Lungwort – Pulmonaria: Ethereal Color for the Perennial Shade Garden

Lungwort (Pulmonaria) image courtesy Walters Gardens

Pulmonaria is a very desirable perennial for shady low-light gardens not only for its original flowers but for its matchless foliage. The perennial’s early spring buds are one color and when they open into delightful tiny ethereal funnel bells they are another color. The flower buds are usually pink, salmon or raspberry and open into shades of blue to purple or red to white when fully mature. Flowers form before the basal leaves barely break dormancy and start to grow. The fascinating flowers last for over a month and it’s not until they finish blooming that plant growth occurs.

pulmonaria-lungwort-closeupAs soon as the flowers fade, the 10-inch long summer foliage appears. The leaves may be spotted with metallic silver spots that catch the light and reflect it, giving brightness to a shade garden, or they can be solid green or silver. Pulmonarias are never invasive or aggressive. They grow the perfect size and shape for edging a border or filling an area under deciduous trees like Oak trees. Lungwort is a very attractive ground cover or can be planted as a unique specimen.

pulmonaria lungwort blossoms
Herbalists used to believe that the leaves of lungwort (which are shaped like a lung), would treat lung disorders. Thus, the strange name. This plant is also known as Bethlehem sage, Jerusalem cowslip, spotted dog, or soldiers and sailors. Source: Image by Walters Gardens.
pulmonaria (lungwort) foliage
Lungwort is a perennial that thrives in shade, so it grows well at the base of a shade tree. It is one of the only perennials that is immune to the chemical, juglone, produced by black walnut trees. This chemical is toxic to most plants, but not to Lungwort.

Different varieties of Pulmonaria may grow foliage in different shapes and they may be without silvery spots.  For the most reliable silver spotting and long-pointed leaves, choose from the longifolia group of Pulmonarias. The ‘Bertram Anderson’ with its dark green silver mottled foliage and bright blue flowers is excellent. The silver-foliaged Pulmonaria longifolia, ‘Diana Clare’  forms perfect mounds of long petaled,  silvery foliage and returns dependably year after year no matter how hard and cold the winters.

Pulmonarias grow in a wide range of soils including alkaline. Any cool moist soils that mimic their native environments of northern Europe are home to Pulmonarias so they thrive in the coolness of mountain gardens.  These are underused perennials because they are often not readily available.  If you garden in higher elevations and need an excellent shade plant, let the local growers know that Pulmonaria is on your bucket list. To grow it is to love it!

How to Video: Pruning Pulmonaria for Fall Bloom

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