In the Spotlight
Written by Tolly Beck
Tolly Beck is the horticulturist at Lasdon Park and Arboretum in Westchester County. She was formerly a horticulture educator for New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland, NY.
In the Spotlight
Regardless of their name, lungworts (Pulmonaria) deserve a special place in every spring shade garden. They are among the earliest of the spring blooming perennials. Many species start blooming in March and other species of lungwort flower April through May.
Lungworts tend to grow in clumps and spread slowly, making them an ideal ground cover. They usually grow to a height of 6- 10” with a 2’ spread. Their green leaves can be speckled with silver or almost completely silver. The flowers open in shades of pink, turning to shades of blue as they age. Even with such early bloom, the flowers readily last through snow and hard frosts.
The white/silver spots on the leaves of some species of lungworts are actually the reason for their name. During the middle ages herbalists believed that the appearance of a plant was often connected with how it should be used medicinally. The white spots on the leaves of lungworts were thought to look similar to spots on diseased lungs. As a result, the leaves were used in herbal medicines to treat respiratory problems. Even today, lungwort is still drunk as a tea and used by some advocates to treat coughs, bronchitis and asthma.
Lungworts are deer resistant and many cultivars are now powdery mildew resistant as well. They prefer a partially shaded location in well-drained soil. Lungworts are wonderful companions for hellebores, ferns and hostas and make a great addition to any shade garden.