Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds have been feasting almost nonstop just outside my office window. The plant causing all of the commotion is lavender/pink obedient plant. It would be hard to find another native flower that has such a wide range. Unbelievably it is native in 39 states and even north to Canada. This means if you are a gardener you can probably grow the plant, as it is hardy from zones 3-9.
My first experience humorously almost led me to fear the plant. It was a scorching summer about 20 years ago when I was transporting a few plants in the back of a dirty old pickup. A couple of branches broke off the obedient plants and fell in the dirt-laden grooves. Branches of most plants would have perished instantly, perhaps even turning into an unrecognizable mush. In just a couple of days, however, I noticed my broken branches had rooted in the truck bed. I instantly figured this had to be the plant from, well, you know where. Although it can be aggressive, it is also easy to pull.
The obedient plant not only feeds the masses of the backyard wild habitat but also offers an incredible spiky texture with its pink to purple blooms rising upward from 2 to 4 feet. The flowers are tubular in form and align themselves in vertical columns along the stem. The lower flowers open first, proceeding upward over time. Looking at the blossoms would make you first think it is a snapdragon relative, but, indeed, it is in the mint family. The plant name comes from its ability to have the flowers bend then maintain the position obediently for quite some time.
As you might guess from such a large area of adaptability, soil structure and pH are not a big issue as with other plants. A moist fertile soil, however, does allow the plant to really dazzle. If you want to tone down its aggressiveness, choose a site that is fertile but a little drier.
The obedient plant is found at many garden centers in its generic native version as well as some improved cultivars known to be more compact in habit. Look for selections such as 'Rose Queen,' 'Bouquet Rose,' 'Summer Glow' and a white selection called 'Alba.'
At the Columbus (Ga.) Botanical Garden we've used it in a variety of ways, but my favorite combination has it partnered with the old-fashioned yellow flowered tansy, Tanecetum vulgare. The yellow flowers, borne on 3- to 4-foot-tall plants, form an idyllic late summer complementary color scheme. The informal drift of flowers would look quite at home against a white picket fence for a cottage garden setting.
Those of you who have a little land and have longed to create that dreamy wildflower meadow along a meandering stream may want to consider the obedient plant.
Clumps of lavender/pink flowers partnered with yellow to orange gloriosa daisies would be very picturesque. White flowered selections could also be incorporated with the addition of purple coneflowers. The obedient plant is deer resistant, making this meadow garden plant even better.
It may be August here in the hot, humid South, but I've got bees, butterflies and hummingbirds all feeding on the native obedient plant blossoms, which makes me happy. You can do it, too!
Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus Ga. Contact him at gardenguy2000aol.com