Magnificent and spectacular spikes of rose-purple flowers, which last from June throughout the summer distinguish this tall wetland plant. Purple Loosestrife is a native perennial of permanently wet or occasionally flooded soils, its natural habitats include the margins of slow-flowing rivers and lake margins throughout England and Ireland.
Lythrum salicaria is an easy garden plant, thriving in any soil. It is a beautiful subject for late summer colour in a border, shrubbery, large pond or slow-moving water. It will also grow in coastal gardens.
With strong, upright stems, topped in summer with long, poker-like heads of bright purple-red flowers, this striking plant grows well in any moisture-retentive soil. Team with other moisture-loving plants in a damp border or pond side.
The tall flowering spikes which range from ten to thirty centimetres in length attract a whole host of insects particularly bees and butterflies.
Sowing: Grows readily from seed sown at any time of the year.
Seeds can be started in pots and the plants transplanted, or can be sown directly where they are to grow. Germination in about 15 to 30 days at 18 to 22°C (65 to 70°F)
Sow the seeds into cells or trays containing good quality seed compost. Sow on the surface and just cover with a sprinkling of sieved compost. Water from the base of the tray (never directly onto the seeds) and place in a propagator or warm place, ideally at 18 to 22°C (65 to 70°F). Keep the compost moist but not wet at all times.
Prick out each seedling once it has its first set of “true” leaves, transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots or trays to grow on. Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10-15 days before planting out after all risk of frost has passed. Transplant to full sun and light soil; if the soil is rich, the stems get floppy. Plant 30-60cm apart.
Prepare the soil by removing weeds and stones and rake to a fine tilth. Sow the seeds very thinly on the surface of the soil and rake over lightly, so that seeds are no more than 1mm (1/8in) deep. Water the ground in dry periods. Thin out seedlings to 45cm (18in) apart. Very young plants are prone to slugs, clear away any debris which could provide hiding places for slugs. Pick them off on mild, damp evenings.
Plants look tidier if dead heads are removed occasionally. Lateral buds develop while the main spikes are flowering and these continue the season till near the end of March. The soft, light green foliage often turns red in aging towards autumn. Top growth dies down for winter and should be cut back to ground level.
Unlike many perennials which grow bare in the centre with age, this plant forms a bushy and well-shaped clump. Stems do not need staking but in small water bodies they may need dividing every few years to keep within bounds. Divide clumps in autumn or spring. Plants usually self-sow when well sited.
Wildflower / Wildlife / Butterfly Gardens, Ponds and Streams, Bog gardens.
This herbaceous perennial is known from ancient times. One record of the use of Purple Loosestrife is found in Dr Lindley's Flora Medica (1838). Medieval herbalists believed the plant to be good for external bleeding. It was used to treat cholera in the nineteenth century. Because purple loosestrife is rich in tannin, herbalists later employed it for its astringent values as an eyewash and for cases of diarrhoea and mild food poisoning.
The plant's high tannin content led to it being used as an alternative to oak bark for tanning leather. A decoction of the roots is used to preserve fishing nets, wood, rope etc in some countries. Tannin prevents rotting in water. The leaves contain about 12% tannin, the stems 10.5%, the flowers 13.7% and the roots 8.5%.
An edible red dye obtained from the flowers has been used in sweets and for hair dye. It has been used to sooth ill-behaved animals and is burned to repel insect pests.
L. salicaria is a herbaceous, wetland perennial that grows in a wide range of habitats in Europe, Asia, northwest Africa, and south-eastern Australia.
At a distance, L. salicaria may be confused with Epilobium angustifolium, Verbena hastata, Teucrium canadense, or Liatris spp. Upon closer examination however, purple loosestrife is easily distinguished from these other magenta-flowered plants.
It is said that the name Lythrum comes from the Greek lytron meaning blood and referring to the colour of the flowers, but the Greek word lythrum also means ‘gore’ in the sense of blood flowing from battle wounds and other causes.This may refer to the plant's ability to stop bleeding.
The similarity of loosestrife leaves to those of the willow (Salix spp.) resulted in the species name of salicaria.
The curious name ‘Loosestrife’ is apparently translated from the Greek and means something like 'that which placed on the yoke of quarrelsome oxen will calm them down' . They thought that garlands of the herb hung around the necks of oxen would encourage a team to plough a field in harmony. The veracity of this is a little hard to put to the test these days.
The name is commonly cited hyphenated as purple-loosestrife. It should not be confused with other plants sharing the name loosestrife that are members of the unrelated family Primulaceae (primrose family). Other names include Spiked Loosestrife, or Purple Lythrum; in French it is Salicaire.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 100 mg Average Seed Count 2,000 seeds Family Lythraceae Genus Lythrum Species salicaria Cultivar Wildflower of Britain and Ireland Common Name Red Sally, Long Purples
Wildflower of Britain and Ireland
Other Common Names Spiked Loosestrife Other Language Names IR. Créachtach, FR: salicaire. Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Spires of rose-purple blooms Natural Flower Time June to August Height 70 to 150cm (28 to 60in) Spread 30 to 60cm (12-24in) Position Sunny or Semi-Shade Soil Clay/heavy, Moist. Prefers neutral or calcareous soils Time to Sow Grows readily from seed sown at any time of the year. Germination 15 to 30 days at 18 to 22°C (65 to 70°F)