Maltese Cross Plant Profile

Cottage Garden Classic

Maltese cross
David Beaulieu

The eight points on the Maltese Cross—a symbol adopted by the Knights of Malta in 1126—were said to reflect the knights' eight obligations or aspirations. The Maltese cross flower structure resembles this historical graphic which is now a common firefighter symbol. According to tradition, it was the Knights of Malta who brought the Lychnis chalcedonica plant to Europe in their journeys home from the Holy Land.

The flower's cross-shaped design contains both four and five petals which grow in clusters of scarlet red blooms (and less commonly, in white or pink). Due to its intricate nature and showy blooms, this member of the carnation family is a show-stopper in any flower border or cottage garden.

Botanical Name

Lychnis chalcedonica

Common Name

Maltese cross, London pride, Jerusalem cross

Plant Type

Herbaceous perennial

Mature Size

3 to 4 feet tall and 1 1/2 feet wide

Sun Exposure

Full sun

Soil Type

Evenly moist and well-drained

Soil pH

Between 6.5 to 7.5

Bloom Time

Early to mid-summer

Flower Color Red, white, or pink
Hardiness Zones Zones 3 to 10
Native Area

Eurasia

How to Grow Maltese Cross

To get a jump on the season, plant Maltese cross starts (purchased from a garden center) in the spring. Choose a plot in your garden that has fertile, well-drained soil and space for three to five plants. Amend the soil with organic compost or peat to achieve the correct pH and soil consistency. In some plant hardiness zones, you can also plant starts in the fall. Just make sure they have enough time to set roots before the first frost.

When starting Maltese cross from seed, sow them directly into the ground or start them indoors in containers. Sow seeds directly into your garden in late spring, covering them with 1/8 inch of fine loam.

In indoor containers, plant seeds in pots filled with sterile potting soil six to eight weeks before your region's final frost. Place the pots in a sunny window and keep them evenly moist. Once seedlings sprout, transplant them outdoors after the danger of frost has passed.

Maltese cross plants can grow tall, giving them a tendency to droop over during the height of the growing season. To avoid this, provide support with stakes or surround the perennial with low-lying plants like peonies. Deadhead spent flowers mid-summer to promote continuous blooms or forego this process and allow the plants to reseed themselves and spread. As part of your annual maintenance, cut the old stems down to the ground in the spring to allow for new growth.

Light

For the best show, grow Maltese cross plant in full sun. The sunnier the spot, the more flowers your plant will produce and bushier it will become. Maltese cross planted in a shady area will grow leggy and long.

Soil

Good soil drainage is required to successfully grow Maltese cross. This plant can tolerate mildly acidic or alkaline soils with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. If your growing area is compacted, add compost mixed will peat to amend the soil and allow for proper drainage.

Water

Maltese cross grows best in evenly moist soil. It requires more frequent watering during summer droughts and when propagating from seed, as the seeds need to be consistently wet in order to sprout.

Temperature and Humidity

Maltese cross favors conditions similar to those found in the Mediterranean. Mild winters and hot and somewhat humid days allows this plant to thrive best. Maltese cross can survive temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, however, in order to maintain health, frequent watering during hot spells is advised.

Fertilizer

Maltese cross is not a heavy feeder, but like most plants, it performs best in fertile soil, as opposed soil that is nutrient deficient. An occasional feeding of compost should be sufficient for maintaining plant health.

Varieties of Maltese Cross Plant

While Maltese cross has many common names—like Jerusalem Cross, Scarlet Lightning, and Scarlet Lychnis—there is only one known variety which sometimes presents with slight variations of color.

Landscape Uses

Maltese cross flowers are often grown alongside yellow flowers to create striking plant color schemes. This perennial is also coveted by gardeners interested in tradition, as it's been grown for centuries, particularly in cottage gardens. Maltese cross can also be used to naturalize a space. Add it to a wildflower mix that includes phlox, yarrow, and alyssum to add a pop of color to a meadow.

This plant is certainly not grown for its foliage, however, as the leaves are not especially appealing. They tend to look disheveled and brown up easily under the summer sun. Still, some admirers of Maltese cross overlook this feature and instead focus on the bright red color and unusual shape of the plant's flowers. This is an effective plant for attracting hummingbirds and a great addition to any pollinator garden, as bees love it.