FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Physostegia virginiana is a robust perennial wildflower with bold lance shaped leaves. In late summer and early fall, foliage is topped by graceful lavender, pinkish or white spikey inflorescences. The individual florets are tubular and similar to snapdragons. Plants thrive in prairie type settings or sunny gardens with average well drained soil.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Physostegia virginiana occurs through eastern North America west to Manitoba, North Dakota and Texas.
This species is indigenous to moist or mesic Blackland prairies, limestone glades, woodland edges, moist meadows, thickets, seeps and moist roadside or railroad right-of-ways.
Plants are hardy from USDA Zones 3-9.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Physostegia virginiana is an erect tap-rooted perennial with sturdy unbranched square stems.
Leaves are lance shaped with widely spaced pointed teeth. Blades are about 5” long and 1½” wide. They are sessile with rounded bases and pointed tips.
The stems terminate in showy 10” spike-like flower racemes. Four rows of densely packed florets open from the bottom of the raceme to the top. Tubular florets appear at the bottom of the stalk with pearl-like flower buds above and the youngest green buds at the tip.
The florets are tubular and about 1” long with a broad upper lip and a 3 lobed lower lip. They are pink, lavender or white in late summer for about 6 weeks and are marked with purple stripes or dots.
After pollination, the calyx inflates to hold brown sharply angled seed.
Plants grow 3-4’ tall and spread to 2-3’ spread or more by rhizomes.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Physostegia virginiana flourishes in sun or part sun with moist or average soil. Plants tolerate clay loam, sandy loam, gravelly soil, alkaline or acid pH, heat and some drought.
Many consider this species to be invasive. It is more likely to grow aggressively in moist rich soil. If exposure is shaded, plants are likely to flop.
During drought, the lower leaves may turn yellow and defoliate. Plants are generally pest resistant and are not palatable to deer.
LANDSCAPE USES: This is a good choice for a Wildlife Garden or sunny Meadow. Plants are also used as Cut Flowers or as part of a Grouping or Mass Planting. Physostegia virginiana has Showy Blooms and is appropriate for Cottage Gardens, Low Maintenance Plantings, Rain Gardens and Perennial Borders.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing Physostegia virginiana with Asclepias tuberosa, Amsonia tabernaemontana, Carex bicknellii, Echinacea purpurea, Panicum virgatum, Rudbeckia subtomentosa, Schizachyrium scoparium or Sorghastrum nutans.
Physostgia virginiana ‘Vivid’ has similar appearance and culture and could be substituted in some garden situations.
TRIVIA: Flowers are generally pollinated by bumblebees. Other long tongued bees, hummingbirds and the occasional butterfly also sip nectar.
Due to the showy flowers, this species was introduced into gardens early on. Nursery selections are usually pink but wild populations are often white.
The common name “obedient plant” was bestowed because individual florets stay in place (at least temporarily) after being repositioned. This species is sometimes called false dragonhead due to the flower’s resemblance to dragonhead (Dracocephalum spp.)
This plant is a member of the Mint Family. The word Physostegia is from the Greek words physa meaning “bladder” and stege meaning “roof covering”. This name refers to the inflated calyx that covers or encloses the seed.
Obedient Plant Care: How To Grow An Obedient Plant
Growing obedient plants in the garden adds a bright, spiky flower to the late summer and fall flower bed. Physostegia virginiana, commonly called the obedient plant, produces spikes of attractive flowers, but beware of your interpretation of obedient. Growing obedient plants got the common name because stems can be bent to stay in place, not for the plant’s habit in the garden.
How to Grow an Obedient Plant
Obedient plant info tells us there is nothing obedient about the spread of the species. Newer cultivars, such as ‘Miss Manners’, tend to maintain a clumping form and not get out of hand, but the original variety with pastel flowers can take over the bed in which it grows. Obedient plant care often includes digging rhizomes and deadheading spent flowers before seeds can drop.
If you’re wondering, can you divide the obedient plant; the answer is a resounding yes. When learning how to grow an obedient plant, you’ll find they can be started from seeds and from cuttings.
Considering the square stemmed plant is a member of the mint family, one should expect the prolific spread described by obedient plant info. If you wish to keep growing obedient plants without a battle, plant it in a container with a bottom that has drain holes and sink it into the ground. This inhibits the sometimes rampant spread of the happily growing obedient plant. Withhold fertilizer to further discourage out of bounds growth.
Obedient plant info says the plant will flourish in both sun and light shade.
Obedient plant info suggests planting in a less than fertile soil to decrease the spread. Remove new clumps that spring up in unwanted areas.
Obedient Plant Care
Other than the obedient plant care listed above, the plant requires little attention to produce tall, spiky flowers that resemble those of the snapdragon. If you wish to include the 1- to 4- foot plant somewhere in the landscape, consider an area where spread will not be detrimental, such as a bare area near woodlands where nothing grows.
You may also choose a newer variety bred not to invade. Obedient plant info says this plant is deer resistant, so use it in an area where deer like to browse for food.
Growing obedient plants are drought resistant and learning how to grow an obedient plant is simple, if you have the inclination to keep it under control.