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.

According to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, Hoary Vervain is a host plant for Common Buckeye butterflies, though it is not listed on the website of Butterflies and Moths of North America.


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.

33 Comments on “Venerable Vervain”

  1. Qq¹I like the whispiness of the flowers.. and how they provide color and support for taller plants, yet do not completely obscure anything behind it. Mines about 3yrs old and Self seeding in SE MI. Grown by seeds using the winter sowing method

  2. I have hoary vervain in my garden too. It is planted by Rattlesnake Master. The only thing about its situation in my garden is that it doesn’t get enough sun and it is nearly lying prostrate to get to the sun. Poor thing. I guess that is a task I should put on my list…move the hoary vervain. I like it’s delicate purplish blue flowers.

  3. Your close-up of the Vervain shows the value of the “quiet” plants. It’s very beautiful, and we often find in life that the things we have to look most carefully for are the things most worth looking for. I’m hoary enough to have learned that myself!

  4. I wish I had room for this plant .. I feel a kinship with the meaning of it’s name right now in the dead heat of summer .. it is pretty close up but yes .. many people miss a plant like this because it needs to be seen and appreciated close up .. but how wonderful is it for the pollinators !

  5. Nice tribute to our hoary friend. I found this species at the farm I have been battling thistles on, and when I made the ID I thought the common name was definitely a bit strange. I admit, the first thought of the name was somewhat, ummm… I can’t seem to find a word. I guess the spelling is different, though. I have the Blue Vervain here on this farm but not the Venerable Vervain. I kind of like that name. If you make a motion to change the name, I will second it. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  6. That’s ‘not’ showy?
    Our native species is just a lowly weedy thing that is take out with the undesirable exotics. I know I should take another look at it, but I never gave it a chance. If I let it fill in, it might keep the others from coming back right away.

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