Spectacular

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Culver’s root
Veronicastrum virginicum
Plantaginaceae
(formerly Scrophulariaceae)

 

I’m partial to tiny, subtle flowers, but it’s hard not to love a plant like this. Although the individual flowers are small, they’re crowded into dense spikes up to eight inches long. The spikes occur in whorls in the upper nodes, surrounding a towering central spike. The whole effect is spectacular, especially when you find a plant that’s as tall or taller than you are.

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seen from a distance; notice the Baptisia australis growing to the left

 

I first saw Culver’s root two years ago, growing along a slope so steep I had to almost climb to get to it. Earlier this year I saw a few plants growing next to the blue false indigo I was obsessed with; later I reported that they’d been browsed by something. But a few days ago they had bounced back, tall spikes filled with buds.

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a little closer

 

To my delight I spied a third patch on the peninsula I visited (post from July 3), and interestingly the plants were growing right next to a big stand of blue false indigo. Clearly they enjoy they same growing conditions: wet soils in full sunlight. Culver’s root would be lovely in the back of a rain garden, maybe alongside joe pye weed. It’s a hardy, adaptable plant that is available in the nursery trade.

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a whorl of spikes and leaves at the uppermost node

 

Worldwide there are about a dozen species of Veronicastrum, but V. virginicum is the only one in North America. It’s found in the eastern half of the US and Canada, as far west the the easternmost portions of the Great Plains states. It’s threatened in Massachusetts and New York and endangered in Vermont. In Maryland in grows in the Piedmont and part of the Coastal Plain (and in Garret County).

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