Culver’s Root: A Hidden Gem in the Garden

Are you curious about the popularity of certain plants among gardeners? It’s a fascinating pattern that never ceases to amaze me. Lately, there has been a growing trend of incorporating native plants into gardens, which is not only beneficial for local insect populations but also adds color, height, and texture to the landscape. Surprisingly, one plant that embodies all of these qualities, Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum), remains relatively unknown in the gardening community.

Belonging to the Plantain Family, Culver’s Root is one of around 20 species of Veronicastrum found across North America, Europe, and Asia. Reverend and Naturalist John Banister discovered this species in the late 1600s and named it Veronica virginica. It wasn’t until much later, in 1917, that the proper genus name Veronicastrum was assigned. The name Veronicastrum not only pays homage to its original genus but also refers to its resemblance to St. Veronica’s veil. Astrum, meaning “star” in Latin, perfectly captures the radiant nature of this plant.

Although Culver’s Root stands tall, reaching heights of 5-7 feet with impressive leaves that measure up to 7 inches long, it remains underappreciated. The whorls of foliage along its stout stems create captivating horizontal lines in the garden, making it an ideal choice to accentuate architectural features. In late June and throughout July, this magnificent plant produces spike-like racemes that bear white or bluish-white flowers, accentuated by smaller, subtending flower spikes. The delicate cup-shaped flowers, with their fused petals and extended anthers, create an airy and lace-like effect.

Culver’s Root thrives in full sun and requires moist soil to flourish. Traditionally, it is placed towards the back of a border due to its height, but its upright and columnar habit allows for versatility in garden placement. When paired with mid-sized ornamental grasses like Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass, Culver’s Root creates a dynamic and vertical composition. For a seamless garden design, consider combining Culver’s Root with Rodgers’ Bottlebrush Buckeye or Summersweet, both of which bloom in July and share similar flower shapes and colors.

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Notably, Culver’s Root maintains its visual appeal well into winter, with its frosted stems adding an attractive element to the garden composition. Leave the plants standing through winter to enjoy their beauty, as they do not self-sow prolifically. As we reflect on Culver’s Root’s long history with gardeners since John Banister’s time, it seems perplexing that this plant has yet to become a garden favorite. With its regal crown-like floral display, stunning foliage, and other commendable attributes, it deserves wider recognition in the gardening community. It might be time to start the Culver’s Root fan club!

Veronicastrum virginicum 'Roseum'
Picture 1: Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Roseum’

Veronicastrum virginicum 'Lavender Towers'
Picture 2: Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Lavender Towers’

Close-up of the flowers and anthers
Picture 3: Close-up of the flowers and anthers

Veronicastrum virginicum with Aesculus parviflora in the background
Picture 4: Veronicastrum virginicum with Aesculus parviflora in the background

Veronicastrum with Agastache 'Purple Haze' and Calamagrostis in October
Picture 5: Veronicastrum with Agastache ‘Purple Haze’ and Calamagrostis in October

For more information about Culver’s Root and other exceptional plants for your garden, visit the Ames Farm Center.