Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.) is an early spring blooming plant with a somewhat unfortunate common name. The plant got its common name because its leaves are shaped like lungs, and lungwort was indeed once used medicinally to treat lung ailments. But today, this clump-forming plant is known mostly as a perennial landscape flower that emerges and blooms when most other plants are barely poking their heads out of the ground.
The plants in this genus are generally low-growing, though the flower stalks can reach up to 18 inches tall. Bees and other pollinators tend to love the blossoms. The leaves have a fine layer of fuzzy hairs on them and range in green hues sometimes with spotted or mottled markings. The plant’s five-petaled, bell- or funnel-shaped flowers bloom in clusters. They typically start as a pinkish color and then mature to a violet-blue, but this can vary by species and variety. Lungwort is best planted in the fall and has a moderate growth rate.
|Botanical Name||Pulmonaria spp.|
|Common Names||Lungwort, pulmonaria|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
|Mature Size||6–12 in. tall, 12–18 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Partial, full|
|Soil Type||Moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral, alkaline|
|Flower Color||Blue, pink, white|
|Hardiness Zones||3–8 (USDA)|
|Native Areas||Europe, Asia|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people and animals|
Finding the right landscape location for lungwort plants can be tricky, but it’s essential for the plants’ health and survival. While they appreciate the shade offered by overhead trees, they don’t like to compete with the trees for soil moisture. So if you do plant them beneath a tree canopy, it’s important to water them regularly. Lungworts also can do well along a fence, garden wall, or other structure that provides some shade without compromising soil moisture. And they can grow planted among taller perennials that offer shade as spring transitions to summer.
Lungworts don’t have any notable pest or disease problems. But they can be prone to powdery mildew and slug damage, which generally result in abnormal and damaged foliage. Overall, caring for these plants is fairly straightforward. Make sure they have adequate water and shade, and feed them annually.
Lungwort is typically grown in partial sun to full shade. But it can tolerate quite a bit of bright light in the early spring, which is helpful because not as many trees have leafed out at that point to diffuse sunlight hitting the lungwort. However, harsh direct sun in hot weather can wilt the plant and scorch its leaves. But too much shade can minimize the plant's blooms.
Lungwort plants prefer to grow in organically rich, humusy soil. The soil also must have good drainage. The plants prefer a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH but can tolerate slightly alkaline soil as well.
These plants need a moderate amount of moisture and struggle in soil that is too dry or too wet. Water whenever the soil begins to dry out due to a lack of rainfall and/or particularly hot weather. But don’t overwater to the point that the plant is sitting in soggy soil for a prolonged period.
Temperature and Humidity
Lungwort plants thrive in mild temperatures and tend to struggle in hot, humid climates. They start growing as soon as the danger of frost has passed in the spring. Hot summer weather might cause them to wilt; however, they should perk up again once the cooler temperatures of fall arrive.
Lungworts don't require frequent or heavy fertilization. In the early spring, sprinkle a small amount of all-purpose garden fertilizer around the plant. Mixing compost into the soil also can help to promote healthy growth.
Is Lungwort Toxic?
All parts of lungwort plants contain multiple chemicals that are toxic to people and animals when ingested. The leaves also typically have tiny coarse hairs that can cause irritation via skin contact.
Symptoms of Poisoning
Symptoms of poisoning from ingestion in both people and animals include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, and neurological issues. Symptoms from skin contact include itchiness, rash, and redness. Contact a medical professional as soon as possible if you suspect poisoning.
Because most modern Pulmonaria varieties are hybrids, they are not generally started from seed. Instead, most propagation occurs from division. After a mature plant is done flowering, carefully dig it up while keeping the roots intact. Gently pull apart the clump, separating the roots. Then, replant the clumps wherever you'd like.
After lungwort is finished flowering for the season, the flower stalks turn brown and flop over, and the older leaves also begin to look tattered. Removing the entire flower stalk and the degraded leaves will encourage the plant to rejuvenate with fresh growth. You also can prune off leaves that degrade from especially hot or dry weather as needed.
There are several species and varieties of lungwort, including:
- Pulmonaria 'Excalibur': A clump former with silver leaves and long-lasting violet-blue flowers.
- Pulmonaria officinalis 'Sissinghurst White': This plant has long, speckled leaves with pale pink buds that open to pure white blooms.
- Pulmonaria 'Spilled Milk': This hybrid has the familiar pink to blue flowers. Young leaves are tinged purple, changing to white as they age.
- Pulmonaria 'Roy Davidson': This plant has dark green leaves with silver-white spots; the flowers are pale blue.
- Pulmonaria 'Smokey Blue': This plant has silvery spotted foliage with pink flowers that turn blue.
Jauron, Richard. Growing Lungworts in the Home Garden. Iowa State University Extension
Pulmonaria officinalis. Missouri Botanical Garden
Chan, Thomas Y K. Worldwide Occurrence and Investigations of Contamination of Herbal Medicines by Tropane Alkaloids. Toxins vol. 9,9 284. 15 Sep. 2017, doi:10.3390/toxins9090284