By Betsy Washington, Northern Neck Chapter
Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) enhances any landscape in which it grows. It is one of my favorite mid to late summer native perennials for any number of reasons. The beautiful purplish blue flowers atop tall stems provide a striking vertical accent contrasting with more typical mounded plants and flower shapes and create the floral spires often admired in gardens in England and other cool climates. The soft lavender blue flowers blend and complement every other flower color and bloom for weeks on end.
Nectar-rich flowers attract a myriad of pollinators including butterflies, skippers, long and short-tongued bees, bee flies and others, including the occasional hummingbird. An added attraction is that Blue Vervain is the larval host for our Common Buckeye butterfly and the Verbena moth. Vervain even has its own specialist bee, the Verbena bee that collects pollen from Verbenas for its young. Verbena seeds are relished by several songbirds including cardinals, sparrows, and juncos. Happily for gardeners, the bitter foliage deters most herbivores.
Blue Vervain is a lovely upright perennial with stunning purplish to lavender-blue flowers held in showy branched inflorescences that resemble spire-like candelabras. Although the five-lobed tubular flowers are tiny, they are densely arranged in multiple erect 2 – 6” high spikes creating a striking and long-lasting summer show. The flowers open a few at a time beginning at the bottom of each spike and gradually open upwards like little rockets climbing ever higher and bloom from early June into September or longer. Typically a few seedlings emerge each year in early summer and begin blooming in August bearing fresh blooms well into fall. The showy panicles of flowers are held at the top of 3 – 5’ tall, stiffly erect stems that spread only about one foot wide allowing this plant to fit into small gaps in the border. Sharply toothed, lance-shaped leaves are dark green and arranged opposite each other along the four-sided, slightly hairy stems.
Blue Vervain is found in many counties in Virginia but is most common in the mountains, and although considered relatively rare in the Coastal Plain, it occurs in both Lancaster and Northumberland Counties. It grows naturally in moist to wet fields and meadows, along riverbanks and sand or gravel bars and shores as well as in moist, disturbed habitats. It is easy to grow in the garden in full to part sun in moist to well drained, average soils but tolerates wet soils. Often rather short-lived, it perpetuates itself for years by spreading slowly by rhizomes and lightly self-seeding to fill any empty spots in the garden. It is virtually pest and disease free. Vervain is an excellent plant for naturalizing, creating a vertical accent and drama in perennial borders, and is a ‘natural’ in rain gardens and butterfly gardens, along wet to moist shorelines and in damp meadows.
Vervain has long been used as a medicinal herb and its various common names (American Vervain, Common Vervain, and Swamp Vervain, Simpler’s Joy and Enchanters Plant) allude to its long use in ethnobotany. Verbena teas have been used to treat anxiety, depression, headaches, coughs, fevers and many other ailments and it has been applied externally to wounds, ulcers, and even acne. Supposedly a cup of tea before bed will treat “rampant anxiety and depression” and Native American tribes called blue vervain the “herb of grace” and used it to promote peace and calm.
Invite this charming native perennial into your garden and you too will be enchanted with its easy-going nature and beauty.
Look for lovely Blue Vervain at our Annual Northern Neck Native Plant Sale held at Dug In Farms in White Stone on Saturday, September 17 and 24, 2022. If you are a member of NNNPS you can take advantage of the Members-only Presale Friday afternoon, September 16 and get first choice on hundreds of beautiful native plants that are otherwise hard to find locally.
Blue Vervain was the Northern Neck Native Plant Society August 2022 Plant of the Month.