By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
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.
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 whether you can 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 less than fertile soil to decrease the spread. Remove new clumps that spring up in unwanted areas.
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 (0.5 to 1 m.) 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.
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Although obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana), also known as false dragonhead, isn't considered an invasive plant, it does get a bad rap in the garden. The plant can wreak havoc under the right conditions, but if kept in check, it makes a fine addition to the perennial garden. It grows between 3 feet and 6 feet tall, depending on the cultivar, and might require staking. Plant it at the back of a perennial bed.
|Also known as:||False Dragonhead|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun moist soil, along streams, wet fields|
|Bloom season:||August - October|
|Plant height:||1 to 4 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FACW|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Tall spike up to 10 inches long at the top of the stem, often with shorter, lateral spikes and arising from the uppermost leaf axils. Flowers are tubular, about 1 inch long, pink to purple or occasionally white. The lower lip has 3 lobes the middle is broadest and has dark pinkish purple spots on the inside. 4 purple-tipped stamens arc against the wide upper lip. The hairless calyx is tubular and has 5 sharply pointed triangular lobes. Flowers bloom from the bottom of the spike up.
Leaves are up to 5 inches long and 1½ inches wide, lance-elliptic or widest just above the middle, hairless, sharply toothed with pointed tips. The lowest leaves are short-stalked and wither away early upper leaves are stalkless. Stems are square, hairless, and somewhat swollen at the leaf nodes. Plants can create colonies from spreading rhizomes.
The calyx persists and holds 4 1-seeded nutlets.
Obedient Plant gets its common name from the fact the individual flowers can be repositioned and will continue to grow that way. It does well in a home garden, though can become a bit aggressive in moist soil it is better behaved in drier soils and is easily managed with a bit of hand pulling. There are 2 recognized varieties (or subspecies, depending on the reference): var. praemorsa, a more southern species that lacks rhizomes, and var. virginiana that is found throughout the eastern half of North America and is present in Minnesota.
Photos by K. Chayka taken in Anoka and Ramsey counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dzuik taken at Louisville Swamp, Scott County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?
I was riding my bike and while around Todd Park, I saw this beautiful flower. I stopped and made sure it wasn't a wild musk orchid. It was still beautiful. I quickly came home and googled it. This is the plant!
I have seen Physostegia virginiana in two seperate places on the Cloquet River near Cloquet, MN.
This was one of many flowers planted in my yard before I bought my house, and I thought it was lovely. BUT, I've found it to be aggressive and abundant. It's taken over a large portion of the garden and, compared to the phlox and similar-colored bloomers, has not quite enough payoff (either in leaf attractiveness or flower) to have to deal with the spread. And, unlike Monarda or phlox, it is difficult to remove due to the rhizomes (note the "mint" family connection.)
Last year I dug this plant up from a friend's garden, planted it in my yard and forgot about it. until, this week, when this very tall and hardy plant bloomed so beautifully. I had no idea, nor did my friend of it's name until I brought a clipping to our local nursery. I Love it! Can I buy some more, or just hope that it will multiply for me?
I saw this plant in bloom on August 29, 2012 in Gores Pool #3 WMA near Hastings (near the bridge with cardinal flowers and fog fruit), and again on September 18, 2012 up a small stream draining into the Minnesota River south of the MN 22 bridge over the river.
Found this volunteer plant growing in my new Water Side Garden along the Crow Wing River. My experience with this plant in the past has shown it to be highly aggressive in a garden area. Fortunately it now has to duke it out with other highly successful rhizomatous species in this area.
IN bloom this morning on the river flats.
Found a dozen plants along the Champepedan Creek, right on the Rock/Nobles County line
Found this plant growing in partial shade. east of Roosevelt bridge. first time find for me. took lots of pictures. growing in floodplain.
I have had the white obedient plant for years and never knew what it was. A friend has the purple, which is identical except for the coloring. I am happy to finally know its name.
Two plants found among the grasses and willow suckers south of the swimming beach. Larger one about 3.5 ft tall with many flowers, some developing fruits. Second plant about 2 ft tall, far fewer flowers.
Found a bug playing peek-a-boo on this plant on the island.
Found these growing on the side of the Willard Munger Trail near Riverside.
If I have the right ID, P virginia has shown up periodically in my yard as an invasive species. When pulled up it has a characteristic right angled root indicating the connection to the rhyzome.
In bloom at Quarry Hill this week.
Saw this eye-catching plant while riding bikes. What a beautiful flower.
I wondered whether these wildflowers were native. Jill Kirchner had the same question after photographing this group of obedient plants in Cass County. Minnesota Wildflowers advises that obedient plant does well in a home garden, though can become a bit aggressive in moist soil it is better behaved in drier soils and is easily managed with a bit of hand pulling. Kim El-Baroudi has a thriving colony in her Polk County yard most of the plants have paler blossoms.
We planted Obedient plants in our large Community Garden's Rain Garden in 2012. They didn't do much the first year, but the last few years have attempted to take over the whole garden. I love them,The are beautiful, but want to encourage and keep other native plants around them. I'm considering planting another mildly aggressive plant next to it to help keep it in check. Any suggestions?
Lila, the Facebook group Native Plant Gardens in the Upper Midwest is highly recommended for anyone interested in gardening with natives. Loads of expertise to be had there.
It occurs in small clumps in the shoreline buffer vegetation between the beach and the bridge over Minnehaha Creek. Some clumps are right next to the walking trail, easily seen. Flowering now. I first noticed them coming up in this area in 2018.
This plant grows at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center and along the Central Lakes Bike Trail.
In my yard. I've been planting natives on an unused section of our property. This is the first year I've seen this flowering for us. Very pretty, excited to see it. And we don't mind if it spreads, in fact we'd like it to.
These were growing in 2 gardens when we bought our house, one garden was way too compact and in a bad location so we removed them. The other garden we are transplanting some of them to the lake bank to hope they will spread and help control the lake erosion. There will be plenty left in the original garden as they had spread quite a bit.
Obedience plant (Physostegia virginiana), an erect perennial more commonly known as obedient plant or false dragonhead, derives its common name from the stem's ability to remain in place when moved. This makes the plant especially valuable for use in cut flower arrangements or for planting in a child's garden. In addition, obedience plant tolerates soggy conditions where other flowering plants may fail. Native to eastern North America, the plant grows wild along streams, creeks, swamps, ditches, damp meadows and bogs. In the home garden, obedience plant requires only minimal care if you provide it with an optimal planting location.
Plant obedience plant during spring or summer in a location that receives full sunlight throughout the day and consists of well-drained, moist soil. Space obedience plant 18 to 24 inches apart to provide room for the plant's maximum spread.
Water once every five days or whenever the surface of the soil feels dry to the touch to keep the soil consistently moist at all times. Soak the soil to a depth of at least 4 inches to ensure the roots absorb plenty of moisture. Do not water during the winter dormancy period.
Feed obedience plant once per month during spring, summer and fall using a balanced 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer to provide proper nutrition for flower development and root establishment. Check the instructions provided on the package for dosage information.
Prune during early summer to encourage the plant to form additional blossoms and grow in a compact habit. Cut back the tallest stems by 3 to 4 inches and several new branches will form, each tipped with a flower bud.
Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch over the soil surrounding obedience plants during late fall to provide insulation and prevent the establishment of weeds. For the best results, remove the mulch the following spring, just before active growth resumes.
Use a thick mulch to provide maximum insulation, such as shredded cedar bark.
Despite its name, obedience plant can be rather invasive if not controlled. If the plant begins to spread out of bounds, reduce watering and fertilizing frequency until the spreading is under control.
A quick-growing native perennial, obedient plant gets its name from the fact that the blooms will stay in place if they are moved to a different position. Obedient plant is vigorous and will easily carpet an area with bloom making it a great choice as a groundcover for hard-to-maintain sites. But, because it can become invasive, place obedient plant in a spot where its spread can be controlled. Obedient plant develops tall spikes of pretty trumpet-like pink, purple, or white flowers in the late summer and early fall that cut well for fresh arrangements. The plants grow 18 to 36 inches tall and are relatively deer resistant. Hummingbirds and butterflies will feast from the fragrant flowers.
Obedient Plant Questions?
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Locate obedient plant in a sunny or partially sunny location. This rugged perennial is tolerant of all types of soil, but does best in rich, slightly moist locations. Because obedient plant is an aggressive spreader, place it where you can control its growth.
Obedient plant is not recommended for human or animal consumption.
Outside: Part sun
Crystal Peak White Obedient Plant
Physostegia ‘Crystal Peak White’
Blooming July through September, this compact white variety grows only 15 inches tall. ‘Crystal Peak White’ is short, sturdy, and upright. Flowers bloom on spikes from bottom to top. Its abundant white flowers are ideal for cottage gardens! Zones 3-9
Miss Manners Obedient Plant
Physostegia virginiana 'Miss Manners'
Miss Manners earned its name because this variety is slower growing and doesn't spread as rapidly through the garden as older varieties do. It's also sturdy and compact, making it an excellent cut flowers. It grows 30 inches tall and wide. Zones 3-9
Miss Manners Pink Obedient Plant
Physostegia virginiana 'Miss Manners Pink'
This pink form of the tidy variety Miss Manners is like its sister, but instead bears soft pink flowers in summer. It also grows 30 inches tall and wide. Zones 3-9
Chinese evergreen is a can't-go-wrong houseplant. It grows practically everywhere, from low to bright light and doesn't mind if you forget to water from time to time.
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Where did the obedient plant get its name? When you gently move a flower to face it in another direction, it will stay in place for a while, as if posing for its close-up. Eventually the flower will move back to its original location, but it’s kind of fun to ‘style’ the flowers.
Obedient Plant – Physostegia virginiana Obedient Plant – Physostegia virginiana