Sunday, March 17, 2013

Spotty wonder

It's still raining. The lawn is all decked out for St. Patrick's Day, a luscious green that owes its bright colour more to the moss, thriving in all this wet weather, than to the straggling, drowned grass. My new flowers still sit in pots, waiting for a dry day so I can plant them; the leaf mulch on the back of the garden is a slippery, slimy mess. I may have to do the spring cleanup under an umbrella.

I was standing out there yesterday, keeping out of the rain under the overhang, staring dejectedly at my mud patch, when I noticed that the Pulmonaria has shot up two flower stalks topped with buds. Yay, spring!

Pulmonaria, and Creeping Jenny in back. In the rain.

This plant has stayed green and upright over the winter, without a complaint even when some of the hellebores froze and collapsed. I think it has grown some since last fall.

I had these when I lived up north; after 4 or 5 months under deep ice, they burst into bloom with the first sunlight of the year. And what blooms! A bold pink in the bud, opening to pink flowers that turn blue as they mature. The same stalk will have flowers in all stages; a mixed bouquet on one stem.

They grow happily in deep shade, in acid or alkaline soil, even in poor soil. It doesn't mind the rain, as long as it has decent drainage. And the slugs don't like them! (I wonder if they extend their influence to the plants next to them. I'll try planting the lettuce in a circle around this one. Maybe I'll even manage to get some salad before the slugs do.)

The plant is named for the leaves that look like diseased lungs; "pulmo" in Latin, giving us Pulmonaria, or lungwort (lung plant, from Old English "wyrt".) The name is easy to remember, true, at least if you've ever seen a rotting lung. But it does have other common names, more in tune with the cheerful flowers. Some, like Adam and Eve, Soldiers and sailors, Joseph and Mary, obviously refer to the two colours showing at the same time. The patterned leaves give us "Spotted dog". But did you ever see a green dog? And then there's "Lady spilt the milk", Spotted Mary, and Jerusalem cowslip. Take your pick, or make up your own.

Lungwort Trivia : Usually, when you see a silver leaf, the color is due to a layer of wax on the leaf surface or due to a lack of the green chlorophyll pigment in that region of the leaf. Lungwort is different. In this case lungwort leaves get their silver color from pockets of air trapped beneath the leaf surface. These pockets make the tissue above them opaque instead of transparent and the normally green interior cells of the Lungwort can no longer be seen. (From Plant Delights Nursery)


  1. From the picture had imagined slugs would like them - reminiscent of hostas. Perhaps a ring of pulmonaria around the lettuces rather than the lettuces round the pulmonaria would have a better chance of working?

  2. You are probably right. I'll buy more pulmonarias, then.


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