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Porteranthus trifoliatus (Bowman's root)
Species Distribution Map: Click to enlarge
Map Color Key © 2013 BONAP

Porteranthus trifoliatus

Bowman's root or fawn's breath

(syn. Gillenia trifoliata)

Also known as Indian Physic or American Ipecac, Bowman's Root is an easy-to-grow native for bright shade or partial sun and it tolerates tree root competition well as long at it has a nice layer of organic mulch. Bowman's Root is lovely in a mass planting where its lacy white flowers can shimmer in a light breeze. It makes a nice filler - think Gaura for shade! A compact, rounded plant is topped in late spring with ethereal white flowers growing in a few loose terminal panicles, with red petioles and mahogany stems. Clean, disease-free foliage often turns deep bronzy red in fall and contrasts beautifully with the more typical oranges and yellows in the perennial border. Interesting form and unique seed heads persist into winter. Great for cut flowers!

Porteranthus trifoliatus LP32 - 32 per flat Availability
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2-3 Feet


3 Feet


30 Inches

Bloom Color


USDA Hardiness Zone 4-8

Bowman's root Interesting Notes

An underused native wildflower, Porteranthus trifoliatus is a showy plant with multiple seasons of interest. In late spring and early summer, the 3’ tall perennial is topped with a flurry of 5-petaled, delicate star-shaped flowers, similar in effect to the common garden perennial Gaura. As the flowers fade, bright red calyxes persist, offsetting the green dentate trifoliate leaves and playing with the red stems. In the fall, the leaves turn a bright maroon, allowing the garden more dimension as the plant goes into dormancy. Rated as one of the top 200 plants of the last 200 years by the Royal Horticultural Society, this plant is quite popular overseas while still being relatively unknown on our own shores.

Porteranthus trifoliatus, or Bowman’s root, grows in full sun to light shade in moist to average soil conditions. Found from southern Ontario to Delaware to Georgia to Kentucky, Arkansas, and Lousiana, Bowman’s root prefers mountainous habitats and can be found in dry to moist upland woods and rocky banks. It can tolerate drought conditions once established. Over time, the plant spreads into tight clumps and seldom needs dividing. In hotter climates, Bowman’s root is found in shadier conditions, usually in woodlands dominated by oak species.

Porteranthus trifoliatus does well in masses in the garden, especially along the edge of a woodland garden where the light transitions from shade to full sun. It is pest and disease-resistant with an especially unpalatable flavor to mammalian herbivores where the plant is a purgative. Many pollinators, from butterflies to skippers to bees, use the flowers as a nectar source in the spring and early summer.

Porteranthus trifoliatus Growing and Maintenance Tips

Thrives in moist, acidic to neutral, humus-rich soil, but is quite drought tolerant once established. It prefers shade in the hottest part of the day. Use as backround plant in perennial beds or in mass plantings to give a full, airy effect. Somewhat slow to establish, but like Amsonia or BaptisiaPorteranthus is worth the wait!

Good Substitutions

Bowman's root Porteranthus trifoliatus 'Pink Profusion'

Key Characteristics & Attributes

Full Shade
Full Shade
Part Sun
Part Sun
Deer Resistant
Deer Resistant
Drought Tolerant
Drought Tolerant

Additional Information

Soil Moisture Needs
Green Infrastructure
Plug Type
Landscape Plug™
For Animals
Caution: Toxic
Native to North America
Season of Interest (Flowering)
Late Spring / Early Summer
Propagation Type