Common name: Rhubarb
Botanical name: Rheum palmatum
What it is: An old-fashioned Pennsylvania Dutch favorite with stout, red, celery-like stems and large, green leaves that remind you of elephant ears. The stems are the edible part. Don’t eat the leaves… they’re sickenly high in oxalic acid. Rhubarb is winter hardy and comes back year after year.
Size: Bushy plants can easily grow 5 to 6 feet around and 4 feet high.
Where to use: Striking as a centerpiece in a four-square vegetable garden but also ornamental enough to star in a flower bed or border. Does best in full sun. Will cry out for mercy in soggy clay.
Why I like it: Not only is this an edible that comes back year after year, it’s striking enough to be grown as an ornamental. I think it looks tropical. For maximum production, cut off any flower stalks, but I let mine alone and enjoy the muscular white flower heads. Even if you never ate a rhubarb stalk, it’d be worth adding to a perennial garden or mixed bed.
My favorite pie is strawberry-rhubarb, and one of my favorite jams is a blend of blueberries and rhubarb (“bluebarb?”)