Obedient Plant – Facts, Identification, Grow & Care

Obedient Plant is a herbaceous perennial flower that blooms beautiful pink or white flowers in late summer.  Native to Eastern and Central North America, this plant thrives in full sun and medium to moist soil.  It is definitely one of the ‘showier’ natives, with its tall stalks that are just packed with blooms.  Up close, these flowers are very intricate and interesting to look at.  I love this flower, as it really gives you some late season color in the garden.  In fact it does a great job in keeping color in between Echinacea and Asters bloom providing continuous color and nectar source for bees.  Oh, and I almost forgot – it attracts hummingbirds too!Physostegia virginiana obedient plant

Another big benefit of Obedient Plant is that it can make a great alternative to Purple Loosestrife, the horrible invasive flower from Eurasia!  So – Plant Obedient Plant, not Loosestrife

 Obedient Plant Facts

  • Grows up to 4′ tall and blooms in late summer
  • Has a long bloom duration of 4-8 weeks
  • Hummingbirds and bumblebees are very attracted to Obedient Plant
  • Deer and Rabbits don’t seem to eat Obedient Plant
  • The common name Obedient Plant is due to the flowers.  If you physically move one of the blooms, it will stay in place and not spring back, making it ‘obedient’ to you.
  • Is hardy for USDA zones 3-9.  Check your USDA garden Zone HERE
  • Obedient Plant is a member of the mint family, and can spread aggressively in optimum conditions via rhizomes.
  • The Scientific Name of Obedient Plant is Physostegia virginiana

Obedient Plant Physical Description

This plant can reach a height of 4′ tall in optimum conditions.  There will not be any branches on the stalk, except where it splits near the top to make the ‘flower stalks’.

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.Obedient Plant Stalk

Leaves

The leaves are kind of lance-shaped and are opposite, meaning symmetrical along the stalk.  They are about 4-5″ long and ‘1-2″ wide, coming to a point.  The edge of the leaves are serrated.  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 leaves

Flower

Each flower is tubular, with an upper and lower lip.  The flowers are 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.  The blooming of this flower will occur in stages, with blooms opening up as others close.  This allows for  a very long bloom time.

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

This plant is in the mint family, so it will have shallow rhizome roots.  But it also has a 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.

Growing Conditions

This plant will thrive in full sun and medium to moist soil.  And the growth of this plant will be best in loamy black soil.  I have it thriving in what is basically a layer of decomposed mulch.  But I have also grown it in clay soil too.  It is a great choice for bordering a moist woodland, or on the downward side of a slope.

Once this plant starts flowering, it will  continue for a very long time.  It has been shown that warmer night time temperatures will help increase blooms.  I’ve observed my plants bloom well into September, and even noticed a few random flowers on the stalk into the beginning of October (zone 6).

How to care for Obedient Plant

This plant will not require much care if you plant it in conditions described above.  However, if there is an  extreme drought you may need to give it some water.  If you observe the leaves drooping down in times of very hot sun, then the plant is thirsty.

Maintenance

In the Spring, you should cut down dead stalks to clear the area and compost.  New growth will emerge in Mid-Spring.  You can cut them down in the Winter after blooming and seed production is complete, but it is generally better practice to do it in Spring as there may be beneficial insects wintering inside the stalk.

Other than that, the only maintenance would generally be to contain any unwanted stalks from spreading.

How to Establish

This plant can be grown from seed fairly easily, as well as from transplanting extra volunteer plants that sprouted from rhizomes.  This plant is pretty adaptable though, as volunteer invaders have been found in Poland, most likely from plants that had been cut back!

How to grow Obedient Plant from seed

Obedient Plant seeds need a cold stratification period of about 60 days to break dormancy, or you can winter sow them.  Plant seeds about 1/4″-1/8″ (3-6 mm) deep in seed starting mix or direct sow in Fall.  Germination will occur in Spring.

How to transplant seedlings from established colonies

If you know of, or have a patch of Obedient Plant you can increase the population and start a new colony through transplanting young volunteers.  To do this, dig up a short stalk in the Spring of a small seedling (not a larger, established plant w/ taproot).  Then, trim the rhizome root so that there is at least 3″ of root on each side of the small tap-root.  Wrap the roots in a moist paper towel, and transplant it almost immediately.

You will want to continually water this new transplant to make sure it doesn’t dry out for some time until it appears established.Physostegia virginiana obedient plant blooming

Garden Uses

This plant is perfect for a wildflower garden or Micro-Prairie as long as it doesn’t dry out.  This way it can spread, but be near competition.  We have it in a small wildflower area, and have moved a couple of volunteer offshoots to our backyard micro-prairie.  (Click on the image below to see how to make your own Micro-Prairie!).

But our small established population has locally spread.  It was actually planted by the previous owners, and they had used the fabric weed barriers.  Well, years of mulch decomposition has allowed the rhizomes to spread on top of the weed barrier in that layer of composted mulch quite well.  It has made transplanting small seedlings easy.

How To Make a Micro-Prairie

How to grow Obedient Plant in a typical well-manicured flower bed

You should not grow this plant in a well manicured flower bed with other species unless you take special actions.  It will likely spread, and clutter the area up.  But you could try planting it inside a 1-gallon pot.  Just take a pot, cut the bottom out.  Then dig a hole about 1″ shallower than the pot is deep.  Then just place the pot in the soil, and place your obedient plant.  The plastic walls of the pot should prevent the plant from spreading much.

Fauna

Bumblebees love this plant, and I often see them pollinating mine.  They also will be pollinated by hummingbirds and butterflies.  I haven’t seen birds eat the seeds, but they may.

Pests and diseases

As a member of the mint family, the odor from crushed leaves and the stalk seem to keep rabbits and deer from eating this plant.  In general, Physotegia virginiana contains compounds called Iridoids, that are basically a chemical defense against herbivores, making the plant taste bitter.

This plant is generally very tough and disease resistant.  And I’ve never noticed any problems on any of my Obedient plants.  However, a leaf spot fungus that can be fatal to Obedient Plant has been documented.  If you notice symptoms, you should treat with a fungicide, or try to help increase natural air movement through the plant.  But additionally, you should remove all leaves showing the symptom and burn or dispose of them.

REFERENCE TABLE

Obedient Plant Quick Reference Table
Common Name Obedient Plant
Scientific name Physostegia virginiana
Bloom Time Late Summer / Early Fall
Bloom Duration 4 – 8 weeks
Color Pink, Purple, or White
Bloom Size 1” long by ½” wide tubular flowers
Characteristics Stalks or spikes up to 10” long that are packed with the blooms, arranged horizontally
Height 3-5’ (1-1.5 m)
Spacing/Spread 1-2’ (30 – 60 cm)
Light Requirements Full Sun, Partial Sun
Soil Types Clay/Loam
Moisture Moist, medium
Maintenance Pull unwanted volunteer plants
Typical Use Borders, Micro-prairies, wildflower gardens
Fauna Associations Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds
Larval Host Henry’s Elfin butterfly, Grape leaf-folder moth
Sowing Depth 3/16”, 5 mm
Stratification Soak in hot water, then 30 days cold moist
Native Range USDA Zones 4-9
Notes Growitbuildit.com

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