Pulmonaria - Springtime Charmers in the Perennial Flower Border

Blue Azure Pulmonaria
Blue Azure Pulmonaria. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Overview and Description:

Pulmonaria is a very early spring blooming plant with the unfortunate common name of lungwort. While it used to be used medicinally for lung ailments, today we grow it mostly as a perennial flower.

Pulmonaria is a large genus with varieties that will grow almost everywhere. Their season is early spring, when most other plants are barely poking out of the ground. Breeders have had a good deal of fun with Pulmonaria in recent decades.

They flower in wonderful brilliant blues, pinks, and white. The leaves can be solid green, speckled or completely frosted white.

Many gardeners first encounter Pulmonaria with the old standard 'Mrs. Moon'. This is a charming little plant with lance-shaped deep green leaves that are spotted with small white 'moons'. The buds start out pink and open to an azure blue.

Pulmonaria is a low growing plant, although the flower stalks can reach a foot and a half. Bees love the blossoms. Most varieties will self seed as well as spread by rhizomes, so they make a nice choice as a ground cover.

Pulmonaria are basically woodland plants and prefer either a shady location or at least a moist one.

  • Leaves:  Oval, pointed leaves. Leaves can be solid green, of varying intensities or variegated with spots or splashes of white.
  • Flowers: The small funnel shaped flowers come in vivid clear shades of white, blue and pink. Many will change color, as they mature and are pollinated.

    Botanical Name:

    Pulmonaria

    Common Name(s):

    Lungwort, Jerusalem Cowslip, Soldiers & Sailors, Spotted Dog

    USDA Zone:

    Pulmonaria is hardy from USDA Zones 4 - 8

    Mature Size:

    Height: 10 - 14 inches, Spread: 18 inches

    Exposure:

    Pulmonaira is best grown in full to partial shade. Even though the trees have not leafed out when it blooms in eraly spring, since the weather is still cool and damp, it would be fine grown in a spot that will eventually be shaded when the trees leaf out.

    Pulmonaria can tolerate more sun if it is kept moist.

    Bloom Period:

    Early Spring. Pulmonaria is one of the first perennials to bloom.

    Design Tips:

    Pulmonaria plants are naturals for shady woodland gardens. The white flowered varieties really glow against the green foliage.

    You can also plant them in a sunny border, among later maturing perennials, for a shot of spring color. Pulmonaria can handle full sun in the spring and the leaves of taller, summer perennials will provide shade for them, later in the season..

    For a winning combination, they look especially beautiful planted with the delicate foliage and soft pink flowers of fringed leaf Dicentra, which bloom at about the same time as the Pulmonaria plants.

    Suggested Varieties:

    • Pulmonaria 'Excalibur' - A clump former with silver leaves and long lasting violet-blue flowers. Mildew resistant.
    • Pulmonaria officinalis 'Sissinghurst White' - Long, speckled leaves with pale pink buds that open to pure white
    • Pulmonaria 'Spilled Milk' - Has the familiar pink to blue flowers. Young leaves are tinged purple, changing to film of white as they age.

    Growing Tips for Pulmonaria:

    Soil: Most Pulmonaria plants are not terribly fussy about soil pH, although they prefer something in the neutral to alkaline range .

    (7.0 - 7.5). More important is providing them with a well draining soil that retains moisture long enough for the roots to soak it up.

    Planting: Since most modern Pulmonaria are hybrids, they are not generally started from seed, however don't be surprised if you get a few volunteers. They may not be identical to your original plant, but most are lovely, just the same.

    Maintenance:

    After flowering, the flower stalks turn brown and flop over. The initial leaves also begin looking tattered. A removing the entire flower stalk and the older leaves will encourage the plant to rejuvenate and look fresh again. More de-leafing may be necessary if the summer is hot or dry.

    Pulmonaria are slow to spread and do not require frequent division, however you can divide a clump after flowering, if you'd like to make more plants.

    Pests and Problems:

    Because they grow in moist conditions and low to the ground, Pulmonaria can be prone to mildew and slug and snail damage.

    More on adding blue flowers to your garden.