When I saw Late Figwort (Scrophularia marilandica) listed in one of my favorite native-plant catalogs, I was immediately intrigued.

Late Figwort

  • Unusually tall – check. (5’+)
  • Likely to baffle neighbors – check.
  • Shade tolerant – check.
  • Pollinator (especially hummingbird!) magnet – check.

So I planted a small clump near our Back Garden patio. I imagined lolling outdoors and watching hummingbirds and butterflies competing for access to the Late Figwort blooms.

Late Figwort leaves (ignore the Hydrangea flowers)

Unfortunately, living with Late Figwort has been a disappointment. Yes, the plant is tall, but it is not especially handsome. The flowers look mostly like little green berries. At any given time, only a few are in bloom. The handful that are in bloom look sort of like they are sticking their tongues out at you.

Late Figwort flowers

But for me, it was on the subject of attracting pollinators where Late Figwort faced its real downfall. Oh, there were pollinators. Once or twice there might have been hummingbirds. However, the overwhelming majority of pollinators drawn to Late Figwort in my garden were Bald Faced Hornets.

Now, I have no desire to deny Bald Faced Hornets their place in the ecosystem, but I would prefer that their place in the ecosystem not include my patio. They are stinging insects and a bit on the aggressive side, especially when human food is around – rather like Yellow Jackets, in my experience.

So late one night, while the Bald Faced Hornets are mostly at rest, I cut our Late Figworts to the ground.

Bald Faced Hornets

Let me be clear – I don’t wish to discourage anyone from utilizing native plants. However, I would argue that Late Figwort is perhaps not the best choice for most home gardeners.

After our experience with Late Figwort at home, I started noticing it with some frequency at a nearby nature preserve. May God bless and keep it – but not in my garden.

59 Comments on “A Farewell to Figwort”

  1. I was just noticing the fennel that I had planted to attract swallowtails was covered with bald face hornets. I had the same reaction, it needs to go. The dill was far more popular with the butterflies and not so much the hornets. That can stay. I think I will pass on the Late Figwort as well.

  2. Get rid of it, it’s a weed and who needs hornets? I’m always in two minds about attracting wildlife as I’m very picky about which wildlife I want to attract. I have a very long list of unwelcome visitors and hornets are right up there at the top with deer, rabbits and rats. How about cimicifuga or Actaea as we have to call it now? There is a lovely one called ‘Chocoholic’ or ‘James Compton’ is good too.

  3. I was immediately impressed by the height, but see what you mean about lack of interest. We get hornets here too, but they are not at all interested in us or our food thank goodness! It was worth trying out this plant though, just to settle curiosity. I find there are more and more plants I prefer to admire in other people’s gardens rather than my own! 😉

  4. Thanks for the benefit of your experience. I have to admit, though, that I would never be drawn to a plant called Late Figwort. Seems to me there’s warning in a name like that. I hope you’ve seen the last of those hornets! Nasty things!

  5. Figwort is an unusual plant. I was getting all excited when you were describing it then… I have bald-faced hornets in my garden already. I don’t really want any more. I have never had a run in with one but I don’t want to either. They are a beautiful hornet though.

  6. Here it is mid-August and I have not seen a wasp. Very odd. I am highly allergic and while I like the pollination done by bees, I need to keep my distance. Unfortunately, I too have had plants that need to disappear from the flower beds. I have a lovely daylily whose flowers are spectacular, but for some reason the foliage is always dying. It really needs to go.

  7. To be honest I love that name. If I had a tortoise in need of a name I think Figwort would be perfect, but on a plant it’s just not as impressive.
    Maybe in a larger garden it could be “architectural”, but next to a patch of Joe Pye Weed by the front door it’s more towards the meh side…
    Yeah bald faced hornets. Second only to yellowjackets on my list of ‘I hate you’ wildlife.

  8. I took one look at the scientific name and remembered one of my mother’s favorite words: ‘scrofulous.’ I looked it up, and sure enough, there’s a connection. Scrophularia comes from ‘scrofula,’ a form of tuberculosis, because several species have been used to treat the disease. Mom didn’t have TB in mind, though. In time (as in, by the 1600s) ‘scrofulous’ also came to mean “having a diseased or run-down appearance.” I’d say your version of Scrophularia is just a bit scrofulous!

  9. Loved your post! Thanks for sharing your experience. Although I too love native plants and the role they play in ecology, I often have to remind myself my small garden can’t be all things to all creatures. It’s difficult to limit garden selections so I appreciate your help!

  10. I had seen Figwort in a native plant catalog and was intrigued, it was supposed to be great for pollinators. I have little room in my garden for non-essential plants so your experience is helpful to me. My neighbor planted something called King of the Meadow, which reminds me of your Figwort. It’s been visited by bees since it started blooming.

  11. I’m with you~I’m always happy to see this in the forest preserve but wouldn’t want it in my garden. I wonder if pokeweed would be more fun?
    By the way, I don’t get your posts anymore and when I try to re-subscribe I get a message telling me I failed. Bummer, as I always enjoy your posts.

  12. Hi Jason … I hope you are feeling as well as you can !
    This story about the fig wart is a good cautionary tale that not all natives are not as “attractive” as they are described .. but you were adventurous enough to give it a shot, so well done you !
    But also there comes a time that you have to be realistic and weigh the pros and cons of a plant .. you did the right thing for you and your garden .. who needs hornets eyeing what mischief to get into, right ? LOL

  13. Hmmm….interesting conversation! I planted an Early Figwort (blooms earlier than a Late Figwort) in my garden years ago; I believe it was a free plant when I visited a native flower nursery or maybe I was intrigued by the name. I have lots of bees visit the Early Figwort in May and June but since I am not very good at identifying specific bees, I am unsure if hornets are the main visitors. I will definitely pay more attention next spring! At first, I too, didn’t think much of the plant but now I have come to love the simple and unremarkable presence in my garden. Thinking of you and your family, Jason, and praying your journey is not too difficult. Thank you for sharing your lovely gardens and expertise!

  14. I think you did the right thing by getting rid of it if it wasn’t good for you (especially as it came with hornets), remember that you’re not forced to have your garden as charity case or rescue home for any old plants (unless you want it to be that way). Fill the garden with what you like and let the eco-system sort itself out from that.

  15. Another fun and interesting blog. I looked up Bald Faced Wasps after having a huge paper nest of them in N Dak, at a summer cabin. They are poor pollinators, due to not being “ fuzzy”. So we don’t need to feel badly about trying to persuade them to reside away from our human habitation.
    My runaway cup plants are great for gold finches, pollinators and even the hummingbirds. No bald faced wasps seem to move in.

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