Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wildflower Wednesday: False Dragonhead

Earlier this month False Dragonhead began it's charming bottom up bloom. It didn't take long for the Bumbles to arrive on the scene.
The plump bee bodies just scoot down into the tubular flowers
Mother Nature designed Physostegia virginiana, aka, False Dragonhead with bumblebees in mind. The tubular flowers are perfect for plump little bee bodies to slip right in to find the sweet spots of nectar and while pollinating the flowers.
Nectar robbing carpenter bees do not pollinate False Dragonhead flowers
Although, Bumbles are the primary pollinators of False Dragonheads, many other pollinators stop by to visit. Swallowtail Butterflies and Silver spotted skippers with long proboscis can reach far into the corolla for nectar and Carpenter bees, although, much too large to fit into the corolla, cleverly drill directly into the flower side to get at the nectar.
I was introduced to Physostegia virginiana years ago as False Dragonhead and the name has stuck with me. I have since learned that many people know it by Obedient plant, a misnomer if I've ever heard one! This plant is anything but obedient, but, I digress and will get back to that topic a little later. It's called Obedient Plant because flowers, when pushed from their normal position, are supposed to remain for a while where they have been turned. The common name dragonhead alludes to the open mouth of the corolla which was thought to resemble the fabled beasts of yore!
 the lower lip is divided into 3 lobes – the larger central one functioning as a landing pad for insects
False Dragonhead is a clump-forming North American native perennial that is found in fields, prairies, thickets, woodland openings and borders, along rivers and streams and lakesides in much of the eastern and central United States, as well as eastern Canada.  In other words, it prefers a moist spot in full sun or part shade! This member of the mint family typically grows 2-4' tall on stiff, square stems and features spikes of pinkish, tubular, lipped, snapdragon-like flowers which bloom in my garden during September and early October, just in time for late arriving pollinators which are making a mad dash to collect as much nectar and pollen for their last brood.
this striking plant needs to be massed for the best color effect...
False Dragonhead or dis-Obedient plant has a reputation for being an aggressive spreader in a garden setting. That is true, but, I don't mind its colonizing manner, it's a plant that looks better massed and what better way to get a large planting then to have it cooperate so well. I find they divide easily and there are plenty of plants for other spots in the garden or to share with friends. If you find it too aggressive you can plant it in a dryer garden spot or cut the flowers off before it goes to seed. You might even get a second flush of blooms, too.
Bumbles are the primary pollinators of Obedient plant
 Despite it's colonizing tendency, False Dragonhead is an immensely popular garden flower and several cultivars have been developed, some with variegated foliage and others are said to be less aggressive. It's really an outstanding plant that lights up the garden and looks especially gorgeous with grasses, sedges,  ex-asters, late blooming phlox, boltonia and goldenrods.
The flowers have no scent, but look smashing in a fall garden
Don't be put off by Physostegia virginiana's reputation as an aggressive plant. Yes, it's quite the colonizer in moist situations, but, it's well worth a little weeding and pulling out extra plants. It's a beauty and "a wonderful plant to add luminous rosy lavender late season color to the bronze golds and yellows of a moist meadow" or garden (source) and something that's becoming increasingly important to many of us, it's not a preferred deer food!


Attracts: Butterflies, Hummingbirds, Bees

Hardy in zones 3 to 7
Prefers moist, slightly acid to acid, well draining soil
Full sun to partial shade
Weed suppressing quality (it's a mint family member)
Divide in the spring, prune to reduce height and control floppiness in  early summer
Narrow, toothed leaves
2 to 4 foot tall, clumps and spreads

Hybridized for height, color and variegation (P 'Vivid', P 'Miss Manners' and P 'Variegata')

Welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not; and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Wildflower Wednesday participants, please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky. 

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. They are so beautiful especially the first shot, with that lovely colorful background.

  2. I pull until I think I have it all then just the right amount comes up to bloom later. :)

  3. Dear Gail, my only bit of this plant is the one you brought me as a hostess gift on a visit. It is the opposite of aggressive here, even in the very best soil my garden has to offer, but this year, with the extra rain, there are actually several flower stalks! Hooray! I love it, the pollinators love it, too. Thank you for being so generous!

  4. I wholeheartedly agree and have this lovely in several spots...my hummers love it too and visit the clumps all day. I will be linking in on Monday with a favorite yet rare wildflower!!

  5. I love your pictures. Bumbles are so cuddly looking. Hailey likes to pet them in the early morning cool.

  6. Such a pretty lavender-pink color!
    Would would have thought that a plant in the mint family would be an enthusiastic spreader, ;-) ?

  7. Hi Gail, When I first saw this and that you had called it False dragonhead, I thought about looking up to see if Obedient plant was another name for it, but decided to read more of the post first to see if you mentioned it, and you did! There is some of this in a flower bed at church that is surrounded by concrete, and gets very little water. Maybe that's why it hasn't totally taken over. I am chicken to grow it here, but many years ago, planted a white blooming cultivar in the vegetable garden. It doesn't spread as much, but is also not as pretty.

    1. Sue, I hope you give it a try...It can be ripped out if it's too aggressive and it is a very pretty plant.

  8. You've taught me new things about this plant I've always call obedient plant. I grow it in an irrigated bed in the shade but it doesn't spread quickly in our dry climate.

  9. I had this planted and loved it but it completely died out. A bit odd since it can be very invasive, I thought my dryer conditions would just keep it in check but I guess it was too much for it.

  10. My son planted these in a pot one year, and we had so much fun watching them grow. Any plant this beautiful and beneficial is a winner in my book. Another great wildflower recommendation, Gail. Thanks!

  11. I saw a mass planting of Chelone earlier this summer on a garden tour, it was impressive. But I've always been afraid of it because of its spreading nature. My own WW post focused on grasses today.

  12. The variegated form died out on me. I will have to try it again.

  13. They look terrific! I received some of the same Physostegia this year as a pass-along plant, and they are just beginning to bloom. I look forward to watching the bees.

  14. The False Dragonhead looks very pretty and fall bloomers seem a little rare, I don't know how it would fare in our dry summers, though. I am featuring Goldenrods this time.

  15. Unusually large and decorative for the mint family. Dragonhead looks like family to foxgloves. This month I'm starting with Buddleja and then my garden explodes into flowers.

  16. Love all those bumbles! I agree, False Dragonhead is a much more appropriate name. Despite its tendency to overrun one area of my garden, I find it's very easy to pull out in the spring if you want to curb its enthusiasm. It's interesting that mine bloomed a month ago, even though I'm much farther north.

  17. Finally got a post together!! I used to have Obedient Plant in Virginia. It was taking over my garden, then the flood happened....it isn't salt tolerant. No more Physostegia! I kind of miss it.

  18. I planted some white Obedient plant this spring in a space where I hope it spreads. It's done remarkably well for its first year, and I'm looking forward to seeing what it does next year. Your pink ones are beautiful!

  19. I like it, and I would grow it -- if only the deer would leave it alone. They ate the cultivated variety that I had.

  20. I'm taking your advice and countless other gardeners and taking a chance on obedient plant and planted it on the farm. It has been blooming a very long time but has not done too much this summer. Next summer we shall see. Lovely pictures!

  21. Beautiful Native you have there and yes, better with lots of company too! Those darn pesky Carpenter Bees. Grrrrrr. I am not to fond of them but love all the other bees in our gardens. Yes, even the ones which attacked me a year ago. I love the vibrant color of these plants and especially this time of yea with little colors are starting to fade away in the garden....

  22. I love Obedient Plant, Gail. I am late to post to your WW, but I linked up anyway. Sorry it took me so long!

  23. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful; I am off to the internet to see if I can't get a little bit more information to see if I can get these to thrive in my garden...great photos.

  24. I have tons of this and just love it. Your photos are beautiful! I love the obedient plant against the goldenrod.

  25. I've never grown this dis-obedient plant, but perhaps I should try!


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson