Veronicastrum is an excellent genus, full of hardy, trouble-free plants that suit moist, fertile soil in full sun or partial shade. All have a strong, upright growth. The multiple tapering, soft spikes of white flowers look like elegant, living candelabras. It is an excellent plant for adding impact in the garden towards the end of summer.
To add to its hardworking attributes, Veronicastrum virginicum is one of the most fashionable plants around. It's an icon of the prairie-style of planting which has marked the young millennium. It can be dressed up or down, and though it calls North America ‘home,’ it is just as comfortable in forward-thinking European gardens.
Veronicastrum virginicum 'Album' is a great plant, with graceful white flower spires topping dark-bronze stems. Each stem is from 10 to 20cm (4 to 8in) in length. Individual flowers are tiny and bloom from the bottom of the spike to the top.
Branching spires of tubular flowers appear from July to September above whorls of attractive deep-green leaves. They provide vertical structure to a border, reaching about 120 to 150cm (4 to 5ft) tall, but grow so erectly they don't usually need to be staked. You can also Chelsea chop them in late May to provide a shorter, sturdier plant. The plants will flower from seed in the first year but will take a few years to reach full height.
Veronicastrum prefers a position in moist, fertile soil, in sun or partial shade. They are best planted at the back of a mixed herbaceous border because of their stature, the flowers add height to the back of a sunny or partially shady border. They also suit naturalistic planting schemes, with prairie style plants and have been used to great effect in the Piet Oudolf borders at RHS Wisley, leading down to the Great Glasshouse.
Sowing: February to June or September to October.
Sow the seeds on the surface of lightly firmed, moist seed compost in pots or trays. Seeds must be sown thinly. Do not cover very small seeds, but tightly press into the compost. Water from the base of the tray, Place in a propagator or warm place, ideally at 13 to 16°C (55 to 60°F). Keep the compost moist but not wet at all times. Germination 30 to 40 days. Keep in cooler conditions after germination occurs.
Seedlings can be slow to grow, prick out each seedling once it has its first set of true leaves and transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots containing free-draining compost and grow them on in frost free conditions until large enough to plant outside.
Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out after all risk of frost has passed. Overwinter autumn sown plants in frost-free conditions before planting out the following spring. Plant 30 to 60cm apart.
Veronicastrum prefers full sunshine but can tolerate some shade. If shade is too dense staking will be necessary to hold the plant upright. Likes a rich loamy soil best but most soils are tolerated as long as some organic material has been dug into them. It will tolerate occasional waterlogged soils.
'Chelsea chop' the plants by a good third during the time of the Chelsea Flower Show which takes place at the end of May. Chopped plants will soon regrow and be in flower, they will be shorter and stronger and will not flop.
The plants can take several years to establish themselves well in a garden and reach full height, but will flower from seed in the first year. Old flower spikes may be removed as they fade or stems can be left until spring to give winter interest to the garden and provide shelter for beneficial insects.
Divide congested plant in spring when clumps become too large.
Cut when the flowers are beginning to open but before the oldest flowers on the stem start to show signs of browning.
To dry, hang upside down in a warm (not hot) place with good air circulation. Drying too fast at high temps can cause browning, but drying too slowly may result in colour loss on the stems and leaves and give a less fresh appearance.
Natural garden, Shade or Woodland Garden, Bees and Butterflies. Flower Arranging.
There are around 20 species of Veronicastrum, native to North America, Europe and Asia.
Veronicastrum virginicum is a widespread native of eastern North America, occurring in prairies, meadows, open woodlands, and grassy mountains. It is widely found in the eastern half of North America, east of a line running from Manitoba to Texas. It is on a 'threatened' list in several New England States. It grows as a wild flower and is also cultivated.
The plant was first collected by Rev. John Banister who moved to colonial Virginia in 1678. Unfortunately he met his untimely death when a gunman mistakenly shot and killed him while he collected plants. It was introduced into England in 1714.
The main species in cultivation is Veronicastrum virginicum from which many choice cultivars have been bred.
It was originally placed by Linnaeus in the genus Veronica which is not the same as Veronicastrum. Botanists have recently moved this genus and the Veronicas into the plant family Scrophulariaceae.
The genus is named in two parts, Veronica for Saint Veronica, who in Christian mythology gave Christ a cloth to wipe his face while carrying the cross on the way to Calvary, and so named because the markings on some species supposedly resemble those on her sacred handkerchief, and 'astrum', meaning 'an incomplete resemblance' - hence a plant that resembles somewhat the Veronicas.
The species name virginicum means ‘of Virginia’ the U.S. state located in the South Atlantic region of the United States, where the plant was originally collected.
The name Album is Latin for a ‘writing tablet’, which historically were white in colour. The word is now used to mean the colour white, in reference to the blooms.
It was formerly classified by Linnaeus in the genus Veronica, but was later assigned by Thomas Nuttall to the genus Leptandra. It is still occasionally found with the old botanical names of Leptandra virginica or Veronica virginica.
Commonly known as Culver's Root, Culver's Physic, Bowman's Root and Blackroot. It is reputed to have been named after a Dr. Culver, who presumably used the herb for medicinal purposes. The doctor has never been specifically identified. All that is known for certain is that by 1716 Culver's root was common enough for the Colonial Puritan Cotton Mather to mention it in his writings, noting that it was 'Famous for the cure of Consumptions.' The story goes that he unsuccessfully attempted to use this plant to cure his daughter's tuberculosis in 1716.
'Culver' is also an archaic or poetic name for a dove, from the Old English culfre, from Latin columbula meaning 'a little dove'. This could have been used in reference to the flowers.
The plant grows from a taproot and small slender rhizomes which are nearly cylindrical and dark brown on the outside of older ones, hence the name 'Black root'. The fresh root was used medicinally as a violent cathartic (a purgative) and is dangerous to use.
Less common names include: Beaumont Root, Brinton Root, Hini, Oxadoddy, Tall Veronica, Whorlywort.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 30mg Average Seed Count 450 seeds Family Scrophulariaceae Genus Veronicastrum Species virginicum Cultivar Album Synonym Veronica virginica, Leptandra virginica Common Name Culver's Root Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers White spires Natural Flower Time July to September Height 120 to 150cm (4 to 5ft) Spacing 60cm (24in) Position Full sun or partial shade Soil Moist, fertile soil Time to Sow February to June or September to October. Germination 5 to 10 days at 15 to 20°C (59 to 68°F).