Uncinia rubra 'Firedance'

Uncinia rubra ‘Firedance’

Uncinia is a showy addition to any border or garden with its shiny red-bronze foliage.

Uncinia is a genus of about 35-45 species of tufted,evergreen perennials, known as hook-sedges (or hook grasses or bastard grasses in New Zealand. The plants develop hooks, which are used to attach it’s fruit to passing animals, especially birds. The name derives from the latin word uncinus, which means a hook or barb. Uncinia is a “satellite genus” of the very large genus Carex.  Most species are found in Australia, New Zealand and South America.

Uncinia flower
Uncinia flower

Some species are rhizomatous and most are native to damp, tussocky grassland, moist woodland or swamps. Grown for their colourful leaves, Uncinia are suitable for the front of borders, or gravel plantings. Though they are frost hardy to about -10 degrees C for short periods, longer term exposure to frost is best avoided for some species and so these should be grown in cool greenhouses. They prefer moderately fertile, humus-rich, moist but well-drained soil in full sun or light dappled shade. They are not troubled by any pests or diseases.

The most common Uncinia used in gardens are U. rubra (around 30 cms high, with greenish red to rich reddish brown stems and foliage and with dark brown to black flowers) and U. uncinata (25cms tall and with pale brown to red-brown leaves and dark brown flowers). Both bear flowers in mid to late summer. Foliage colour is best in late spring.

Uncinia ucinata 'Red'
Uncinia uncinata ‘Red’

The plants gradually form dense clumps of short, arching, grassy, evergreen foliage.  Slow growing, Uncinia look at their best in groups as leafy ground cover at the front of a sunny border. They can be combined with other perennial grasses that enjoy similar conditions; e.g.

  • Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’

  • Phormium ‘Alison Blackman’

  • Ophiopogon planiscapus.

It will do well in soggy areas and around water features and ponds. U. rubra ‘Firedance’ will add a highlight to the rock garden as well as the mixed border, and it also looks great in containers. It’s advisable to avoid planting them next to vigorous plants that would smother them, as they need lots of sun to do well. Comb or rake off any old, tired or dead leaves and flowers in spring. If necessary they can be cut back (by up to half) at almost any time from April to July, but should not be cut back in autumn or winter.

Uncinia uncinata
Uncinia uncinata

You can raise Uncinia seeds in a cold frame for protection and hardiness. Seeds can be started in the late winter or early spring and should be sown in good quality, well-draining seed compost, pressing the seeds into the soil. Lower temperatures of less than 41°F are very effective. Constant moisture must be maintained and trays should not be left in direct sunlight. Once seedlings are large enough to handle, move them into a pot to grow on. Transplanting can be done in spring or summer after all frost danger has passed.

Old School Gardener