What Does Herniaria Look Like: Expert Tell You

Discover the captivating world of Herniaria plants, their origins and varieties, ideal growing conditions, care tips, and benefits in landscaping and medicine.

What is Herniaria and Where Does it Originate?

Herniaria is a genus of small herbaceous plants in the carnation family Caryophyllaceae, that are native to Europe and Asia. They are native to areas with hot, dry summers.The name herniaria comes from the latin word for “rupture” due to its medicinal use for hernias.
More comprehensive information and care guidelines can be read here.

herniaria, plants, white teapot and tow flower vases on windowpane
Photo by Nathan Fertig / Unsplash

The Remarkable Appearance of Herniaria

Herniaria plants have a distinctive appearance that makes them ideal groundcovers. They form low growing mats with creeping stems that spread over the ground. The leaves are rounded and fleshy, ranging from 5 to 15 mm in size.

The flowers of herniaria are also quite small, typically only 5 to 10 mm wide. The most common species, H. glabra, has small five-petaled white flowers. Other species may have pink or purple flowers.

In general, herniaria plants have the following characteristics:

  • Creeping stems that spread up to 50 cm across the ground
  • Simple, rounded leaves that are opposite or in whorls
  • Tiny flowers ranging from white to pink in color
  • Flowers with five petals fused at the base

The major distinguishing features between species are:

SpeciesStem LengthLeaf SizeFlower Color
H. glabraUp to 30 cm5 – 10 mmWhite
H. ciliolataUp to 20 cm5 – 15 mmPink
H. hirsutaUp to 50 cm5 – 10 mmPurple
herniaria, flowers, selective focus photography of pink petaled flower
Photo by Ethan Robertson / Unsplash

Unveiling the Different Varieties of Herniaria

Herniaria contains around 30 different species of herbaceous plants. While they all share similar characteristics, they vary in details of their growth habit, leaf shape and size, and flower color.

The three most common species found in gardens are:

  • H. glabra – This is the most widespread species, found across Europe and Asia. It has simple oval leaves that are 5 to 10 mm long and small five-petaled white flowers. The stems can grow up to 30 cm long.

  • H. ciliolata – The leaves of this species are slightly larger, from 5 to 15 mm. It has cordate leaves and pink flowers. The shorter stems grow up to 20 cm long.

  • H. hirsuta – This variety has the longest stems, reaching up to 50 cm. The leaves are 5 to 10 mm and covered in hairy foliage. The flowers are typically purple.

Other species differ mainly according to:

  • Flower color – Ranging from pink to white, purple and red in species like H. rubra

  • Leaf shape – From ovate to lanceolate

  • Stem length – Varying between 10 cm up to 50 cm across species

While all the varieties of herniaria plants share the characteristics of low-growing mats with prostrate stems and tiny flowers, there is sufficient diversity in terms of appearance and color for a range of garden uses.

herniaria, plants, two green leafed plants in brown pot
Photo by Brina Blum / Unsplash

The Ideal Growing Conditions for Herniaria

Herniaria plants are tolerant and adaptive, thriving in a wide range of conditions. However, there are some ideal growing conditions that allow them to perform at their best:

Sunlight: Herniaria prefers full sun exposure, between 6 and 8 hours per day. Too much shade will reduce flowering and promote leggy growth.

Soil: Herniaria can grow in most well-draining soil types, from sandy to loamy. Soil that drains quickly after rain or watering is key. They also tolerate slightly alkaline soil.

Moisture: Herniaria is fairly drought tolerant once established. The soil should be kept moderately moist, allowing it to partially dry between waterings. Avoid overwatering as wet soil can cause root rot.

Fertility: Herniaria generally does not require rich or highly fertile soil. Occasionally adding a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in early spring can promote the best growth and flowering.

Temperature: Herniaria is extremely cold hardy, able to withstand temperatures as low as -20°C. They grow best between 15°C to 25°C.

Hardiness Zones: Herniaria species are adaptable and widely found across hardiness zones 3 through 9.

Some key factors for optimal growing conditions therefore include:

  • Full sun exposure for at least 6 hours daily

  • Well-draining, slightly alkaline soil

  • Moderately moist but not wet conditions

  • Mild fertilizer in early spring

  • Sufficient winter cold in temperate climates

When these ideal conditions are met, herniaria plants will spread quickly, fill in empty spaces, and produce abundant flowers that provide early season color and interest in the garden. Regular shearing can help to shape them and promote a more compact form.

herniaria, leaves, photo of green leaves
Photo by Samson Vowles / Unsplash

Tips for Caring and Maintaining Herniaria Plants

As groundcovers, herniaria plants require very little care once established. Due to their adaptive nature, they are quite low-maintenance additions to the garden.

Some tips for caring for herniaria plants include:

Watering: Herniaria are drought tolerant, so only water during periods of extended dryness. Overwatering can cause root rot.

Fertilizing: Only fertilize herniaria plants lightly in early spring to promote growth and flowering. Too much fertilizer can cause soft, leggy growth.

Deadheading: Remove dead flowers to encourage additional flowering later in the season. New flowers will emerge where old ones were removed.

Shearing: Herniaria spreads via stolons that root where they touch the ground. Shearing or trimming the tops back after flowering will promote a fuller, more compact form.

Dividing: In early spring (March/April), herniaria plants can be divided to control their spread and produce more plants. Use a spade or garden fork to lift sections of the mat and separate into smaller clumps.

Weeding: Weeds can compete with herniaria for nutrients and light. Remove weeds as needed, being careful not to disturb the herniaria plants. Mulch can help suppress weeds.

Pruning: In fall or late winter, remaining dead growth can be pruned back to the ground level to tidy up the plants before new growth emerges in spring.

In general, herniaria are low-maintenance perennials that:

  • Only require occasional watering in dry periods
  • Benefit from light fertilizing in early spring
  • Should have dead flowers removed to encourage re-blooming
  • Can be sheared and shaped after flowering
  • Can be divided every few years in spring
  • Need minimal weeding around plants
  • Should have dead tops pruned in fall or winter

With proper care and maintenance, herniaria plants will form attractive mats of evergreen foliage and provide interesting flowers early in the season in landscape beds, rock gardens, and between pavers.

herniaria, leaves, green and blue leaves plants
Photo by Annie Spratt / Unsplash

The Benefits and Uses of Herniaria in Landscaping and Medicine

Herniaria plants have several benefits and uses in both landscaping and traditional medicine:

Use as Groundcovers: Due to their low growing, spreading habit, herniaria plants make excellent groundcover plants for filling in open spaces in the landscape. They are particularly suitable for:

  • Between pavers and walkways

  • On slopes and rock gardens

  • Around the base of trees and shrubs

  • In crevices of stone walls

Low Maintenance: Herniaria require little watering, fertilizing or weeding once established.They are ideal groundcovers for owners with low-maintenance gardens.

Early Spring Flowers: The tiny white, pink or purple flowers of herniaria provide colorful interest and bloom very early in spring when few other plants are flowering.

Medicinal Uses: Herniaria species have a long history of traditional use for medicinal purposes, including:

  • Treatment of hernias due to the astringent properties of the plant.

  • Relief from hemorrhoids – an ointment made from the leaves was often applied externally.

In summary, herniaria plants offer many benefits for the landscape due to their:

  • Ability to form dense mats as groundcover plants

  • Low maintenance needs with little care required

  • Early spring flowering interest

  • Historical use in traditional medicinal remedies for hernias and hemorrhoids based on astringent properties

While modern medicine now provides more effective options, many gardeners still appreciate herniaria plants for their durability, adaptability and attractive contribution to the landscape as a flowering groundcover.

herniaria, groundcover, a forest filled with lots of tall trees
Photo by Jani-Petteri Tammi / Unsplash

More Helpful Guide

Frequently Asked Question

Does herniaria attract pollinators?

Herniaria flowers attract bees and butterflies.

What are some common names for herniaria glabra?

Some common names for herniaria glabra include smooth rupturewort, smooth herniaria, and green carpetweed.

Are any herniaria species threatened or endangered?

No herniaria species are considered threatened or endangered.

Is herniaria considered an invasive plant species?

No, herniaria is not considered an invasive plant. It spreads but is not aggressive.

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