Prairie Alum Root

Photo of prairie alum root flower stalk with flowers
Scientific Name
Heuchera richardsonii
Saxifragaceae (saxifrages)

Flowers on tall, hairy, leafless flowering stems (scapes) in open or dense terminal panicles. The flowers are greenish or yellowish green, sometimes tinged with red, small (just under ½ inch long), bell-shaped, the upper lobes longer than and drooping over the lower ones, with orange-tipped stamens slightly emerging from the flower. Blooms April–June. Leaves basal on long, hairy petioles, palmate, often deeply cleft with large teeth; 3–5 lobes, quite showy.

Similar species: There are 4 species of Heuchera in Missouri. Common alum root (H. americana) is absent from the northwest third of the state and parts of the Bootheel; it has smaller flowers and is common on bluffs and rocky woods. Small-flowered alum root (H. parviflora) grows on bluffs and rock outcrops in the Ozarks; its leaves have rounded lobes. Maple-leaved alum root (H. villosa) is uncommon and known only from Shannon County.


Height: to 10 to 40 inches (flowering stalk); leaf clump to 18 inches high.

Where To Find
image of Prairie Alum Root distribution map

Scattered nearly statewide; most abundant in Glaciated and Unglaciated Plains sections; apparently absent from the Southeast Lowlands.

Occurs in upland prairies, glades, ledges and tops of bluffs; rock outcrops in moist to dry upland forests; also roadsides and railroads in sunny situations.

Alum roots have a long history of various medicinal uses. A close relative, coralbells (H. sanguinea), a red-flowered native of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, is familiar to gardeners and has many cultivars available. Our native alum roots are often cultivated as ornamentals, too.

Small bees, and no doubt other small insects, visit the flowers. Prairie plants that bloom any time besides early spring typically put their blossoms high atop tall flowering stalks. During their blooming time, they therefore keep above the grasses that eventually grow taller.

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About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!