Culver’s Root: Sometimes Newer IS Better
Despite the depredations of the Four Lined Plant Bug, our ‘Fascination’ Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) has begun blooming pretty nicely at this point in the year.
I really like the bloom color of this cultivar, which is a soft lavender-blue. Although in many places you’ll see ‘Fascination’ described as pink, which is confusing. The indirect light in the photo above seems to make the flowers look even more blue.
But they still look blue to me, and not at all pink, in the picture above with its bright light. In any case, I also like this plant’s pointy flower spikes, its upright habit, and it’s whorls of deep green, lance-shaped leaves. It grows about 4 feet tall in our garden.
The straight species has white flowers. I’m not against white flowers, but it’s just not the color I want in this spot. Call me superficial, go ahead.
In most instances, I do prefer to grow the straight species. One example: Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). This species has many cultivars, and I dislike pretty much all of them.
A debate is going on over whether or not cultivars of native plants are as beneficial to wildlife as straight native species. There isn’t much scientific evidence either way, but research is being done at the Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.
According to an article on the blog of the National Wildlife Federation, double-flowered cultivars can be almost useless to bees and other pollinators. Purple-leaved cultivars are less attractive to caterpillars, but variegated leaves can be more attractive. Some cultivar traits, such as a more upright or compact habit, seem to make no difference at all.
Research at the University of Vermont indicates found that bees utilize the straight species New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) far more than some popular cultivars. On the other hand, cultivars and straight species of Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) and Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) were equally appealing to bees.
Based on my own observations, the lavender flowers of ‘Fascination’ are highly popular with pollinators. Straight species native plants should be part of the mix for American home gardeners (and they should be far more available at garden centers), but it is unrealistic and unnecessary to go without cultivars.