Culver’s root, Veronicastrum virginicum, is a native perennial wildflower. It grows in meadows, open woodlands, and moist prairies of the central and eastern United States and Canada. In the home landscape, it is a fairly adaptable plant that reaches its peak performance in a sunny location with moist soil.
It typically reaches four to five feet tall but occasionally maxes out at six feet. In the late spring and early summer, it produces a showy display of tall flower spikes. The native plant typically has white flowers, but several cultivars are available with flowers in striking hues ranging from a pale smokey pink to vibrant lavender blue.
As a landscaping plant, Culver’s root has a place in many landscape themes. Since it loves wet soil, you can use it anywhere near a body of water or in a periodically moist patch of soil at the bottom of a hill. Its showy flowers attract pollinators, make great cut flowers, and provide interesting diversity and structure in many garden settings.
If you have a suitable location for this plant, you won’t be disappointed. Let’s dig deeper into the care and garden ideas for using this attractive wildflower.
Plant Natural History
This wildflower has been historically utilized for medicinal purposes.
Culver’s root is widespread across central and eastern North America, from Texas east to Florida and north into Canada. It is most commonly found in prairies, moist meadows, open woodlands, and along sunny stream banks.
This is one of many plants characteristic of moist prairies and grasslands, particularly in the upper Midwest and Northeast. These plants are valuable components of the natural ecosystem and greatly benefit native pollinator populations.
It has a long history of human use as well. People prepared and used the dried rhizomes to treat a variety of ailments. It is still available commercially as an herbal extract.
Showy flowers feature long, slender spikes densely packed with small, tubular white blossoms.
The flowers bloom from late spring to mid-summer. Flowering stems typically send up multiple long, thin flower spikes, each densely packed with tiny white flowers. The individual flowers are thin and tubular, up to about one centimeter long. They begin opening from the bottom up to the tip. Since they open gradually up the flowering stem, this plant has a fairly long blooming period.
While the native flowers are white to pale purple or blue, several cultivars have a wider variety of showy and colorful blossoms, including white, soft pink, and deep lavender-purple.
After spring flowering, you can try cutting the spent flower stems back to the leaves, and you may luck out with a second re-bloom a few months later in the fall. The second bloom may not be as vigorous as the first, but if conditions are right, you (and the pollinators) can enjoy some more of these delightful flowers.
If you have access to a mature plant, there are several ways to propagate Culver’s root. You can also often find them for sale at nurseries and greenhouses specializing in native plants.
These seeds benefit from a cold, moist stratification process for successful germination.
Culver’s root plants can be started from seed. You can collect your own in autumn from an established plant or purchase seeds from a reputable seed company. These seeds benefit from a cold, moist stratification before germination.
The best time to sow the seeds is in the late fall. Sprinkle them on the ground where you’d like them to grow and press them down to ensure good soil contact. The seeds are tiny and require light for germination, so you won’t need to bury them at all. However, you will need to keep the soil moist until they germinate.
After overwintering, they will naturally germinate in the springtime. You can protect your tiny new plants by placing a critter cage over them to deter squirrels from digging them up. If you want to provide extra insulation against cold snaps, cover the cage with a frost blanket that fits right over the top.
Split your cluster into two sections and transplant half to a different area.
Dividing larger mature plans is the easiest way to propagate Culver’s root. Divide larger clusters of plants in late fall or early spring. Dig out a healthy chunk of rootstock and make sure that you have some buds or stems to guarantee you are getting a complete plant.
Separate your cluster into two parts. You can dig and remove half and transplant it to another location. If you have gardening friends, you can divide your larger clusters in the fall and offer new plant starts to others interested in native plants.
Remove leaves from the lower two inches and dip the stem in rooting hormone.
Take a few softwood cuttings in the spring if you want to try propagating by cuttings. Use sharp, clean clippers, and take a four to six-inch cutting of a stem with fresh spring growth.
Strip any leaves off the lower two inches and dip this stem section in a rooting hormone. Place the cutting into a pot with fresh, clean soil. Locate your pot in a warm and protected place and keep the soil moist but not wet.
In a few weeks, your cutting should start developing new roots, and you will know the cutting has been successful when it starts to develop fresh new growth at the top. Not all cuttings will root successfully, so you may want to take two or three cuttings to increase your chances of at least one that takes root.
Early spring or fall is the best time for transplanting perennial wildflowers.
When you have a well-developed cutting or a young plant purchased from a garden center, you must transplant it into your garden. First, identify where you want it to grow, ensuring your site will get plenty of bright sunlight and consistently moist soil. The ideal time to transplant any perennial wildflower will be early spring or fall.
Dig a hole slightly deeper and wider than the root ball of your potted plant. Carefully remove the plant from the pot and transfer it into the hole, matching the soil level or the potted plant to the surrounding soil level.
Then, re-fill the hole and pat down the soil around the roots and stem. Finally, give your new transplant a thorough watering and keep it moist for the next couple of weeks to help it adjust.
How to Grow
This adaptable plant is a bit slow to establish in a new location, but it will grow to be a hardy perennial in the right conditions. It is easy to care for following the cultural guidelines listed below.
For optimal growth, plant in full sun or light partial shade.
Grow this flower in full sun to light, partial shade. In northern climates, it will do better in full sun. In hot, humid southern climates, plant it at a woodland edge where it will receive some afternoon shade. However, this plant will become weak and leggy if grown with too much shade.
This perennial loves moist environments but struggles in dry ones.
Culver’s root prefers a moist site. It is not a good plant for dry sites. If you have a location that holds a bit of water, such as in a rain garden or the border of a pond, this location would be ideal. If you plant it in a dry site, you must do a lot of extra watering to keep it happy.
Aim for slightly acidic conditions, ideally with a pH lower than 6.8.
The soil should be of average quality or organically rich. It can be well-drained but must be able to hold consistent moisture. Culver’s root prefers a site with neutral to slightly acidic soil with a pH of less than 6.8.
Climate and Temperature
This plant flourishes in various climates, especially in cooler settings.
Culver’s root is widely adapted to different climate conditions. It can grow in cooler northern climates and warmer southern climates, although it seems to grow best in cooler conditions in hardiness zones 3-8. It can easily withstand freezing winter temperatures as the roots safely overwinter.
Surround the plants with natural, biodegradable mulch to enhance the nearby soil.
You don’t need to add extra fertilizer to your Culver’s root plants. These plants do appreciate organically rich soil, however. Place them in a spot with some added organic compost to get them a great start. Mulch around your plants with natural, organic, biodegradable compost materials that will enrich the soil in the area.
Culver’s root is undemanding, needing occasional staking when grown in shade.
Culver’s root is low-maintenance and easy to care for. As plants grow tall, they may occasionally need to be staked upright, particularly if grown in the shade. After frost has killed the above-ground vegetation at the end of the growing season, cut your plants back low to the ground. Add a bit of mulch around them to maintain soil moisture and protect roots from drying out.
To maximize its growth, ensure ample space for its height and spread.
You can incorporate Culver’s root into many different garden styles. Since these plants can grow quite tall and spread out over time, you’ll first want to make sure you have a spot where they can reach their full potential.
Grow in a mass for added appeal. During full bloom, a cluster of these plants is quite striking! Even while not in bloom, the unusual foliage itself is attractive. Use it to create dramatic vertical lines in your landscape. Grow it along a rear border where the tall flower spikes can be seen above the surrounding vegetation.
One of the best uses of this plant is to create a pollinator garden. Bees love the flowers. Surround this plant with other perennials that bloom earlier in the spring and some species that bloom in late summer and fall. With a full season’s worth of pollinator-friendly flowers, you will surely attract a myriad of butterflies, native bees, and other beneficial insects.
Culver’s root is a well-suited option if you are trying to fill a moist section of your landscape. It will happily occupy a sunny spot alongside a lake, pond, stream, or other wetland areas. It is also a good choice for a low-lying rain garden with some extra water.
Grow it in a sunny native plant garden surrounded by other native wildflowers. Grow it alongside tall grasses and other grassland plants in a prairie-themed garden. It’s easy to grow your own small-scale pocket prairie! Many prairie and grassland plants also make excellent cut flowers, and you can make long-lasting ones from your plants as well.
There are no other species of Veronicastrum in North America, but there are several cultivars of the native Culver’s root. They each have similar characteristics and require the same growing conditions. They will all attract pollinators and make great cut flowers, but each has uniquely colored blooms. Check out some of these colorful cultivars!
‘Adoration’, Veronicastrum virginicum
‘Adoration’ blooms in a pink hue, radiating warmth.
The soft pink flowers of ‘Adoration’ practically glow with a warm aura. Grow this cultivar en masse for a stunning display with a big wow factor!
‘Erica’, Veronicastrum virginicum
This variety showcases exceptionally tall central flower spikes rising above the plant.
‘Erica’ is a cultivar with extra long central flower spikes, standing high above the rest of the plant. The flowers are bicolor white and pale pink for a bit of added uniqueness.
‘Lavendelturm’, Veronicastrum virginicum
‘Lavendelturm’ features pale lavender flowers and typically yields solitary spikes.
This cultivar has pale purple flowers. This variety produces single flowering spikes with few or no side-growing spikes.
‘Pink Glow’, Veronicastrum virginicum
In your flower bed, this cultivar truly embodies its name with its glowing, pink flowers.
The cultivar ‘Pink Glow’ lives up to its name. The pale pink flowers add a warm glow to your flower bed.
‘Red Arrows’, Veronicastrum virginicum
Pair ‘Red Arrows’ with other plants for a vibrant contrast.
This cultivar has very showy, deep lavender purple flowers. Grow ‘Red Arrows’ alongside any other Culver’s root for a dramatic contrast of colors.
Culver’s root is a crucial pollinator plant, attracting native bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects.
This is an excellent plant to attract pollinators, particularly native bees and other beneficial insects. It also attracts butterflies and moths. When grown with other pollinator-friendly plants, it makes an excellent addition to your butterfly or pollinator garden.
As a pollinator plant, it is particularly important. Culver’s root blooms from late spring into early summer, filling in the gap between spring flowering plants and when most summer flowers are in full bloom.
To ensure a hassle-free experience, provide adequate sun and soil moisture for this plant.
Fortunately, this wildflower rarely has problems with pests or diseases. Even the deer don’t like to eat it. The potential issues to be most aware of are in the cultivation of this plant. Ensure it gets enough sun and soil moisture, and you should have a trouble-free experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
Culver’s root spreads by underground rhizomes, but it doesn’t spread quickly or become invasive. It may take a couple of years for a new plant to become established enough to start to spread. You can allow your plant to grow naturally for several years before dividing it and thinning it. If you are allowing it to naturalize along a streambank or a wetland edge, you may never need to divide it. Just allow it to spread naturally into an attractive clump of vegetation and stunning flowers.
Culver’s root is a native plant that is an integral part of the natural ecosystem. There are plenty of advantages in growing native plants, such as Culver’s root.
- Native plants attract pollinators and birds and are critical food
- Native plants are well adapted to the local environmental conditions and are, therefore easy to grow and low-maintenance.
- They don’t require chemical fertilizers or pesticides for them to thrive.
- Native plants grown in their natural habitats typically don’t require extra
- Native plants are beautiful and help increase your home’s curb appeal.
Look for wildflower species that are low-maintenance and sun-loving. Try wild bergamot, another pollinator-friendly prairie plant that is well-adapted to a variety of conditions. Another great prairie plant that would compliment Culver’s root is purple coneflower, which has large pinkish-purple flowers that butterflies adore. Add a bit more diversity by planting a native and ornamental bunch-grass such as big bluestem.
If you have favorable conditions for growing Culver’s root, you really can’t go wrong with this ornamental native wildflower. It is beautiful, hardy, and long-lived, and it provides an reliable nectar source for pollinators. Add it to your landscape as an accent plant, grow it in the background, or create a large mass of Culver’s root for a spectacular display of late spring and early summer flower spikes. This plant will enhance your landscape in many ways, and you’ll appreciate that it won’t require any special care to thrive.