Dive into the World of Shrimp Plant Blue: A Fascinating Addition to Your Garden

If there’s one thing that’s true about gardening, it’s that learning about new plants can be a challenging but exciting adventure. One such intriguing plant is the honeywort or blue shrimp plant, scientifically known as Cerinthe major “Kiwi Blue.” Its enchanting beauty and unique characteristics have captivated the hearts of many garden enthusiasts.

Unraveling the Mystery of the Honeywort

When I first encountered the honeywort at the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, I couldn’t put a name to it. However, its striking resemblance to the borage family caught my attention immediately. Originating from the Mediterranean region, this plant thrives as a winter annual or a short-lived perennial in its native habitat. In Arkansas, however, it performs best as a cool-season annual, perfect for planting in mid-spring and removing by early summer.

Cerinthe major purpurescens Honeywort

A Glimpse into the Enchanting Appearance

Cultivated varieties of honeywort, such as “Kiwi Blue” and “Blue Belle,” reach an approximate height and width of 18 inches, showcasing elegant, upright branches that form an arch at the tip, resulting in a delightful mounded shape. During the early season, the leaves, about 2-3 inches long, exhibit a glaucous gray hue with white stripes running along the leaf’s length. Interestingly, these leaves lack petioles and snugly wrap around the stem. The foliage gives off a coarse and rubbery texture, blending harmoniously with the overall landscape thanks to its soothing blue-gray effect.

Mesmerizing Flowers: A Delight for the Eyes

The flowers of the honeywort emerge in a terminal arrangement, forming a one-sided, bract-enshrouded cyme. In the borage family, the blooms, known as a “scorpoid cyme,” resemble the arched tail of a scorpion. While not as pronounced in honeywort, you can still discern the family resemblance without much effort. Each individual flower boasts purple bells, slightly less than an inch in length, making their debut in late spring and continuing their spectacle until the arrival of scorching summer heat. Even when the plant is out of bloom, the purple-tinged, leaf-like bracts that surround the flowers retain their charm.

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The Honeywort Renaissance

Honeywort has been around for quite some time, but it seems to have garnered newfound attention in recent years, thanks to the growing interest in bees. In fact, the Royal Horticulture Society is actively promoting it as a bee-friendly plant in England. Its rich history dates back to the 18th century when Linnaeus, the renowned botanist, first described and named this plant, which remarkably has retained its original identity over the centuries. It may have been a pass-along plant in England and the Pacific Northwest, where it self-sows freely, ensuring its continuous presence in gardens. The association with bees goes beyond its name, as ancient beliefs suggest that bees collected wax from honeywort to shape their cones.

Cultivating Honeywort: A Rewarding Endeavor

To successfully cultivate honeywort, treat it much like you would treat broccoli. Begin by planting the seeds indoors during late winter, nurturing them into healthy transplants that can be moved outside once the harshest of winter weather has passed. Once hardened, these plants can withstand springtime frosts and freezes down to 20°F without any issues. Honeywort is a resilient plant that thrives in various soil types, making it a fuss-free addition to your garden. While it prefers full sun, it can also tolerate moderate shade.

Exploring the Limits of Heat

Online gardening communities often boast about honeywort’s ability to bloom throughout the summer. However, these accounts usually come from areas blessed with a maritime climate. In the heat and humidity of the midsouth, honeywort tends to stretch out, lose its luster, and generally looks untidy, leading most gardeners to remove it by June.

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For more information about horticulture or to discover other fascinating plants of the week, visit the Ames Farm Center. The Cooperative Extension Service, as part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, offers its programs to all eligible individuals, promoting inclusivity and equal access to knowledge. Regardless of your background or status, we welcome you to embark on this horticultural journey with us.

The world of plants is vast and ever-evolving. With each new discovery, we unveil nature’s wonders and enhance our own connection with the environment. The honeywort, with its alluring charm and timeless bee association, holds a special place in the hearts of gardeners who appreciate the beauty and intricacy of the natural world.