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

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Wildflower Wednesday: Downy Skullcap

Our WW star is a lovely member of the mint/Lamiaceae family. You can see it cuddling with Echinacea purpurea in the above photo. While it has many of the characteristics of mints, I've never found it to be an aggressive spreader. That's disappointing. I wish it would seed about and add its lovely lavender to the shadier parts of the garden.

Scutellaria incana does have characteristic mint family square stems and opposite leaves. The stems are covered with fine white hairs, thus downy in the common name. It starts blooming in July in my mid south zone 7a garden/habitat. I don't usually remember to deadhead (I don't want to risk losing the seedheads), but, I have read that it will often rebloom. In the wild it's seen in open woods, slopes and along streams. Well drained soil, either moist or dry, seems to be its preferred growing condition, but it does tolerate sandy, clay, and poor soils. Once established it's tolerant of heat and drought. Which makes this gardener very happy, since we usually have a long hot, dry summer.

fused upper petals form the hood of monkshood

The numerous blooms are held in racemes at both the top of the stems and in the upper axils. Flowers are the perfect size for bumbles and small bees (which climb into the flower looking for nectar and pollen). The lavender-blue flowers have white markings on the lower petals and the two upper petals are fused together to form a hood or cap, thus the common name skullcap.


If you're looking for it on a woodland walk watch for the opposite leaves that are mat green, edged with rounded teeth. The leaves are not tiny at 4-1/2 to five inches in length by about two inches in width. Don't forget to look for the white hairs on the square stems. If it's in flower the fabulous hooded flowers will be easy to spot.

aren't they fabulous

After bloom the cool and decorative seedheads will grab your attention. "In fact, it is the interesting, curved structure of the seed capsule that gives this species the name Scutellaria, which is derived from the Latin word scutella, meaning "saucer or shallow dish." Additionally, the common name "skullcap" comes from the resemblance of the calyx to a miniature helmet or cap." (source)

Good companion plants in my garden/habitat are Echinacea purpurea, almost any of the ex-Asters, Blephilia ciliata, Spigelia marilandica, and native ferns. It's happy underneath Hydrangea arborescens species and cultivars.

You might consider planting it with Coreopsis, Rudbeckia hirta and Asclepia tuberosa for a brilliant display. The bees will be ecstatic. You will, too.

 I love everything about this plant. It's easy to grow, the long bloom time, the incredibly pretty lavender hooded flowers and the developing seedheads. It's charming. The only problem is that it's not sold in most nurseries. You can find it on line or at a native plant nursery near you. If you're in middle Tennessee call GroWild Native Plant Nursery to see if it's available.


 Reasons to search it out

  • It thrives in a range of soil types and light levels
  • Hardy to zone 5
  • Reliable bloomer and should rebloom if dead headed
  • Long lived
  • Great looking flowers that attract bumbles and smaller bees
  • Super cool seedpods 
  • Seems disease resistant


Botanical name: Scutellaria incana 
Common Name: Downy skullcap
Family: Lamiaceae
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Native Range: Central and eastern United States from New York to Wisconsin and south from Florida to Texas. 

Zone: 5 to 8
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Spread: 1.50 to 2.00 feet
Bloom Time: July to September
Bloom Description: Blue  6” spiky flower racemes.
Leaves: opposite ovate leaves with rounded teeth on short petioles are arranged along the stems.
Stems: square green or purplish stems
Sun: dappled sun
Water: Dry to medium, well drained
Maintenance: Low
Flower: Showy
Tolerates: Drought, Clay Soil, Dry Soil
Comments: rhizomatous perennial, in average well drained slightly acid sandy or clay soil. 
Wildlife value: Attracts pollinators especially Bumblebees, but also, flower flies, bee flies, and small butterflies.

For a detailed and delightfully photographed post about pollinators on our star go to here




Thank you for stopping by and 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. Please leave a link when you comment I am not using Mr. Linky at this time.

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. Absolutely lovely. Thank you. New plant for me.

    1. You can call GroWild to see if they have it. xogail

  2. Glad to know about this flower. I found it blooming in the woods and was fascinated by the blooms.

  3. I hope mine thicken up and are strong looking plants like yours. Mine are only 2 years old. I love those beautiful blue blooms.

  4. It's a beauty, Gail. And tolerant of heat and drought--yay!

  5. Lots of laden bees this month

  6. A useful and attractive plant. We saw some growing at the High Line during our recent trip.

  7. Downy skullcap makes a nice partner for your coneflowers, they coordinate well!


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