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 it's known mostly as a perennial flower that will bloom in the early spring before most other flowers. It's a woodland plant and prefers either a shady location or at least a moist one.
- Botanical Name: Pulmonaria officinalis
- Common Name: Pulmonaria, Lungwort, Mary's Tears, Our Lady's milk drops, Jerusalem Cowslip, and Spotted Dog
- Plant Type: Perennial flower
- Mature Size: Up to 14 inches tall; Spread 1.5 to 2 feet wide
- Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
- Soil Type: Organically rich, moist soil
- Soil pH: 7 to 7.5
- Bloom Time: Early spring
- Flower Color: Brilliant blue, pink, and white
- Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8
- Native Areas: Widespread throughout Europe
How to Grow Pulmonaria
Pulmonaria is a large genus with varieties that will grow almost everywhere. Its season is early spring when most other plants are barely poking out of the ground. It flowers in brilliant blue, pink, and white. Many will change color, as they mature and are pollinated. A change in the pH of the petals is responsible for the color change.
Pulmonaria is a low growing plant, although the flower stalks can reach a foot and a half. Bees love the blossoms. Its oval, pointed leaves can be solid green of varying intensity or variegated with spots or splashes of white. The leaves have a layer of fuzz on them and the color variations make them look like they were splashed with bleach.
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 it later in the season. This flower looks especially beautiful planted with the delicate foliage and soft pink flowers of fringed leaf Dicentra, which blooms at about the same time. Another smart place to plant them is under the shade of a large oak tree where they will thrive in this shady spot.
Pulmonaria is best grown in full to partial shade. Keep in mind that most trees have not leafed out when it blooms in early spring and the weather is still cool and damp. It would be fine to grow pulmonaria in a spot that will eventually be shaded when the trees leaf out. Spring sun is not as strong as summer sun, so the leaves of other plants will protect the pulmonaria once the sun gets stronger. Pulmonaria can tolerate more sun if it is kept moist.
Most pulmonaria plants do well in soil with a pH in the neutral to alkaline range. More important is providing them with a well-draining soil that retains moisture just long enough for the roots to soak it up.
Lungworts only need to be watered in times of drought. Because they grow in the shade, the soil tends to stay moist for longer than if it was in the harsh sun. When watering, soak the soil to a depth of 10 to 12 inches.
Temperature and Humidity
These plants will start growing as soon as all danger of frost has passed. They do not like hot and humid climates. The plants will wilt in hot, humid weather and flower again in fall.
They don't require frequent or heavy fertilization. In the early spring, sprinkle a small amount of all-purpose garden fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, around each plant.
Since most modern pulmonaria varieties are hybrids, they are not generally started from seed. Most varieties will self-seed as well as spread by rhizomes, so it makes a nice choice as a ground cover. Pulmonaria plants are slow to spread and do not require frequent division. You can divide a clump after flowering if you'd like to make more plants. Because they grow in moist conditions and low to the ground, pulmonaria can be prone to mildew and slug and snail damage.
Varieties of Pulmonaria
- Pulmonaria Excalibur: A clump former with silver leaves and long-lasting violet-blue flowers, this variety is mildew resistant.
- Pulmonaria officinalis "Sissinghurst White": This has long, speckled leaves with pale pink buds that open to pure white
- Pulmonaria "Spilled Milk": This type has the familiar pink to blue flowers. Young leaves are tinged purple, changing to white as they age.
After flowering, the flower stalks turn brown and flop over. The initial leaves also begin looking tattered. 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 weather is particularly hot or dry.