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Leopard's Bane: Summer Sunshine in Spring
by Lesley Reynolds
May 20, 2001

Delightful yellow daisies are common in prairie gardens in midsummer, when golden Marguerites, heliopsis, and rudbeckia brighten perennial borders with their sunny blooms. If you are a daisy devotee who would like the cheerful effect of these wonderful flowers in a spring garden, find a spot in your flower beds for leopard's bane, Doronicum columnae and D. orientale
These striking, hardy perennials, native to the mountain forests of south-east Europe, Turkey, and Lebanon, will bring summer sunshine to your perennial borders in May. 
Although leopard's bane has no reputation as being poisonous, a tale persists that its common name derives from the long-ago practice of hunting leopards with spears dipped in leopard's bane juice.
Leopard's bane features attractive, heart-shaped, toothed leaves that emerge in early spring. Showy, yellow, daisy-like flowers appear on 60-cm (24-in.) stems above the mounds of foliage. The flowers, which appear from mid-May through June, are up to 8 cm (3 in.) across with narrow-rayed petals. One of the best cultivars is Doronicum columnae 'Miss Mason', which has long-lasting foliage. Doronicum orientale is similar to D. columnae; cultivars include 'Finesse' and 'Magnificum', which grow to 50 cm (20 in.), 'Spring Beauty', which is shorter with double flowers, and 'Little Leo' (40 cm, 16 in.).
Leopard's bane prefers a partly shaded location with cool, moist, rich soil. It is an ideal perennial to plant under deciduous trees or in an east-facing location. Avoid planting leopard's bane in hot and dry areas, such as south- or west-facing beds that receive full sun. Before planting, amend the soil with plenty of organic matter, such as compost, rotted manure, leaf mould, or peat moss. After planting, top dress with organic mulch around the base of the plant to keep the roots cool and the soil moist. Remove faded flowers and flower stems after blooming has finished. To propagate leopard's bane, divide the plants soon after flowering, or grow from seed. The plants will spread slowly by means of underground rhizomes. 
While some reference books note that the leaves will die back after blooming, this is not as likely to happen if the plant is properly located, mulched, and kept adequately watered. Provide leopard's bane with a protective winter mulch or cover with snow whenever possible. 
Plant leopard's bane in drifts at the edge of a woodland garden or a partially shaded border. For striking colour combinations, surround them with late-blooming purple or lavender tulips, grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.), forget-me-nots (Myosotis spp.), or 'Johnson's Blue' geranium. Leopard's bane also looks terrific paired with primulas, such as the delicate pink Primula cortusoides. The blooms make excellent cut flowers for spring arrangements.

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