of compost or leaf mold each year.

Skeleton flower requires constant moisture with naturally moist soil. Water slowly and deeply during a dry spell, preferably by drip irrigation or drip hoses.

temperature and humidity
Hardy in zones 4a through 9b, the skeleton flower requires a relatively cool, temperate climate and likes humid air. It will not work well in regions with hot, dry summer weather. The plant dies back in winter and needs a winter chill period to reset itself. In colder climates, covering the canopy of plants with a thick layer of organic mulch helps protect roots from freeze-freeze cycles, which can be deadly.

If the natural organic matter from fallen leaves is not enough, you can add a complete fertilizer diluted to half in early spring.

Propagation of Skeleton Flower
Diphylleia grows from its thick underground rhizomes. The best way to propagate them is to divide these rhizomes. Division every few years also helps rejuvenate overgrown clumps of roots. That’s how it’s done:

In early spring, use a shovel to dig up the entire rhizome clump.
Use a sharp knife to divide the clump into sections, each section containing part of the root crown.
Replant in desired location with soil just covering the crown side of the division. Plant the departments fairly close together if your goal is to speed up the establishment of a colony.
Be patient as these slow-growing plants take several years to mature and start a new colony.

How to grow skeleton flowers from seed
Growing skeleton flowers from seed is notoriously unreliable, but sometimes it’s the only method available as plants from nurseries may not be available. Seeds need cold stratification, so it’s best to refrigerate them for several months before planting them at shallow depth in trays filled with a seed starter mix in late winter, about six weeks before the last frost date are filled. Keep the skins moist, in a light spot but out of direct sunlight. Be prepared for some disappointment as only a fraction of the seeds planted will germinate and sprout. The seedlings can be planted in the garden after all danger of frost has passed.

Another method is to plant the seeds directly in the garden in the fall to allow winter temperatures to do the cold stratification.

Potting and repotting of skeleton flowers
Gardeners living in colder regions (Zone 3 or colder) and looking for a unique specimen can grow skeleton flowers as a pot plant using commercial potting soil infused with plenty of compost. The pot can be of any material provided it has good drainage. Plants should be kept outdoors during the growing season