Leopard’s bane (Doronicum orientale) is a flowering perennial that has been growing in gardens for hundreds of years. This plant has a long history that goes all the way back to the woodlands and meadows of Eurasia. There are thirty-five species of Doronicum, but only a few of those are available in today’s nurseries. I have the cultivars ‘Magnificum’ and ‘Finesse.’ They look very much alike. Magnificum has fewer petals and slightly wider petals and a darker center. Finesse’s petals are slightly narrower with a tendency to curl under a little at the tips, and it has a center ball that is almost the same color as its petals.
The leaves are fairly large and heart-shaped with jagged edges and an opening at the stem that at a quick glance can look like a piece of the leaf is missing. Leopard’s bane actually prefers cooler summer weather and especially cool night temperatures, so it grows very well here. Like most plants, it grows best in rich, organic soil. It likes partial shade and needs to have a lot of moisture because of its shallow roots.
Leopard’s bane is one of the first perennials to bloom here in the spring. The daisy-like flowers don’t last very long, probably only a couple of weeks. Both of my leopard’s bane (Magnificum and Finesse) have a single row of narrow petals, but some cultivars have flowers with double or semi-double petals. I have seen the flowers described as showy, although they have always seemed rather plain to me. They measure approximately two inches across and are the exact same bright yellow as the dandelion blossoms growing so abundantly (and at the same time) in our meadow.
Aside from the welcome spring color, the thing I like best about leopard’s bane is that it stays where I put it. The plants do take up a good bit of real estate in my garden (a mature clump of leopard’s bane will be at least two feet tall) but unlike most of my other perennials, it is not at all invasive.
Deer and other animals will not damage this plant because all parts of it are toxic.
Leopard’s bane is a very easy, no-fuss perennial. Gardening books advise digging and dividing leopard’s bane every three to four years. I’m a few years behind in dividing mine… but they don’t seem to mind.