If you can grow false spirea in your garden, or your gardener is successful, well then, my garden hat is off as I bow. The more commonly sold A. x arendsii hybrids are indeed more popular, but they also require copious amounts of water. This is why I am focusing on A. chinensis, as Sunset explains it can tolerate a little more dryness, a sensitive subject during California's droughts.
I have a mental list of plants I would love to grow but don't feel particularly generous with water to keep them thriving, such as Phlox paniculata or Hydrangea macrophylla. Regardless, if you have a site condition where there is excess moisture in shade, then this might be a plant to consider.
Astilbes are only in the nurseries when they are in bloom, which for this species is late summer. As other summer blooming plants are fading, false spirea could be a breath of fresh air in the garden, sparking some pastel color or white. Do not be skimpy. The delicate blooms on one plant can look a little lost in the landscape. Instead, consider planting in a large mass as a statement...if you have sufficient water. Can you tell I'm jealous of East Coast gardeners with all their available rainfall?
Botanical Name: Astilbe chinensis
Astilbe: Greek, the letter "a" means without, combined with stilbe for shine, references the leaves of some in this species have dull leaves (without shine)
Chinensis: Associated with China
Common Name: False spirea
Family Name: Saxifragaceae
Origin: China, Japan
Positioning: Foreground, middle ground, forest edge, water's edge
Garden Themes: Woodland/shade, perennial, cottage/informal, aquatic (on embankments, bog), cutting, patio/courtyard
Uses: Border, mass, cut flower (fresh and dried), foundation, container
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Form: Mound (erect when in bloom)
Size: 2' tall and spreading (varies by cultivars)
Outstanding Feature(s): Flower
Stem: Rhizomatous. Green, possibly with some red
Type: Odd pinnately compound (some leaflets are trifoliate)
Shape: Ovate, oblong
Margin: Serrate, double serrate
Color: Dark green to bronze turning yellow in fall
Surface: Smooth, glabrous (so, not dull)
Flower: Summer. Showy panicle of tiny 5-petaled flowers in white, pink, red, or purple (varies by cultivar)
Fruit: Autumn. Showy follicle (may be absent in some cultivars)
cultural requirements, tolerances & problems
Sunset Zones: A2, A3; 1-7, 14-17 (short-lived in 8,9, 18-24)
USDA Zones: 4-8
Light: Part shade to full shade
WUCOLS SF Bay Area Hydro Zone: Moderate
Moisture Retention: Moist or brief dryness
pH: Acidic to slightly alkaline
Tolerances: Deer, rabbit
Branch Strength: N/A
Insects: White fly, Japanese beetle
Disease: Powdery mildew, leaf spots
citations & attributions
Bayton, R. (2019). The Royal Horticultural Society's the Gardener's Botanical: An Encyclopedia of Latin Plant Names. London: Mitchell Beazley.
Growing Guide. "Astilbe, Chinese." Cornell University, Ithaca. Accessed on August 7, 2021, from http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening/scenecea9.html.
Norris Brenzel, K. (Ed.). (2012). The New Sunset Western Garden Book. New York: Time Home Entertainment, Inc.
Plant Finder. "Astilbe chinensis 'Visions.' Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis. Accessed on August 7, 2021, from https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=241994&isprofile=0&.
RHS. "Astilbe chinensis.' Royal Horticulture Society, London. Accessed on August 7, 2021, from https://www.rhs.org.uk/Plants/1825/Astilbe-chinensis/Details.
Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. "WUCOLS IV Plant List." University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Davis. Accessed on July 27, 2021.
Feature photo purchased from Shutterstock