Bowman’s root – planting, care and tips

Bowman's root (Gillenia trifoliata)
Bowman's root (Gillenia trifoliata) © A. Barra - Eigenes Werk, CC BY 3.0,

The Bowman’s root delights with its delicate star-like flowers as much as with a bright autumn color. This is how to plant and care for the plant.

Profile of Bowman’s root:

Scientific name: Gillenia trifoliata

Plant family: rose family (Rosaceae)

Other names: Indian physic

Sowing time: Spring

Planting time: all-season, best in autumn

Flowering period: June to July

Location: sunny (under wood) to partially shaded

Soil quality: sandy to loamy, nutrient rich, humus rich

These information are for temperate climate!

Use in: flower beds, bouquets, single position, group planting, borders, flower garden, natural garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 4

Bee and insect friendly: Yes

Plant characteristics and classification of Bowman’s root

Plant order, origin and occurrence of Bowman’s root

The Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) is native to Canada and the United States, where it can be found primarily in sparse mountain forests. Closely related to Gillenia trifoliata, the Bowman’s root, is the somewhat more delicate American ipecac(Gillenia stipulata). Its distribution area is limited to the USA, otherwise it is very similar. It is called Bowman’s Root, because its roots were used as a remedy by the Native Americans. The genus Gillenia belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae).

Characteristics of Bowman’s root


As a perennial herbaceous perennial, the Bowman’s root shoots out of its rootstock every spring with reddish-brown colored shoots and grows into a richly branched, bushy structured plant that grows to a height of around 60 to 100 centimeters (24 to 40 in). Gillenia trifoliata is very long-lived and grows stronger over the years.


The three-part, lanceolate leaves of the Bowman’s root are serrated on the edge and form a dense foliage. Small stipules are typical for this plant. In autumn, their leaves change to bright orange and yellow tones.


From June to July, the reddish buds of the Bowman’s root open to stalked, five-fold white flowers. The calyx remains reddish, which creates a nice contrast. The solitary flowers sit together in loose panicles and seem to hover above the foliage like little stars. The simple flowers are a popular food source for bees and butterflies.


After pollination, the flowers of the Bowman’s root develop nuts that contain the seeds.

Bowman’s root – cultivation and care


The Bowman’s root loves partially shaded locations, but can also cope with sunny places, but they should not be in the blazing midday sun. Gillenia trifoliata withers in the shade. A place on the edge of the wood is ideal for them.


The Bowman’s root feels most comfortable on humus-rich, well-drained, fresh soil. In ideal soil conditions, it grows particularly vigorously and can then also be significantly higher than 80 centimeters (32 in).

  • nutrient rich
  • humus rich
  • permeable
  • low in lime
  • pH neutral to slightly acidic


Planting in autumn is ideal, but in principle the Bowman’s root can be planted throughout the garden season. Placed in small groups, it has a particularly striking effect. As a planting distance, 40 centimeters (16 in) are recommended.


The Bowman’s root is an undemanding plant that sometimes takes some time to establish itself, but becomes more and more beautiful over the years. It is important to keep your soil sufficiently moist. Young plants in particular should be watered regularly and otherwise it should be ensured that Gillenia trifoliata is never dry.


It is best fertilized with an organic fertilizer such as compost or horn shavings, but overfertilization with artificial fertilizer must be avoided. Despite all its beauty, the Bowman’s root is a perennial that requires a little patience from the hobby gardener, because it grows slowly and takes a few years until it has established itself in its location and has grown to its full splendor.

Therefore, you should give the perennial some time, water it regularly if the soil does not bring enough moisture and only supply it moderately with organic fertilizer.


At the end of winter, the Bowman’s root should be cut back near the ground so that it can sprout again powerfully in spring. Spring is a good time to cut back when the first green shoot tips are showing. The shoots from the previous year, which mostly die off over the winter, are then carefully removed close to the ground without damaging the new shoots.

Those who like to have a little more order in the garden over the winter can also do the pruning in autumn. However, if you leave the plant standing over the winter and cut it back in spring, it can still draw on energy reserves.

In addition, the Bowman’s root is very hardy, but the old shoots serve as additional winter protection. It is therefore worth considering leaving the old shoots to the plant until next spring.


  • In ideal location conditions (partially shaded and moist) hardly any maintenance is necessary
  • Keep the soil moist
  • Fertilize moderately with organic fertilizer
  • Cut back in autumn or at the end of winter

Propagation / Sowing

Growing the Bowman’s root by seeds is relatively time consuming, because it usually takes a few years for the seedlings to grow into stately plants. The propagation by division means an effort, because the rootstock of a Gillenia trifoliata is very strong. The easiest way to propagate is by cuttings, which are cut in spring. As soon as sufficient roots have formed and the young plants are placed in the bed, you should make sure that at least the lowest pair of leaves is below the surface of the earth.

Propagation by sowing

Since it needs cold to germ, there are a few things to consider.

  • harvest the ripened seeds after flowering
  • keep dry and dark
  • alternatively, seeds can also be purchased
  • sow the seeds in potting compost and keep them well moist
  • in the first two to four weeks the ideal temperature is 18 ° to 22 ° C (64 to 72 ° F)
  • spend the next four to six weeks in a cool place at temperatures from -4 ° to + 5 ° C (25 ° to + 40 ° F)
  • keep moist
  • germination is triggered by the cold
  • in the case of snow, it is advisable to place the cultivation pots outside under a layer of snow during this time
  • if the temperatures during the cooling period are above or below the recommended values, the duration of the cooling period must be extended accordingly
  • after the cooling period, raise the temperature again to 5 ° to 12 ° (40 ° to + 54 ° F)
  • prick out seedlings
  • transplant young plants to a suitable spot outdoors
  • if necessary, fertilize the soil with organic fertilizer
  • water and keep moist

Diseases and pests

The Bowman’s root is largely spared by snails, only young plants should be checked as a precaution. Gillenia trifoliata is not susceptible to plant diseases.


Wintering the Bowman’s root is completely problem-free. The plant is adapted to low temperatures in its home in the North American forests and tolerates frosts down to -35 ° C / -31 ° F.

Only young plants or plants that were planted late in autumn can be given a slight winter protection in the first winter to be on the safe side. For this, the root area of the plants is protected with a fleece, brushwood or fir branches. The winter protection should be attached in such a way that it is still airy and there can be no waterlogging.

Use in the garden

The Bowman’s root is an all-round talent with many qualities. It harmonizes with many shrubs and can be easily integrated into herbaceous beds and borders. At the edge of the wood, Gillenia trifoliata becomes a striking focus. Thanks to its pretty autumn color, it is also in demand outside the flowering period and harmonises wonderfully with grasses.

From the Bowman’s root there is a cultivation with delicate pink flowers: Gillenia trifoliata ‘Pink Profusion’.

Healing powers of the Bowman’s root

Its roots were used as a remedy by the Native Americans. It was used as a laxative, for blood purification and for the treatment of liver diseases and also played a role in the spiritual cleaning rituals because it triggers vomiting.

However, the medicinal effects have not been proven, so it is better not to eat them.

Use as a cut flower

The Bowman’s root is also very suitable as a cut flower and it stays in the vase for a very long time. The delicate stems with the flowers can be cut at any time for the vase, but you shouldn’t take too much of the flowers from the beautiful perennial, otherwise it will lose its effectiveness. A sharp and clean cutting tool should be used for cutting. This ensures that the plant is not injured by crushing and that no diseases or pests are transmitted.

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