Plant Profile: Sanguisorba

This genus of herbaceous perennials originates from the cooler areas of the Northern Hemisphere and is commonly known as Burnet. As a herb Sanguisorba minor has medicinal uses and it's Latin name describes it's use: sanguis (blood) and sorbeo (to soak up). Now it is an ornamental plant and one of my must have plants due to it's long flowering period, lovely flowers of varying shapes and shades of red, pink and white and it's self sufficiency in the garden. It is a tough, hardy and long-living plant, doesn't need staking or fussing and will grow happily in shade or sun. It also has good autumn foliage colour as the flowers start to fade.

A close up of  S. 'Pink Brushes'

S. 'Pink Brushes' in the stock beds

Sanguisorba livens up a border with its tall, airy flowers, growing happily in amongst grasses and other perennials and it will tolerate most soils. Left to its own devices it will form a sizeable plant after three or four years, but is not invasive and stays in a well behaved manner in the border. The decorative leaves form a basal rosette from which the flower spikes grow. The flowers are not dense or overpowering, but add structure and interest amongst other plants in the border, almost like Gypsophela in a vase of flowers.

The lovely white Sanguisorba canadensis

The flowers vary in size and colour: from small red bobbles dancing on tall light stems to showy and flamboyant fluffy pink of S.'Pink Brushes', there is something for everyone. They also vary from pale delicate pinks through to pink and white and then the dark reds. I love them all but perhaps especially the dark reds amongst tall grasses and perennials.

The petite but very fetching S. 'Tanna' at Woodside 

Because of their toughness and ability to cope with most soils (except very dry soils), sun or light shade they are great in mixed borders, prairie gardens and the more exposed colder gardens of Scotland. I successfully grew them in my last garden, which was on top of an exposed hill in central Scotland at 850 feet above sea level, in clay soil. Their pretty shades of pink, white and red go well with other pinks, mauves, blues and whites. I have previously teamed them up with grasses, Achilleas, Echinops and Asters.

S. tenuifolia var 'Alba' in the walled garden at Woodside

S. 'Crimson Queen' and Calamgrostis in the nursery garden

If you have a space in your garden I would recommend you give these plants a go. Which one to go for depends on your colour preference. I have grown all these cultivars in exposed gardens on clay soil. The Quirky Bird recommends the following which are all available from the nursery:

Sanguisorba canadensis
A big, regal-looking plant with long, tapering, white candles on sturdy, well-branched stems to 1.8m or more in sun or part shade and moist soil. 

Sanguisorba officinalis
A mass of raspberry-red baubles appear to float in the air on tall stems over a clump of pale-green leaves to over 1m where happy. Tolerant of a wide range of conditions owing to its large tap root. Flowering from mid-summer into autumn and self-seeds. Looks great against a lighter background of white render or amongst grasses.

Sanguisorba 'Crimson Queen'
Brand new cultivar with striking crimson flowerheads, July to September. 

Sanguisorba ‘Pink Tanna’

Lots of smallish, elongated, pale-pink flowerheads on a taller plant to 90cm. Great with small-flowered Asters and against a dark background. Looks like lots of wee fireworks pinging off in all directions.

Sanguisorba ‘Tanna’
A compact little plant with nice shiny green crinkle edged leaves and swarms of small wine red baubles to 60cm.

Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘White Tanna’
A recent introduction with neat, white caterpillars, around 1.4m tall. Would create a beautiful transparent screen for solid perennials such as Lythrum and Veronicastrum. 

Sanguisorba ‘Pink Brushes’
Narrow, light-pink bottlebrushes, to 20cm long, on upright stems. 1.8m. 

Sanguisorba tenuifolia var. alba
A cracking plant that is both tall and graceful with cascades of long, white, tassel-like flowers that create a waterfall effect in the border. Brilliant against Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’. To 2m in any reasonable soil. 

Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Pink Elephant’
Long, pinkish-red spikes on tall stems. 1.8m. 

Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Purpurea

Similar to Sanguisorba tenuifolia var. alba but with maroon purple flowers, foliage turns butter yellow in autumn. To 1.8m.

Autumn colour of S. 'Pink Elephant'

S. canadensis

Find us on Facebook:

All contents  and photographs ©  Rona, unauthorised reproduction & use of these images is strictly forbidden


  1. For anyone reading, I can confirm Sanguisorba do remarkably well here in Scotland. Another plant I love and I think you managed to cover it all in this profile Rona.

    1. Thanks Angie, they are defintly worth trying in the garden :)


Post a comment