Physostegia virginiana, the Obedient Plant

Physostegia virginianaPhysostegia virginiana, also known as the Obedient Plant

A plant profile of Physostegia virginiana, commonly known as the Obedient Plant.

Very few plants do as they are told. If you want a climber to grow 15 feet up a tree it will grow 20 feet over your next-door neighbour’s fence! If you want a plant to attract lots of wildlife to your garden it will act like a magnet to all the local cats who consequently use your garden as a toilet!

Many plants behave and do just the job you intended them to, but there is one plant in particular that is obedient by name and obedient by nature.

If you have a friend that is not the slightest bit interested in plants or gardening, treat them to an Obedient Plant AKA Physostegia virgiana (pictured). Your friend’s complete boredom of plants and flowers might just disappear overnight.

How many plants do you know that can perform a special magic trick? The Obedient Plant is the only one I know of. I won’t hold you in suspense any longer, the magic trick involves the flowers. When you take the flower of any other plant between your thumb and forefinger and gently try and move it around the flower spike the flower will do one of two things. It will either snap off, or it will spring back to it’s original position.

Physostegia virgiana however has flowers that stay in the new position when you let them go! Hence the common name. If you are a keen gardener and study plants and flowers in any detail, handling them on a daily basis you will find this completely strange and weird. So how does the Obedient Plant do it?

The individual flower stalks of the Obedient Plant, or to be more scientific the pedicels, are completely malleable. This allows the flower to be moved in any direction without snapping off.

Physostegia virgiana can be found growing wild in Eastern North America. It grows where the soil is reliably moist, for example on river banks or in waterlogged meadows. It therefore needs similar conditions when cultivated in the garden environment, although given these conditions the ‘obedient’ bit seems to go out of the window because it will thrive in such conditions and indeed become quite invasive. The soil should also be reasonably nutritious and the site should ideally be in full sun. Physostegia virgiana is fully hardy.

The extraordinary flowers are about 3cm long and emerge throughout summer and into early autumn, so it is flowering now in many gardens, although I do wonder how many gardeners actually know about the ‘magic’ bit. The flowers vary in colour, from white to pink to purple, they are lipped and hooded. They are also good for cutting, so stick them in the middle of the dining room table, if the dinner party is a bit quiet they will provide the perfect talking point to spark the conversation. The leaves are toothed, lance-shaped and bright green.

So, if you have given up on trying to train the dog, or spouse, to be obedient treat yourself to an Obedient Plant and it will feel like someone is finally listening to you!


Filed under General.

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