Masterwort is a rather ugly common name for what really is a beautiful perennial.
The genus name is Astrantia. I prefer it over masterwort, which sounds like the name for a gargoyle peering from the corner of a medieval cathedral, a villainous wizard from “Harry Potter,” or maybe a serious skin disorder. One friend says it sounds like an insult, or it could be a credit card slogan —“Masterwort … what’s in your wallet?”
Astrantia comes from “aster,” the Latin word for star, an accurate description for the lovely, starry blossoms adorning this summer bloomer. These are intensely romantic plants with an open, mounding clump of green foliage and star-topped stems.
I found the amethyst-colored “Star of Beauty” and “Star of Royals,” an ivory-white astrantia tipped in pink, both offered in a catalog years ago. Sense a trend developing here? Yep, many astrantia varieties have “star” in the name.
Winter hardy in our USDA zone, astrantia is often overlooked as a part-shade to light shade-loving perennial. My plants thrive in morning sun and afternoon shade cast by my north-facing house. Grown in full sun, astrantia produces more foliage than flowers. They are deer and pest resistant.
These plants love moist, rich soil, so they’ve particularly relished our recent rainy spells. If the soil gets too dry, astrantia will die out, and fairly quickly, too. Generally, my perennial beds fend for themselves when it comes to watering, unless the plants are new and getting settled. But it is so worth the effort to regularly water astrantia.
The plants also respond well to a dose of water-soluble fertilizer once in the spring and in mid-summer (if I remember …). Propagate by dividing the clump in half using a sharp spade in early spring or fall. Replant the pieces no deeper than ½- to 1-inch below the soil surface. If you’ve got the inclination, astrantia can be started from seed.
Here are a few to look for:
“Star of Beauty,” mauve flowers are long-lasting and appealing to bees and other pollinators.
“Star of Royals,” compact plants produce ivory blooms dusted with pink; deadheading encourages flowering into fall.
“Star of Treasure,” rose-pink blooms on light green foliage.
“Star of Fire,” red stars on nearly black stems.
“Star of Venice,” a ruby-red butterfly magnet.
“Abbey Road,” violet and white starry dome-like flowers on tall, nearly black stems.