Around here, you know it’s spring when the daffodils and tulips are in bloom and the forsythia proudly display their blast of yellow. However, another lesser-known beauty often seen at the first sign of spring is a pretty little perennial, called Pulmonaria, aka lungwort.
Lungwort, a common name for Pulmonaria, is an herbaceous perennial that grows about a foot tall with oval leaves in varying shades of green. The flowers can be white, red, shades of pink and a beautiful shade of blue. Being a sucker for all blue flowers, it’s one of my favorites, given to me by my dear friend Arlene.
It is really easy to grow, shows up early in the spring when you are dying to see new growth, and requires little to no maintenance. An added plus is that the deer and other critters leave it alone.
Why the weird name? Well, back in the day, -way back really-, people thought that, if a plant looked like a body part, it just may be good for healing that part. This philosophy was called the “Doctrine of Signatures.” Since many of the Pulmonaria have oval-shaped, spotted leaves, people felt they resembled a diseased lung, so they should be used to treat chest ailments. And so the plant was given the name Pulmonaria, which translates from the Latin word “pulmo” to the word “lung,” and in the name of the common lungwort, “wort” simply means plant.
Still there are other nicknames for this little beauty. One is “Soldiers and Sailors.” This comes from the interesting fact that many of the Pulmonaria’s flowers start off pink or red but then turn to blue, and often, you’ll have both at the same time, representing uniforms of the British army as red, while the navy was blue. Other common names are “Spotted Dog,” and “Jerusalem cowslip” and “Bethlehem sage.”
Fun Facts about Pulmonaria
- They are a great early source of nectar and pollen, making them a good garden plant for bees, butterflies and other insects, even humming birds.
- They are immune to the toxic substance produced by black walnut trees, making them one of the few plants that can be planted underneath them.
- Unlike many variegated plants, Pulmonaria’s silver-to-white spots do not indicate the absence of chlorophyll but are actual air pockets which mask the chlorophyll from showing.
For some basic specifications about Pulmonaria angustifolia click here.