The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Heartleaf Foamflower (Foamflower, False Mitrewort)


Scientific Name
Tiarella cordifolia L.


Plant Family
Saxifrage (Saxifragaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Spring to Late Summer



Heart-leaf Foamflower is a native erect perennial forb that has a flowering stem growing to 14 inches high.

The leaves are basal, heart shape at the base, with an acute tip and then with 5 to 7 palmately divided shallow lobes. The leaf stalks have glandular hair, some dense. The leaf surfaces usually have hair along the veins. The upper surface is a dark green, sometimes with purplish-brown mottling, the underside is much paler in color. Leaves on the flowering stem are absent or reduced to 1 smaller leaf.

The inflorescence is an upright raceme of 5 to 70 stalked flowers rising above the basal leaves. It is hairy like the leaf stalks.

The flowers are 5-parted with a bell shaped hypanthium, 5 whitish petals that are ovate to lanceolate in shape, tips 3-toothed and a narrowed clawed base. [NOTE: Varieties are available in the nursery trade for the home garden and finding a true T. cordifolia with petals that have 3-toothed tips may be difficult. The plants with pinkish petals are generally considered to be a cross - xHeucherella tiarelloides - and known as Foamy Bells]. The five sepals are of the same color but sometimes more pinkish while the petals remain white. These are spreading outward in flower and reflexed back in the fruiting state. The lobes of the calyx (the sepals) and the flower stalk are hairy. There are 10 very conspicuous stamens with white linear filaments and yellow oval anthers, two styles. Styles and stamens are well exserted from the calyx making a feathery or 'foamy' appearance.

Seed: Fertile flowers produce a 2-valved (chambered) seed capsule that is winged. One of the valves is 1.5 to 2x longer than the other. They contain 4 to 15 shiny black ellipsoid shaped seeds. The wings on the capsule allows for the wind to shake and disperse the seeds when the capsule splits apart along the inside seam.


Habitat: Foamflower grows from a rhizomatous root system that sometimes produces stolons for vegetative growth. Foamflower requires moist to moderately moist soils with partial sun to light shade such as found in forests, woody marsh edges. Full sun will burn the plants. It works well as an understory plant in dappled shade. In warmer climate zones the plant will be evergreen. Plants can be propagated by root division every few years in spring or autumn.

Names: The genus Tiarella, is from two Latin words, tiara, meaning 'turban' and ella, meaning 'diminutive', which together refer to the shape of the seed capsule, which also can be said to resemble a bishop's mitre - thus the alternate common name of "false mitrewort". The species name, cordifolia, is also from the Latin and refers to the heart shaped leaves. The author name for the plant classification - 'L.' is for Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.

Comparisons: There is one other species of Tiarella that is similar, T. trifoliata, but there the flowering stem is not a raceme but a branching panicle, there are up to 5 leaves on the flowering stem and the petals are not toothed. The two species will not be found together unless planted together, as T. trifoliata is a species on the western edge of North America and T. cordifolia is an eastern plant.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Foamflower Flower spike Foam Flower Seeds

Above: 1st photo - Foamflower can be found blooming from early May until late summer mainly on the path through the bog and also on Violet Trail. 2nd photo - A flower raceme with flowers having the true-to-species 3-tooth petals. Photo ©Thomas G. Barnes, USDA-NRCS Plants Database. 3rd photo - Seed capsules formed by early July. Note the large wing.

Below: When the color is more with a pinkish tinge the cross known as Foamy Bells is indicated.

Foamflower Foamflower

Below: 1st photo - The lobed leaf with heart shaped base. 2nd photo - All leaves of the plant are basal except one as shown below on the flower stem.

Foam Flower leaf Foam Flower basal leaves

Below: 1st photo - Sometimes the leaves in certain plants have a purplish coloration in the veining. 2nd photo - A flowering stem may occasionally have one small leaf as shown.

leaf example stem leaf

Below: 1st photo - An historic photo of May 31, 1952 taken by Martha Crone, of the bog path showing a massed bed of Foamflower that does not exist today. 2nd photo - The same area on June 5, 2008. Planting masses of the same species was common in the Garden at Martha Crones times. Today species are interwoven into the a more diverse group when planted.

Historic Foamflower photo Modern Foamflower photo


Notes: Eloise Butler recorded obtaining specimens of Heart-leaf Foamflower in 1909 and again on April 30, 1912 from Gillett's Nursery in Southwick, Mass. The plant was listed on Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time; also she had noted planting it in 1946 and '47. Foam Flower has been in the Garden continuously and replanted when necessary, as recently as 2012 and those plants along Violet Way appear to be the cross known as Foamy Bells.

T. cordifolia is generally considered to be not native to Minnesota; specimens have been collected only from Stearns County between 1978 and 1998 in Fairhaven Township; those may have been planted or are they a remnant of a long lost population?? The MN DNR does not list any current county populations. It is known in several NE Wisconsin counties, far from Minnesota and is considered rare in that state. Its native range in the US is generally east of the Ohio River although Wisconsin reports it as native in those several counties, but endangered. In Canada it is known from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.