Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta) is an attractive but not a showy plant. But it has great value from a wildlife perspective.
First, let’s deal with the name. “Hoary” does not mean what some of you think it means (don’t bother to deny it). It actually means appearing aged, as in white-haired or grizzled. And in fact, the stems and leaves of of Hoary Vervain are covered with little white hairs.
Still, Hoary Vervain does not sound very attractive, and smacks of ageism. How about Mature Vervain, Distinguished Vervain (“you don’t look old, you look distinguished”), or Venerable Vervain. It’s a common name, so if we can agree on a replacement, we can call it whatever we want.
Hoary Vervain likes dryish soils, while its cousin Blue Vervain (V. hastata) likes moist soil. For some reason my attempts to grow Blue Vervain have been unsuccessful, though friends have told me it spreads like a weed in their gardens. But Hoary Vervain has established itself nicely in the Driveway Border, and has even started to self-sow.
Hoary Vervain has flower spikes that bloom from the bottom up. The tiny flowers attract many bees, butterflies, wasps, and skippers. Bees attracted include green metallic bees, leafcutters, bumblebees, and miner bees. There is also a Verbena Bee that specializes in feeding from plants of this genus.
The seeds of Hoary Vervain feed Cardinals, Juncos, and other songbirds.
A friend of mine who works for a Chicago public garden has told me that she isn’t a big fan of Hoary Vervain. In the photo above, it is nestled between the Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) and the ‘Betty Corning’ Clematis. The photo illustrates this plant’s biggest limitation: it just doesn’t have much impact from a distance. It can really be appreciated only up close.
But not every plant in the garden has to shout to passersby. There is a place for quieter plants, especially if they support pollinators and songbirds.