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Plant of the Week: Pinkroot (Indian Pink)

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in "Plant of the Week." Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

Plant of the Week

Indian Pink, Pinkroot
Latin: Spigelia marilandica

Picture of Indian Pink, or Pinkroot, showing delicate pink tubular flowers with yellow interiors.

Choosing the most beautiful blossom in the plant world is a fruitless chore, but if one were to do so, the native wildflower Indian Pink would probably rank high on the top ten list. At least it would on mine because I have a well developed gaudy streak. I love bright color contrasts.

Indian Pinks are bright red on the outside and creamy yellow on the inside, a contrast that would have caused garden classicists such as Gertrude Jekyll to shutter at the thought of using such an abomination.

Indian Pink is native from New Jersey and through the southeastern states to Texas. It’s a member of the Loganiaceae family, a rather heterogeneous family that includes such plants as the semi-woody shrub Buddleia from China and the vining yellow jessamine (Gelsemium) from the eastern states.

Indian Pink grows to about 2 feet tall with sessile, opposite leaves whose margins can reach up to 4 inches in length.

The showy flowers appear in mid-summer in a one-sided terminal inflorescence called a cyme. The six to 10 red and yellow flowers point upward. The basal flower opening first, with each succeeding bloom smaller and less developed than its neighbor on the downhill side of the cyme. Individual blooms are to 2 inches long, tubular with five star-shaped terminal lobes pointed outward at the end of the tube. The fruit is a small, inconspicuous capsule enclosed in the calyx.

The genus name was given by Linnaeus and honors Adrian van der Spigel, a Brussels doctor who wrote a text in 1606 detailing the procedure for developing an herbarium to preserve dried plants.

An obsolete name for Spigelia is "wormgrass," so-called because a tincture prepared from the pink roots was used to rid humans of worms. All parts of the plant are poisonous. Apparently the plant is still used in some herbal medicinal preparations. Graphic descriptions of the effects of improperly administering the herb on children can be found on the web.

My personal acquaintance with Indian Pink came from Elmira Love, a lady who grew up on the prairies of Nebraska and knew and loved wildflowers. Mrs. Love taught school for years, and then well into her 80s wrote a nature column for the West Fork Observer in Washington County. Her Spigelia was her delight. She would always make a point of showing it off when it was in bloom.

One day Mrs. Love called in distress. Some low-life had come into her garden, dug up her plant and hauled it off. Such plant thievery is rare, but does occur among even garden folk, who as a rule, are the salt of the earth.

Spigelia is available from the nursery trade, but you have to hunt to find it. It can be propagated by cuttings with the slips taken in the spring as they emerge. Care must be exercised to prevent them from rotting during the rooting stage. Seed does not seem to be readily available in the trade.

Indian Pink is hardy throughout Arkansas and as far north as zone 5. It’s best sited to well-drained, organic soil that receives good light but not direct sun. The north or east side of a house makes a good location. Once established, the plant will form a clump that will gradually get a foot or so across. Plants should be watered during dry weather.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - August 11, 2000


The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.