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GUNNERA insignis

Image of Gunnera insignis

John Rickard

Family

Gunneraceae

Botanical Name

GUNNERA insignis

Plant Common Name

Giant Rhubarb, Poorman's Umbrella

General Description

The massive leaves of poorman's umbrella can truly be used as make-shift shelters if one were caught in a subtropical rainstorm. They are unbelievably large reaching up to 6-feet (2-meters) across! This herbaceous tender perennial is native to the cool, moist mountain rainforest of southern Central America.

Growing from a rhizome, poorman's umbrella sends up upright green stems each topped with a rounded, ruffled leaf. The huge leaf stems, or petioles, are covered with somewhat hairy red scales at the base. A mature leaf potentially grows with a diameter matching the height of an adult person. Leaves are bright jade green and crinkled along the veins. Leaf edges have coarsely pointed lobes. Red-tinged central veins fan out from the base of the leaf's attachment to the stem. From the center of the leaves emerges an upright cluster of tiny dark salmon-red to rusty orange-red flowers. The inflorescence resembles a cycad cone or a lupine flower spike. Scientists are uncertain as to what pollinated the flowers, but each blossom yields a single seed.

Grow poorman's umbrella in fertile, moist, porous soil with a neutral to acid pH. In cool, humid climates, full sun exposure works. Otherwise dappled shade is needed to prevent leaf damage. It grows best in humid areas and tolerates wet soils, especially when temperatures are comfortably warm. Wind wreaks havoc on the leaves. Tolerant of light frost, which may kill back leaves, it rejuvenates again in spring.

Poorman's umbrella is a focal conversation piece for a woodland garden, misty shaded courtyard or mixed perennial border on the side of a mountain hillside. Grow it only if you have plenty of space!

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    7 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    9 - 12

  • Sunset Zone

    H1, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Tender Perennial

  • Sun Exposure

    Partial Sun, Partial Shade

  • Height

    4'-7' / 1.2m - 2.1m

  • Width

    6'-10' / 1.8m - 3.0m

  • Native To

    Central America

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Average

  • Soil type

    Loam

  • Tolerances

    Wet Site

  • Growth Rate

    Medium

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water, Ample Water

  • Habit

    Clump-Forming

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    Dark Red, Dark Salmon, Sienna

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Green

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    No

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Bold

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    Yes

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Feature Plant, Mixed Border, Tropical

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes