Tuesday, 15 March 2016

On the Menu for Bees in March

When it comes to beauties with unfortunate names, common lungwort has to win the prize. Even its Latin name, Pulmonaria officinalis - pulmo - pertaining to the lungs and officinalis - of the shop (and they don’t mean Harrods), hardly conjures up images of the heavenly flowers gracing my garden at the moment. Were our antecedents so preoccupied with leaves like diseased lungs that they failed to notice the blooms? Someone's forebears must have looked at this charming little plant and thought not of its delightful flowers or (thankfully) ulcerated lungs, but of its speckled leaves being spattered by the Virgin Mary’s milk. Consequently Pulmonaria is blessed with a number of biblically-related monikers including the rather unimaginative, ‘Mary-spilt-the-milk’. As common names go, it is an improvement on lungwort, but it is hardly in the league of beauty berry or pearl everlasting.
Pulmonaria 'Diana Clare'
Not all pulmonarias have leaves speckled with milk; 'Blue Ensign' for example has plain dark green foliage and 'Diana Clare' makes rosettes of silvery leaves with green edges. Pulmonarias thrive in pretty much any soil in dappled shade; some forms will cope with heavy shade. The key is that the soil must be moist, but not waterlogged. Too dry, and Pulmonaria may fall prey to powdery mildew.
Pulmonaria officinalis Cambridge Blue Group
At 25-30cm tall (10-12") it makes a superb ground cover plant. It is non-invasive, semi-evergreen and will even grow under Juglans nigra (the black walnut). I don't mollycoddle Pulmonaria; our clay soil suits them and all I have to do is cut back the foliage and seed heads after flowering, give the plants a little fish, blood and bone and leave them to get on with the business of growing their summer foliage.
Pulmonaria 'Sissinghurst White'
Pulmonaria is a member of the borage family (borage is not the prettiest word in the world, which proves, were proof required, that there is no avoiding unattractive names if you are a lungwort). As we might expect from a borage family member, the flowers are nectar-rich and attractive to bees. 
Pulmonaria 'Diana Clare'
The different colours of blooms indicate the various stages in the development of the flowers. It is thought that this is a signal to pollinators so that they know exactly which flowers are ripe for pollination. How clever is that? If flowers had brains, Pulmonaria would be a fully paid-up member of Mensa. Beauty and brains... it's just a shame about the name, but in the words of Meat Loaf, ‘Two out of three ain’t bad’.


I am joining with Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day which is hosted by Carol at http://www.maydreamsgardens.com/ Why not pop over there and see what else is blooming this week in gardens around the world?

43 comments:

  1. Very pretty!
    Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day!
    Lea

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  2. Your Pulmonaria are lovely and it is interesting how the different stages of the flower's colors signal pollinators...which absolutely makes sense. Happy Bloom Day!

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    1. Thank you! I love the different colours of the blooms. That they might be communicating their requirements is amazing!

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  3. The bees that visit your garden are very lucky. Just lovely!

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    1. Thank you, Dorothy. We are fortunate to be able to share our garden with so many bees.

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  4. This is one that I've been hoping would multiply, but I guess it needs a boost from me. They are definitely going on my shopping list. I bet the unfortunate common name came about from using the plant to relieve congestion. Other names hardly befitting their lovely owners are toadflax and spiderwort. It's enough to get us spouting botanical Latin.

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    1. Even the botanical name of lungwort fails to capture the beauty of this plant. I had to look up spiderwort - I didn't know it was Tradescantia!

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  5. Anchusa capensis is another borage - Cape forget me not - with deep blue flowers (and a good name)

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    1. A beautiful plant - and such a strong blue!

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  6. All so pretty! I love bees. I can't wait to see them in my garden.

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    1. Hopefully your garden will be buzzing this summer.

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  7. Hello!
    I enjoyed this post--I learned some things about lungwort that I didn't know. Thanks! I've got a very small patch out back that keeps coming back, though not spreading--probably due to the clay soil back there.
    Happy Bloom Day!

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    1. Hello! Thank you for visiting and taking the time to post a comment. I'm so pleased you enjoyed this post.

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  8. Beautiful! I have never seen before. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. So pleased to introduce you to this beauty!

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  9. I've never managed to keep 'Sissinghurst White' going, and I am sad to see my lovely 'Diana Clare' just sat there, not flowering at all, but I have plenty of a mottled leaved pulmonaria growing under my twisted willows and flowering away. I find it a really valuable plant for shady spots under shrubs and trees, and as you say, great bee fodder. Though I've not seen many about yet this year.

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    1. I think it's been a slow start bee-wise. On the sunny days between all these storms, there have been plenty about though. Fingers crossed, the weather will settle down soon.

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  10. What a sad name for a pretty plant! If you are SURE that they are resilient I will try some under our trees - a little blue would be welcome.

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    1. Give 'em a go! Please be patient while they establish though. Janet (above) finds them valuable too!

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  11. I have pulmonaria Diana Clare too and a white variety Pulmonaria saccharata 'Alba'. I much prefer them to the pink varieties. Both are starting to flower in our blue and white border and are really valuable spring plants.

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    1. I will look out for P. saccharata 'Alba'. I suspect that Pulmonaria might be in danger of becoming an addictive plant!

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  12. Pulmonaria is yet another genus I've often admired but can't grow in hot, dry southern California. I especially love the varieties that bloom blue and pink at the same time.

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    1. That's a shame. There had to be a downside to living in Southern California. It has taken me nearly my whole life to find the downside: No Pulmonaria. Thank you for pointing this out. My jealousy may be reducing a fraction (a tiny, incalculable fraction).

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  13. I think I'm now understanding where I'm going wrong. The long drift of pulmonaria I have was originally in shade, where we had a lot of tall conifers behind the house. When they all came down the pulmonaria kept going, but in summer it doesn't look great. It must now be suffering from the effects of full sun.

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    1. Yes! You've changed their environment. That's easily remedied.

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  14. Hi Sarah,
    Pulmonaria is lovely, isn't it? It's a wonderful sight after winter. yo gave me a chuckle about the name! As with so many plants, you have to wonder what they were thinking! Spurge comes to mind......

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    1. Spurge? Spotted spurge? Oh the mind boggles.

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  15. Hello Sarah, this grows wild around our area, beside paths and in nooks and crannies. While I have none in the garden, a similar blue flower - forget-me-nots - are taking over. I've noticed them spreading year on year. I think I'll let them as they have a lovely flower and the plants I want to cultivate will easily grow over the top of them.

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    1. How lovely to have them growing wild! Forget-me-nots are wonderful spreaders. I grow them amongst the strawberries - the strawberry flowers and forget-me-nots look wonderful together.

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  16. Very nice selection of Pulmonaria! I never thought of the leaves having spots of spilled milk. I like that image.

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    1. It's a much better image than the lung one.

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  17. I love these pretty blue blooms! Pulmonaria is one plant that I always refer to by its botanical name, not its common name--I agree, lungwort just doesn't do it justice.

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  18. Names can certainly be interesting. Lungwort is one. Liverwort (hepatica) is another that could use a prettier name. Both are marvelous woodland plants I love.

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    1. Liverwort - I hadn't thought of that! And such a beauty too.

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  19. I love pulmonaria and mine are already blooming. I've never heard them called "Mary Spilled the Milk' but maybe that's a British name. It's much less creepy than lungwort.

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    1. They are wonderful. They seem to bloom for ages. I think I might invest in another one for next spring.... (and so the collection grows...)

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  20. Pulmonaria is yet another plant on my very long wish-list that I have not grown yet – there are so many plants I would like to have in my garden! It’s interesting to hear common names of plants, I don’t know many English common names as I just learn the Latin names, I guess the more liked and treasured a plant is, the more common names it got :-)

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    1. I think you are very wise to stick to Latin. Apart from the fact that some of the common names are truly bizarre, there is also so much confusion associated with them (how many different plants do people refer to as Japonicas?) I suspect you will find a corner for a Pulmonaria or two.

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  21. I tend to like any plant with the word "wort" at the end! Pulmonaria is fab, though – I rather like all the boraginaceae. Oh, and by the way, saying "Boragio!" in a faux Italian accent is rather fun. Just me? Oh ok, then... Lovely post as ever!

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    1. Yup. Just you (disappears off into the garden chanting "Boragio"). Actually, now you've mentioned the wort business, I am sorely tempted to apply a body part followed by wort to all plants. Knucklewort... Nasalhairwort....

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