Long winters have a way of making us feel like we are fading into the gray, becoming permanently frozen in a world without color or change (not to be dramatic…but perhaps you can relate?). When the first blooms poke through the ground, we feel our energy returning to us. Finally – finally! – it’s time to thaw out, dig through our clothes for something not made of wool, and skip joyfully through the garden. We can start imagining all that our spring gardens can be! Anything is possible, as long as those sweet flowers keep a-bloomin’.
Pulmonaria (Lungwort) is one of the first perennials to bloom in a typical Michigan spring. They grow low to the ground, becoming a backdrop for taller plants. You’ll recognize them by their basal rosette leaves (leaves that start to grow from the base of the stem, then radiate up and out). These leaves are sometimes “polka-dotted” with silver-white, or they could be thought of as “frosted.” These spots on the leaves are actually foliar air pockets, used for cooling the lower surface of the leaves. They should be able to tolerate more heat and sun because of these pockets. In addition to being resilient, the pointy shape of the leaves adds a unique, geometric feel to the variety of visual textures in your garden.
Scattered betwixt and between these frosty leaves are small, bell-shaped blossoms that sweetly greet the eye and bring a trembling hand to the heart. Their hues range from a vibrant pink to a light blue, depending on the variety.
The roots of this plant are rhizomes; underground roots that grow parallel to the surface of the earth. They produce roots on the underside, while sending new shoots up to the earth’s surface. Due to this root system, Lungwort spreads gradually to colonize shady areas. Hooray. An eye-catching mat that discourages weeds from growing!
Our Michigan pollinators adore Pulmonaria, especially in late winter and early spring, when it is hardest to find food. Once Pulmonaria’s blossoms plug in their “Open” signs, the pollinators come running to stock up on vital nutrients. The hummingbird is one of the biggest fans of this plant because their proboscis (a long, tubular mouthpart) fits perfectly in that tube-shaped blossom. While most hummingbird plants require full sun, Lungwort is happy in shade and part-shade. Help your local pollinators by planting food for them that is accessible and plentiful!
The flowers fade when spring turns to summer, but those frosted leaves remain, catching our attention over and over throughout the warmest months. At the end of the growing season, the leaves finally decide to depart, slowly falling into the ground and dissolving into the earth. What an absolute feast for the microorganisms in the soil, and it means there’s barely any cleanup for us to do! All that’s left of our showy friend for wintertime is its stems, but they stand about a foot and a half tall, lending a visually appealing structure. This quality is prized because winter gardens can often be lackluster. Lungwort is a spectacular performer all throughout the year.
Pulmonaria is a genus native to Europe and Western Asia with about 18 species of herbaceous perennials. Gardeners typically opt for three cultivars: Pulmonaria saccharata, Pulmonaria angustifolia, and Pulmanaria longifolia. When rabbits and deer are looking for a snack, they take one look at Lungwort’s leaves that are covered in coarse hair – and they turn up their noses. Lungwort is also fairly drought-resistant. Gee! They come with their own defense mechanisms.
Fun fact: In ancient times, it was believed that since the leaves of this plant were lung-shaped, they must be appropriate for treating lung ailments. As a result, Lungwort has been used for all kinds of respiratory illnesses.
We can safely conclude that Lungwort is a good friend. Count on her to delight you throughout the seasons!