Miniature brass buttons plant

Brass buttons is an unusual groundcover.

Brass buttons, Leptinella squalida (formerly Cotula squalida), is an unusual, very low-growing plant in the daisy family (Compositae). This is one of about 30 species in this genus occurring in Australasia and southern South America. In its native New Zealand this creeping herbaceous perennial is found in open, damp places in lowland to sub-alpine regions of North, South and Stewart Islands. Hardy in zones 4-10, it only grows about half an inch to 2” high but spreads to form dense mats of foliage.

The tiny leaves resemble fern fronds.

The feathery or fern-like leaves are a dull grayish-green with gray, purple, and black tints. The delicate-looking leaves grow up to 2” long and ½“ wide (but are often much smaller). This species is evergreen in milder climates (zones 9-10); its leaves will remain under snow cover in colder climates (although they turn rather reddish or dark colored rather than their normal green), but plants die back to the ground when exposed. If plants do die back over the winter they will not look their best early in the spring. The leaves fill in by late spring and look good throughout the rest of the growing season. In autumn they turn a bronze, brassy or purple color.

Plants will die back in cold climates, producing new leaves again in early spring.

Tiny, yellowish-green to gold flowers are produced in spring. They are composed of just the central disk flowers of the normal daisy flower (called disciform), and minus the white ray flowers, they appear something like miniature buttons – giving rise to the common name of brass buttons.

The tiny gold flowers give this plant its common name of brass buttons.

Flowers are followed by tiny capsular fruit. The flowers and fruit are not very conspicuous, however, partly because of the size, but also because of the color that doesn’t stand out from the foliage. Because of its short stature and small flowers, most people don’t bother to deadhead plantings. However, a lawn mower could be used to remove spent flowers on larger plantings.

Brass buttons does best in full sun in cooler climates, but needs part shade in hotter climates. It prefers acidic, loamy soil rich in organic matter, but adapts to many other soil types. Because it is very shallow rooted, it does best with annual fertilization except in very fertile soils. It is not drought tolerant and needs regular watering, especially on light soils. It does not do well in compacted soil, and may need to be lifted and replaced after loosening and amending the soil if it is languishing after a few years. It has few insect or disease problems.

Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’

This plant spreads aggressively by rhizomatous runners just under or on the soil surface. In heavy clay it spreads more slowly than when grown on light soils. It will continue to spread indefinitely as new sections root. It can be easily propagated by division in spring or early fall – just dig up a clump, cut it into pieces and move it to another spot. Space newly purchased plants about a 9-12” apart.

Brass buttons is typically used as a ground cover for small areas, in rock gardens and as a turf substitute in mild climates. It tolerates very light foot traffic, so it is well suited to grow between flagstones or along the edges of pathways. Combine it with Scotch moss (Sagina subulata) for good contrast in texture between stepping stones. It can be a good stand-in for moss in places that are too sunny for most mosses, or makes an interesting addition to containers as a ground cover under larger plants.

Leptinella perpusilla

The very small scale of L. squalida would make it a good addition to a railroad garden or other miniature landscape for its fern-like appearance.

The most common variety is ‘Platt’s Black’ which was a sport discovered in the garden of Jane Platt of Portland, Oregon. This variety has nearly black leaves with a bright green tip and dark-colored flowers. Some people like it, but other think it looks blighted or dying. It looks particularly good in contrast with bright green, gold or chartreuse-foliaged companion plants, such as golden Scotch moss. Other similar species may also be offered, including L. perpusilla.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison


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The fern-like New Zealand brass buttons plant is a great alternative to your lawn, but you might be concerned about how to grow it successfully.

Brass buttons are feathery-looking black and green plants that are easy to plant and easy to maintain. Botanically known as Leptinella gruveri, these plants are native to New Zealand, South America and the Falkland Islands.

They can be found in open, damp places, forming a dense mat of foliage, making them perfect as a ground cover plant. The name of this creeping herbaceous perennial comes from its cluster of flowers that give it its button-like appearance.

Brass button plants in your lawn can add aesthetic appeal to your landscape. The best part? They require little maintenance and grow fast!

Overview

Common Name: Brass button plant
Scientific Name: Leptinella gruveri
Family: Asteraceae
Origin: New Zealand, South America, and the Falkland Islands
Height: 1/2″ to 2″
Light: Partial shade to full sun
Water: Even, regular watering
Soil: Tolerates most soil conditions
Blooms: June-July
Flower: Tiny yellow green flowers
Leaf: Small, delicate 2″ long flowers
Foliage: Grayish-green (tints of purple and black)

Types of Miniature Brass Buttons

There are a few different varieties of Leptinella plants to consider when planting out your ground cover landscape.

Platt’s Black Brass Button

Black foliage with yellow white flowers. Source: D.Eickhoff

This variety of Leptinella gruveri is a perfect option for planting along the edges of the pathways or between flagstones. They’ve got feathery, bronze or black foliage.

They bear miniature green flowers during the summer season. They grow perfectly in a soil that doesn’t dry out completely and when watered well, can spread out and form a dense mat.

Leptinella squalida

Dense, light-green matted foliage. Source: Mollivan Jon

Forming a mass of tiny fern-like leaves, pressed tightly against each other, Leptinella squalida is a variety of brass button with a greenish bronze look. It can grow up to 2″ (5cm) tall and has evergreen foliage.

You can use this particular type to form a turf-like carpet. It can spread up to 8″ and can be grown in most types of soil. It produces yellow and green flowers in June and July.

Leptinella gruveri

Classic darker green foliage. Source: MeganEHansen

If you’re looking for a filler to cover up gaps between flagstones in moist and shady areas, this is one of the best perennials to consider. It forms evergreen foliage that quickly fills gaps and helps keep the weeds at bay.

You can use it as a lawn substitute for smaller areas. Its green flowers that bloom during early and mid-summer are gorgeous but also blend in to the landscape. Be it a container, rock garden or small lawn, Leptinella gruveri can make any place it’s planted in look great.

Leptinella minor

White flowers, whispy foliage. Source: Mollivan Jon

This variety has tiny, feather-like, evergreen foliage with a deep green and bronze tinge. Leptinella minor is a kind of brass buttons plant that’s easy to grow in all sorts of soil. You’ve to keep watering it regularly to avoid the soil from drying out.

You can easily propagate it by dividing the clump and slicing them into small pieces in spring or early fall. It works very well as a ground cover for alpine trough gardens or forming a moss-like carpet in containers.

Caring for Leptinella Plants

New Zealand brass buttons plants are extremely low-maintenance. Being the perfect filler for pathways and narrow corridors, all you need to do is water them regularly and mow them regularly to avoid overgrowth.

Here’s a quick rundown on how to take care of this evergreen herbaceous groundcover.

Light

It needs a decent amount of sunlight. If you live in cooler climates, a preferable location would be somewhere that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. However, in hotter climates, brass buttons tend to grow better in partially shady areas.

Water

You’ll have to water your brass buttons frequently. They’re intolerant to drought and depend on regular watering for survival. They’re shallow-rooted plants, so any period of dry soil is enough to kill them.

Soil

These plants are tolerant almost any kind of soil. However, the most critical requirement for its growth is to have well-draining soil. They prefer slightly acidic soil that’s rich in organic matter, but remain adaptable to other soil types including alkaline and neutral pH soil.

It may not grow as well in compacted, heavy clay soil. You’ll need to amend the soil before planting miniature brass buttons again.

Fertilizer

Once your plant is well-established, only then you should fertilize it. Use a half-strength, all-purpose fertilizer. You can fertilize the plant in early spring and then in early summer. Don’t worry about fall or winter fertilizing, as the growth rate slows down during those seasons.

Repotting

Repotting is easy, as they’re hardy to intensive handling. You can move them from container to container without a problem, as well as dig them up from certain areas of your yard and transplant them in others.

Propagation

Once established, these plants are crazy growers and can spread quite fast. You may want to propagate it by division, splitting up the bunches and sowing them in different locations in your yard. The best season to propagate brass buttons is spring or early fall. Make sure to space the plants 9-12” apart when sowing.

Pruning

To prevent overgrowth, thin 2-3 times per year. You can use a lawn mower for larger surfaces and pruning shears for smaller containers.

Problems

If you’re addressing their water needs and fertilizing them well, you shouldn’t have too many problems with this plant.

However, there are a few things you need to watch out for.

Growing Problems

Climate can affect plant growth. If you are living in a place that is dry, you’ll need to water brass buttons quite frequently to keep them in their original condition. Similarly, for light soils, regular watering is a must. Also, they have a tendency to spread indefinitely. You have to remain vigilant in pruning them to keep them from overtaking your garden.

Pests and Diseases

Brass buttons are generally pest-free. You’re unlikely to face any problems related to pest or diseases.

FAQs

Q. Is New Zealand brass button a fern?

A. No, it has a fern-like appearance, but it’s not actually a fern.

Q. Can I grow brass buttons in a container and put in my room?

A. Yes! You can grow in a container as long as you place in an area of your house that gets bright, indirect light.

Q. How often do I need to fertilize?

A. Twice per year. Once in early spring and then in early summer using a half-strength, all-purpose fertilizer is sufficient for healthy growth

Q. It snows too much where I live. Is it okay to grow brass buttons in my lawn?

A. If you’re able to protect the leaves from snow, they’ll turn brown but will stay in place. Exposure to cold will cause the leaves to die and fall. New growth will come out in spring.

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Leptinella Information – Tips On Growing Brass Buttons In Gardens

Brass buttons is the common name given to the plant Leptinella squalida. This very low growing, vigorously spreading plant is a good choice for rock gardens, the spaces between flagstones, and lawns where turf won’t grow. Keep reading to learn more Leptinella information, including the growing and care of brass button plants.

Leptinella Information

Brass buttons gets its name from the small yellow to green flowers it produces in the spring. The plant is in the daisy family, and its flowers look very much like the centers of daisy flowers, minus the long white petals. These small, hard looking flowers are said to resemble buttons.

Leptinella brass button plants are native to New Zealand but are widespread now. They are hardy from USDA zones 4 through 9, though just what that means depends on the zone. In 9

and 10, the plants are evergreen and will last all year. In colder climates, the leaves may die back.

If protected by snow or mulch, the leaves will turn brown but stay in place. If exposed to the cold winter air, the leaves will die and new ones will grow in the spring. This is fine, though the new leaf growth will take a month or two to come back and the plant won’t be as attractive in the spring.

Growing Brass Buttons

Growing brass buttons in the garden is very easy. In cooler climates, the plants like full sun, but in hotter areas, they fare better with partial light shade. They will grow in a wide range of soils, though they prefer well drained, rich soil with frequent watering.

They spread aggressively through runners just underground. You may need to dig them up and separate them every now and again in order to keep them in check.

While some varieties boast green leaves, one particular variety that is very popular is called Platt’s Black, named for the garden of Jane Platt in which the plant was first documented. This variety has dark, almost black leaves with green tips and very dark flowers. Growing black brass buttons in the garden is a matter of personal taste – some gardeners think it looks on the verge of death, while others think it looks fascinating, especially interspersed with a bright green variety.

Either way, the plant makes an exceptional specimen in the garden.

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