Astilbe are native to the Far East and North America.Their common names, False Goatsbeard and False Spirea, gives you an idea of their flower forms. Their plume-shaped, colorful flowers stand above the ferny foliage and dance in the breeze.
I often see wild Astilbe growing in abandoned fields, especially in moist clay soils. Their biggest attributes are their hardiness, low maintenance, and ability to flower freely in shady conditions, producing colorful, long lasting blooms. No wonder astilbe has become such a darling of the perennial flower garden.
Astilbe varieties took a giant leap forward through the breeding work of the German scientist, George Arends. He crossed species of Asian and North American astilbes by collecting the dust-like seeds, and specialized in getting this hard-to-germinate seed to grow. These hybrids increased the number of flower forms, colors and plant sizes dramatically, making this wild plant an attractive option in the formal flower garden. You'll often see his name associated with many astilbe varieties.
While astilbes are mainstays of shade and woodland gardens, they can also be grown in a variety of other locations in your landscape. Astilbe makes excellent pond-side plants, spreading and providing habitat for dragonflies and hummingbirds. Plant them where the soil stays moderately moist, but not where the waters will inundate the plants. Some varieties, such as 'Darwin's Surprise', grow less than 1 foot tall, making them good candidates as ground covers in shady locations.
Astilbe can also be grown under tall deciduous trees such as maple and oak. However, because of their need for soil moisture, they may not thrive in these locations as they try to compete with the trees' root systems for water. They make a better transition plant.