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Spring Blues

Amsonia tabernaemontana Blue MD Native Hurly Garden
Amsonia tabernaemontana Blue MD Native Photo L. Hurly

Blue Flowering Perennials

There are a number of blue-flowered, spring-blooming perennials.  A group you should consider are in the genus Amsonia, commonly known as Bluestar.

Several are native to the United States, and one, Amsonia tabernaemontana, is native to Maryland. This species gets two to three feet tall, and blooms for several weeks in late April through early to mid-May, depending on weather conditions. It has pale blue flowers and nice yellow fall color.  It grows in full sun to partial shade.

A Little About Amsonia

I planted one among ferns and hostas at the base of a fence in the backyard, back in 1997, and it’s still doing fine.  It’s a dense clump about 18 inches across: I’ve never divided it and it’s never had any cultural issues such as foliar diseases or outbreaks of aphids.  It gets a few hours of sun a day.  This part of the yard is well-drained and gets quite dry in the summer, although I do run a sprinkler back there once every week or two if we have a dry spell.  Due to the drier soil, it tops out at around two feet.

A selection of A. tabernaemontana that came out a few years ago has really caught my attention.  It’s called ‘Storm Cloud.’  They are dramatic as they emerges from the ground in early spring, with deep purple stems and dark green foliage with white veins. ‘Storm Cloud’ is quite striking, and even more so when the light shaped flowers emerge.  I planted three of them in the spring of 2019, lost one over the winter, and replanted it spring of 2020.  These went into an area of compacted soil that drains slowly, and they are doing better than I deserve.  They were quite striking these past few weeks.

Amsonia And Rain Gardens

Amsonia tabernaemontana is recommended for rain garden plantings, and they were included when I had a conservation planting and rain garden designed and installed by Backyard Bounty in the back and front gardens last fall.  Five in a well-drained area of this garden came through the winter and are ready to bloom, as are several in a poorly-drained clay area in the bottom of the front yard that I planted in 2019.  These are all in areas where they get direct sun for part of the day, although they would be perfectly fine in full sun.  So, I would say pretty versatile.

Another important feature, they are deer-resistant. 

One other Amsonia to consider is Amsonia hubrictii, which is native to Oklahoma and Arkansas. It gets three feet tall and is beloved by Amsonia fans for its long-lasting golden fall color. It is sometimes used en-masse as a tall ground cover.  There is a nice mass planting of it in a water capture basin at the parking lot above “The Collection of Chevy Chase” shopping mall in Friendship Heights.  I watched a presentation a couple of weeks ago by Janet Draper, who is the horticulturist/garden for the Smithsonian’s Ripley Garden on the Mall, and she included it in her “must-have” perennials.

So, on your next trip to your local garden center (you know you are just dying for a reason to go), look for Amsonia.  As a spring bloomer, you are likely to find your best selection now through early June.

Amsonia tabernaemontana Blue MD Native
Amsonia tabernaemontana Maryland Native Photo By L. Hurly
Amsonia tabernaemontana Blue
Amsonia tabernaemontana Blue Photo by L. Hurley
Amsonia (hubrichtii); Ground Cover section; Longwood Gardens
Amsonia (hubrichtii); Ground Cover section; Longwood Gardens Photo L. Hurley
Amsonia hubrictii at Friendship Heights
Amsonia hubrictii at Friendship Heights

Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Thank you so much! I have planted amsonia in my garden, and wanted to buy more. I had no idea what it was called, as I purchase things when I see them in the nursery and then forget!

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