Great Design Plant: Polemonium Reptans Paints Woodlands Blue in Spring
Author: Heather Holm
Houzz Contributor. Author of Pollinators of Native Plants. I am the owner of a native plant consulting and design firm, Holm Design & Consulting in Minnesota. I am currently working on a three year study to determine the types of native bees that pollinate cultivated blueberries in Minnesota, the forage (native plants) that can be added to attract and support the bees, and ways to provide additional nesting sites within the farms. I am a passionate environmental educator and regularly give lectures on pollinators, beneficial insects, and native plants throughout the Midwest and Northeast. Find me on Facebook at the following pages: Restoring The Landscape With Native Plants, and Pollinators of Native Plants.
The large, light blue flowers of Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans) provide color and a unique texture in the spring shade garden. Use this easy-to-grow, reliable native plant in any shady garden, whether under trees, intermixed with other spring-flowering wildflowers or naturalized in a woodland understory.
Jacob’s ladder really stands out on its own, as blue is a difficult flower color to come by in early spring. It also provides nourishment to pollinators; the flowers are an important source of pollen for bees along with beneficial insects, such as syrphid flies and even beetles.
Botanical name: Polemonium reptans
Common names: Jacob’s ladder, Greek valerian
Origin: Jacob’s ladder occurs in eastern North American woodlands, from the states bordering the Mississippi River eastward to New Hampshire in the north and to Georgia in the south; it is rare in South Dakota southward to Oklahoma; it is absent in North Carolina and Maine and the Atlantic provinces in Canada but does occur in Ontario and Quebec in Canada.
Where it will grow: Hardy to -40 degrees Fahrenheit (USDA zones 3a to 7a; find your zone)
Typical plant communities: Moist to mesic (semidry) deciduous woodlands
Soil requirement: Wet-mesic to medium-dry (mesic-dry) sandy-loam to clay-loam soil
Light requirement: Shade to partial sun
Mature size: 10 to 20 inches tall and 12 inches wide
Benefits and tolerances: Tolerates most soils; prefers woodlands with an ample amount of humus and leaf litter
Seasonal interest: Upright flowers with small clusters of large, showy light blue to violet-colored flowers; flowers begin to open in April or May (depending on latitude)
When to plant: Spring or fall; bare-root or potted plants are available from many native-plant nurseries
Additional Informationn about Polemonium reptans Common names include Abscess Root, Creeping or Spreading Jacob’s Ladder, False Jacob’s Ladder, American Greek Valerian, Blue bells, Stairway to Heaven, and Sweatroot. The root of the plant has been used in preparations to treat skin conditions such as eczema, lung conditions such as pleurisy, and for abdominal complaints.