Obedient Plant 101 – Ultimate Grow & Care Guide!


If you’ve ever noticed an array of pink ornate spikes of flowers in mid to late Summer that resemble snap dragons, there is a good chance you are seeing Obedient Plant. One could consider Obedient Plant as our native answer to Foxglove or Snapdragons. It is especially good at attracting bees. I’ve grown and propagated dozens of Obedient Plants over the years, and will share everything you need to know!

In this article:

What is Obedient Plant

Obedient Plant is a showy perennial flower native to Eastern North America that attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Scientifically known as Physostegia virginiana, it will grow 4′ tall in full sun with moist to medium soil. It blooms tall spikes of pink tubular flowers for six weeks in late Summer.

Also a member of the mint family, Obedient plant gets it’s common name from the fact that one can bend a flower any direction, and it will stay put. But in certain conditions, Obedient Plant can become aggressive and spread via rhizome roots.

Native range

The native range of Obedient Plant is North America, East of the Rocky Mountains, with the exceptions of Florida, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Click on image to enlarge

Reference Table

Scientific NamePhysostegia virginiana
Common Name(s)Obedient Plant, False Dragonhead
Native Range, USDA ZoneEastern North America, Hardiness Zone 3-9
Bloom TimeLate Summer – Early Fall
Bloom Duration, Color6 weeks, Pink to Lavender
Height3-4 feet
Spacing / Spread1′-2′
Light RequirementsFull sun, partial shade
Soil TypesLoam, Clay, Rocky
MoistureMoist to Medium
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsLong-tongued bees, bumblebees, hummingbirds, butterflies

What are the Benefits of Obedient Plant

Obedient Plant has many benefits for the right garden or yard. It can grow where many other species cannot, is attractive, good for pollinators, and can out-compete undesirable plants in certain scenarios. But here are six benefits of growing this lovely plant!

Beauty

Obedient Plant is such a crisply ornate flower. It is really something to examine up close, and just see the pattern of blooms develop over several weeks. The showy pink flowers are neatly ordered, but can bent to whatever direction you want.

Clay Soil

Obedient Plant will tolerate clay soil better than many other flowers. It’s propensity for damp clay make it a great candidate for some conditions that many other plants cannot survive in.

Pollinators

As a member of the mint family, it produces large amounts of nectar to keep the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds going! Obedient Plant benefits bees in particular by providing them with a long-term nectar source.

Can compete with invasive species

In certain conditions, Obedient Plant will propagate itself by rhizome roots. These shallow runners will spread the plant, filling in gaps in a meadow, savanna, ditch, or pond’s edge. Prolific pollinators such as Obedient Plant can help keep a lid on invasive plants by filling in open or disturbed soil quickly.

Is Deer and Rabbit resistant

Like other members of the mint family, Obedient Plant is very Deer and Rabbit resistant. It’s foliage has a strong and bitter taste that will stop most mammals from feeding on it.

It makes a great cut flower

The long bloom duration of Obedient Plant also translate to a bouquet! Obedient Plant is a great cut flower in that it will look showy for a long time. Just change the vase water every couple of days.

Identification and Characteristics of Obedient Plant

Obedient Plant looks like a single stalk with pairs of leaves rotated 90 degrees from each other along the square stalk. Near the top are one to three spikes of tightly arrayed tubular pink flowers along and around the flower head.

This plant can reach a height of 4′ tall in optimum conditions.  The overall shape of Obedient Plant is of a singular stalk with possibly some branching in the upper third where the flower stalks are. Generally you find mixed colonies in the wild, or wildflower garden.

Stalk / Stem

As the Obedient Plant is a member of the mint family, the primary stalk will be square-shaped and have four distinct sides at approximately 90 degree angles.  In my experience the stalks are quite strong and able to withstand high winds and storms.

The stalk is generally medium to dark green, except at the base where it turns purple before transitioning to root.

Leaves

The leaves of Obedient Plant are lance-shaped and are opposite, meaning symmetrical pairs along the stalk. Each leaf pair will be rotated 90 degrees from the previous.  An individual leaf of Obedient Plant is about 4-5″ long and ‘1-2″ wide, coming to a point with serrated edges. 

I’ve found it pretty easy to identify this plant when not in bloom quite easily from a quick examination of the stalk and leaves. Obedient Plant is herbaceous, meaning that all the foliage dies back in the winter. Obedient Plant is not evergreen.

Flower

Each individual flower of Obedient Plant is pink in color, tubular with an upper and lower lip, and about 1″ (2.5 cm) long by 1/2″ (1 cm) wide.  They are densely arranged horizontally around the stalk in rows.  The top 6-10″ of a stalk will be packed tightly with these horizontal rows of flowers.  [1]

Blooming begins at the bottom of the stalk and goes upwards. The bloom duration or blooming period lasts about 6 weeks.

I’ve noticed that I still have individual blooms 2 months after blooming began.  Although the primary ‘peak blooming’ duration is about 4 weeks, which is quite long for a perennial.  Each flower will eventually turn brown and produce several seeds.

Root

The Root System of Obedient Plant consists of shallow fibrous and rhizome roots.  But it also has a shallow taproot for individual stalks.  The rhizome roots will shoot out in random directions, sprouting new plants.  This plant is aggressive in well manicured flower beds unless special steps to contain it are taken.

Root System and Rhizome of Obedient Plant

Growing Conditions and Care for Obedient Plant

If you plant Obedient Plant in the conditions that it prefers, it will thrive and grow very well. That is the secret to successfully growing flowers – match the conditions that they like. In fact, research has shown that some common fertilizers don’t have measurable benefit to Obedient Plant. [2]

Sunlight Requirements

As a general rule, Obedient Plant will grow best in full sun, which is at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. But, it can tolerate partial shade, which is 4-6 hours per day.

Watering Requirements

Obedient Plant will do best in moist to medium soil conditions. It can take occasional drought, but the lower leaves may turn yellow and fall off. It should not be planted in dry conditions.

Soil Requirements

The general preference of Obedient Plant is fertile, loamy soil. But it will do well in clay, clay-like, or rocky conditions as well.

The combination of clay with moisture can lead it to become aggressive.

Winter Care

You can cut back Obedient Plant stalks and leaves to the ground in Autumn once all the foliage has turned brown. Or, you can just leave them and remove the dead foliage in Spring. As sometimes beneficial insects over-winter inside the stalks.

How to Grow Obedient Plant from Seed

Growing Obedient Plant from seed is fairly easy. The seed should go through a cold stratification period of 60 days, or be winter-sowed, and planted to a shallow depth.

Seeds are tiny and three sided, but an overall round or elliptical shape.

Process to grow and germinate Obedient Plant seeds

You will need to decide whether to Winter-Sow or Cold Stratify Obedient Plant seeds in the refrigerator prior to planting. But, the steps below are for planting seeds that were stratified in the fridge. If you were to winter-sow, you could just follow the instructions below for the milk-jug or seed tray method.

  1. Fill container with moist potting soil, leaving 1/2″ (12 mm) gap from the top of the container
  2. Plant several Obedient Plant seeds, pressing them into the soil surface
  3. Lightly cover the seeds with 1/16″ (1.5 mm) of moist potting soil
  4. Place in a location that will receive morning sun and afternoon shade when temperatures warm up
  5. Mist the containers in the morning with a pump or hand sprayer so you don’t wash the seed away
  6. Germination should occur within a couple of weeks
Obedient Plant Seedlings

In addition to starting in containers, Obedient Plant seeds can be direct sowed in the Fall. Cover the seed lightly with soil. Germination should occur once soil temperatures begin to warm up.

Purchase Seed

We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

Harvesting and Saving Seed from Obedient Plant

Obedient Plant seeds can be harvest and saved about 2 months after blooming. Where the flowers were located, small brown pods will form. Cut these seed heads off the stalks and place them into a brown paper bag, and store for another week in a cool dry place. Then, shake the bag or massage the pods to release the small hard seeds.

Seeds can be stored for a year or two in an envelope in a cool dry place.

Propagating and Transplanting Obedient Plant via Rhizome Cuttings

Like other rhizome producing plants such as Bee Balm, Obedient Plant can be propagating by digging up and transplanting small plants from the mother rhizome in Spring.

  • Locate a patch of Obedient Plant
  • Find a small new growth plant
  • Gently dig up about 1-2″ of rhizome root on each side of the plant, and cut the rhizome
  • Place in a container with moist potting soil, and place it somewhere shady for a couple of days.
  • Transition it to a place that gets morning sun and afternoon shade for about a week
  • At this point, the young plants are established enough in the containers to transplant out to a final location, or move to a larger pot.

Is Obedient Plant aggressive or invasive?

As a general rule, Obedient Plant can become aggressive in moist clay soil in full sun. It spreads by rhizomes, and clay or clay-like soil tends to be conducive to an ever expanding population.

The simplest option would be to purchase the variety known as ‘Miss Manners’, as it does not spread by rhizomes.[8] But there are some strategies one can take to slow down Obedient Plant spreading. You can plant it inside pots, lined with landscape fabric to contain the plant outright (I’m currently experimenting with this method).

Placing it in it’s own bed with other aggressive plants such as Monarda didyma can work too. In fact I grew mine with Red Bee Balm for years, with both plants competing with each other. It made a thick display of beautiful red blooms, followed by the ornate pink Obedient Plant blooms.

You are looking at a mix of old and ‘new’ Obedient Plants in the Spring. These are all sprouting from the Rhizome System.

But no matter what, it is easy to control the spread each Spring. With a rake, or garden fork you can easily loosen all the shallow rhizomes and remove unwanted plants.

Invasive outside of North America

Outside of North America, isolated populations have been found in Poland and Lithuania where it is a potential invasive species. [3] [4]

How to contain Obedient Plant

I’ve resorted to some unique methods to contain rhizome producing plants. Some more successful than others. I have come to the conclusion that there are two options to contain rhizome plants:

Remove unwanted sprouts each Spring.

Removing unwanted plants in the Spring, with no form of containment is nice because the rhizomes tend to be very shallow. When you start applying barriers, often times the rhizomes just go underneath them. So, doing nothing at least makes new plants easy to remove.

Plant inside of a pot lined with weed barrier

Planting inside of a pot that is lined with weed barrier or weed mat will slow the rhizomes down (at a minimum) and completely stop them in some cases. I’m currently testing this method on some of my most aggressive plants. Stay tuned for results in 2022!

Removing Obedient Plant

If you planted Obedient Plant in a location where it has just become too aggressive, and you wish to get rid of and eradicate Obedient Plant, then the best option is to remove the plants in the Spring. Use a garden fork to loosen the soil, and pull out the plants with the rhizome attached.

Then, monitor the area to see if any new plants sprout up, and remove those too. In just a couple of attempts you should be able to get rid of most of your Obedient Plant. Just watch for the plant emerging in the Spring (pictured below).

Obedient Plant seedlings emerging in Spring.

Doing the above method can get rid of and kill Obedient Plant without harming surrounding plants.

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Obedient Plant

Pollinators

Bees

As a general rule Obedient Plant is mostly pollinated by bumblebees and other long-tongued bees. Obedient Plant is very good for bees.

Butterflies

Butterflies are attracted to the tubular flowers of Obedient Plant. As the blooms produce a large amount of nectar, they are very attractive to butterflies. I see all manner of butterflies from small skippers to large Swallowtails visiting my plants.

Hummingbirds

Occasionally hummingbirds will visit Obedient Plant to drink nectar from the tubular flowers. As previously stated, the large amount of nectar produced will attract hummingbirds.

Deer and Rabbits

Obedient Plant is deer and rabbit resistant. As a member of the mint family, most mammals will not eat the foliage. I’ve never noticed any damage in my many plants, and I’ve been growing this plant for over 5 years in different locations.

Obedient Plant and Dogs / Cats

Per the ASPCA, Obedient Plant is not listed as being toxic to either dogs, cats, or horses.[5]

Diseases

Aphids and mites can attack Obedient Plant. In moist areas leaf rust can sometimes damage the plant. Treat rust with a fungicide, or thin plants to promote airflow. [6]

Leaves turning brown

Sometimes leaf rust can resemble a brown color. Examine a leaf closely for orange-brown spots which can be a sign of leaf rust.

If the outside edges of the leaves are turning brown and getting somewhat crispy, then you may be under watering Obedient Plant.

Where you can buy Obedient Plant

Obedient plant is sometimes available at garden centers. Generally the larger stores will have cultivars or hybrids, while smaller nurseries will have the straight species. But seed is available from reputable suppliers as well that you can get to from our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE page.

Varieties of Obedient Plant

There are numerous varieties of Obedient Plant that have become available over the years. I do have to caution you though, if you are trying to do the best for pollinators then growing the original, straight species is almost always the best option.

This variety is ‘Miss Manners’

Pollinators see infrared, and changing the color of blooms can effect how frequent you will receive visitors. The true native species is generally pale-pink or pale purple in color. The hybrids and cultivars generally have darker or more prominent pinks and purples.

That being said, here are some available varieties and colors of Obedient Plant that are frequently available from large garden centers [7]:

  • Miss Manners (White, non-rhizome producing, aka it won’t spread) [8]
  • Alba (White)
  • Summer Snow (White)
  • Autumn Carnival
  • Crystal Peak White Australa
  • Biljka
  • Crown of Snow
  • Pink Manners
  • Variegata (pink and white)
  • Vivid (short plant, pink flowers)
  • Bouquet Rose (dark flower color)

Uses of Obedient Plant

Garden Uses

If one uses the previously stated strategies of containing Obedient Plant (plant in pots, pull unwanted new plants in Spring), then you can use Obedient Plant in a variety of ways. The tall pink spikes look beautiful in late summer, and can be used to provide an accent point or be used quite well in a border garden.

If one has water nearby, or a general wet area, Obedient Plant is a great addition to a rain garden with partial sun or a pond/creek edge. It also works well in moist meadows/prairies and micro-prairies.

Companion Plants

Some flowers that pair nicely with Obedient Plant are ones that can tolerate moist or clay soil, and can compete with it for height. Some examples of flowers that can grow near Obedient Plant are the following:

Edible/Medicinal Uses

Obedient Plant was not used medicinally by Native Americans. Nor is it generally considered edible. [9]

Obedient Plant vs Foxglove

Obedient Plant can sometimes be mistaken for Foxglove. It is easy to see why, as the blooms appear somewhat similar. However, Foxglove (Digitals sp.) is native to Europe and highly toxic.

If you love Foxglove flowers (they are gorgeous), then you really should try Obedient Plant. In fact, you could say that Obedient Plant is our native equivalent to Foxglove (or perhaps Penstemon).

Foxglove flowers are more round and shaped like tall bells. They also hang down towards the ground. Obedient Plant flowers are arrayed around and along the entire stalk. Obedient Plant blooms do not hang down, but are more horizontal.

Also, you can always test the bloom by moving an Obedient Plant bloom, as it will stay in it’s new place. Foxglove flowers just dangle, and will return to their original position.

Find more native plants here

References:

[1] – Mohlenbrock, Robert H. “CONTRIBUTIONS TO AN ILLINOIS FLORA I. THE GENUS PHYSOSTEGIA.” Rhodora, vol. 65, no. 761, 1963, pp. 58–64. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23306728. Accessed 21 May 2021.

[2] – Effects of phosphorus fertilization on growth and survival of Liatris pycnostachya, Physostegia virginiana, and Sporobolus heterolepis seedlings in a prairie restoration project
Bernd-Steffes, Dawn E. Date: 2000. Degree: Thesis (M.S.) Department: Department of Biology Ball State University. Other Identifiers: LD2489.Z78 2000 .B47 http://liblink.bsu.edu/catkey/1189407

[3] – Pliszko, Artur. “A Casual Occurrence of Physostegia Virginiana (Lamiaceae) in Poland.” Acta Musei Silesiae. Scientiae Naturales 65, no. 1 (2016): 47–50. https://doi.org/10.1515/cszma-2016-0004.

[4] – Gudžinskas, Zigmantas. Alien herbaceous plant species new to Lithuania. Warsaw : De Gruyter Open Ltd, 2017. Botanica Lithuanica. Warsaw : De Gruyter Open Ltd. 2017, t. 23, Nr. 1, p. 33-42. ISSN 1392-1665. eISSN 2029-932X. 10.1515/botlit-2017-0003

[5] – https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/o?&

[6] – First Record of Paramyrothecium roridum Causing Leaf Spot on Physostegia virginiana in China. Huizheng Wang, Fangshan Jiang, Yubin Lan, and Xin Han. Plant Disease 2021 105:2, 505, https://apsjournals.apsnet.org/doi/full/10.1094/PDIS-05-20-1082-PDN

[7] – https://www.uaex.edu/yard-garden/resource-library/plant-week/obedient-plant-10-05-07.aspx

[8] – https://sylvangardenslandscape.com/product/obedient-plant-miss-manners-plant-profile/

[9] – No records of Native Americans using Obedient Plant medicinally. http://naeb.brit.org/uses/search/?string=Physostegia+virginiana

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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