Perennial Plant of the Year 2020

Gardeners Resources, Perennial of the Year

Each year, members of the Perennial Plant Association from all across North America vote on their choice for Perennial Plant of the Year™

Their pick for 2020 is Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’. It had been nominated again and again over the past years and finally came out on top – persistence pays off! 


No, not Louis XIV of France, rather, a fabulous high-impact perennial. Aralia ‘Sun King’ brings a bold pop of glowing color and texture – the perfect anchor for the shade to shade-to-part-shade border. “Discovered” by plantsman Barry Yinger in a Japanese garden center (atop a department store), this perennial has become a beloved shade garden staple across the country. Bright yellow shoots emerge in spring, then grow up, up, up…can reach 6′ tall and nearly as wide. The small, cream-colored umbels of flowers are attractive to bees and are followed by tiny dark (inedible) drupes. Despite the Sun King’s stature, it’s very well behaved – little to no reseeding or suckering.


USDA Zones 3 to 9


Part shade to full shade. A few hours of sun brings out the yellow; tends to be
more chartreuse in deeper shade.



Not picky – but can flag during dry spells, so provide additional water as necessary.



Terrific in combination with hosta, ferns, and past PPOY stars such as Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ (2013) and Brunnnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ (2012). A knockout when placed near Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ or other maroon-leaf woody. And don’t forget containers – Sun King is bold and beautiful in
a big pot!


Bold, gold, compound foliage is deer resistant. Bigger than your average perennial, Sun King is frequently described as 4’ tall and as wide, once established, but 6’ tall is not unusual for older plants. Aralia ‘Sun King’ won the International Hardy Plant Union Outstanding Plant Award in 2012. The species Aralia cordata is a member of the Araliaceae family. Native to Japan, Korea, and SE China, where the young shoots are harvested and blanched or pickled.



Low maintenance deciduous perennial; remove dead foliage after a freeze. Supplemental water helps keep foliage from getting crispy during a dry spell.



Aralia ‘Sun King’ has no patents or other restrictions. Propagate by vegetative cuttings (stem or root). A quick and easy crop from rooted liners, one- or two-gallon containers finish in 6-10 weeks. Smaller pot sizes not recommended. Do not allow to dry down – requires consistent moisture and moderate fertility. Pinch helpful, no PGRs required.



Information provided courtesy of the Perennial Plant Association website

Past Perennial Plant of the Year selections are as follows:

2019 – Alpine Betony (Stachys monieri ‘Hummelo’)
2018 – Ornamental Onion (Allium ‘Millenium’)
2017 – Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) 
2016 – Japanese Anemone (Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert)
2015 – Dwarf Cranesbill (Geranium ‘Biokovo’)
2014 – Tall Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’)
2013 – Japanese Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’)
2012 – Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’)
2011 – Arkansas Blue Star (Amsonia hubrichtii)
2010 – Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis)
2009 – Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macro ‘Aureola’)
2008 – Cranesbill Geranium (Geranium ‘Rozanne’)
2007 – Blue Catmint (Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’)
2006 – Border Pink (Dianthus Firewitch)
2005 – Lenten Rose (Helleborus x hybridus mixture)
2004 – Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum)
2003 – Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’)
2002 – Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘David’)
2001 – Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’)
2000 – Dwarf Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’)
1999 – Golsturm Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’)
1998 – Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’)
1997 – Perennial Salvia (Salvia x sylvestris May Night)
1996 – Beard-tongue (Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’)
1995 – Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
1994 – Dwarf Astilbe (Astilbe simplicifolia ‘Sprite’)
1993 – Hybrid Speedwell (Veronica ‘Sunny Border Blue’)
1992 – Threadleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’)
1991 – Palace Purple Coral Bells (Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’)
1990 – Creeping Woodland Phlox (Phlox stolonifera)