Sit! Stay! Bloom!

Of course the so-called Obedient Plant never will be as obedient as a dog — it’s not going to roll over or fetch — but there’s a reason for its name. Bent, twisted, or arranged around the stalk, individual flowers tend to stay put; arranged in parallel rows, the effect can be charming.

These Spring Obedient Plants (Physostegia intermedia) found near the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge will bloom until late June or July; the so-called Fall Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) appears here from August to October. While the doubled stem shown above is unusual, the curves of the developing flowers always are attractive.

The flowers open from bottom to top along the stem, and visiting bees seem to move in the same direction. Tubular, two-lipped blooms offer a handy ‘landing pad’ for the bees; entering one flower after another to gather nectar, the bees then back out, carrying pollen with them as they go.

The plants are less obedient in the garden. A member of the mint family, Physotegia spreads easily; like mint, it can fill flower beds if not contained. Still, that same tendency to naturalize allows it to provide great sweeps of color across the landscape. Whether straight and tall as the snapdragons it resembles, or delicate and curved in development, it’s a welcome sign of spring’s continued unfolding.


Comments always are welcome.

77 thoughts on “Sit! Stay! Bloom!

    1. They are quite an sight, and they can surprise you anywhere. They’re just as likely to set up shop along a road as anywhere else. The most I’ve ever seen were next to a barn; they’d surprised the farmer, too. He wanted to mow, but his wife didn’t. I’ve not seen them since, so I guess he won out.

        1. It’s hard to tell. The land isn’t in cultivation, and other parcels of land they owned have sold, so they might have been ‘tidying up’ prior to selling.

  1. Beautiful photos! Obedient Plant blossoms in mid summer here and of course everyone says DO NOT PLANT IT. Because my soil gets so dry in summer I’ve never had a problem with it spreading; in fact, quite the opposite! I do like the idea of seeing great sweeps of it in a meadow…..

    1. I had no idea these were the bane of at least some gardeners, but so it seems. I usually find them in damper areas — good, moist soil if not wet ditches — so what you say about your drier soil makes sense. I’m glad the photos pleased you!

    1. Another common name for this one is false dragonhead. I presume that’s because of its resemblance to snapdragons. I’d never thought of it before, but the commercial landscapers around here are doing some post-freeze planting, and one of the flowers that’s going in everywhere is snapdragon. It makes sense that they’d thrive at the same time.

      1. Snaps are also popular with another group, red-footed tortoises. My sister’s critters always head for them and munch away. I don’t think they’re very tasty but to each their own.

        1. It never had occurred to me, but an open-mouthed snapping turtle looks a bit like a snapdragon: at least, if you don’t look too closely and have a bit of imagination. I checked out the red-footed tortoises and thought, “Yep.” There’s a similar resemblance. Fauna, meet flora.

    1. I nearly rolled into the ditch fetching that first photo. When the sky’s ‘up’ and the plant’s ‘down,’ it’s always a coin flip whether it’s going to be up or down for me. With that one, I split the difference.

      1. “Split the difference” reminded me of splitting an infinitive, which got me thinking about language (which isn’t hard to get me to do). I was surprised some years ago to learn that fetch ultimately traces back to the same root as foot, so the original sense would have been of going on foot to get something. There’s lots more in the Online Etymology Dictionary.

  2. It is a really pretty plant and it’s fun to manipulate the flowers. I am one of those people who planted it. It did really, really well and has left the garden bed and headed under the fence into the woods.

    1. I laughed at your description of the plants heading under the fence and into the woods. Turn your back on them, and there’s no telling what they’ll get up to. You and your pollinators are lucky to have a place for it to spread.

      1. I’m well amused by the idea that if you turn your back on them, they’ll get up to mischief…I have a few plants like that! But these are so pretty, with their foxglove-like markings, that I’m sure they’d be forgiven.

        1. Plants plotting in the garden — surely there’s a plot line in there somewhere, and this seems to be a species that’s more than willing to leave its designated plot and head for the hills, or the veggies, or the middle of the lawn. I think you’re right, though. They’re not ill-tempered or nasty; they just like so spread, and they do a fine job of it.

    1. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says there are 2,700 species of wildflowers in the state: give or take, I’m sure. Of course, each region has its own beauties. Going from the pineywoods of east Texas to the Trans-Pecos or Panhandle can be like going from Maine to Arizona. There never will be enough time to see or show even a fraction of our wealth.

    1. I’ve always had difficulty getting a decent photo of the inside of flowers like this, so I was pleased with this pair: for the bees, of course, but also for that glimpse of the interior. The relationship between pollinators and flowers is fascinating. What these bees love, butterflies pass by.

    1. To be honest, my basic distinction between the plants is their season: spring into summer for one, and summer into fall for the other. Most of the articles I’ve read have said very little or nothing about obvious distinctions, apart from their season. I did find this article from the Arkansas Native Plant Society that might as well be titled “Everything You Wanted to Know about Physostegia But Were Afraid to Ask.” It mentions some slight differences in leaf margins that I’ll look for in the fall — if I remember. That’s one of the values of writing these things down, though. Posts like this do help me to remember.

    1. I’m learning as much as anyone; there’s no question about that. Sometimes I talk to myself when I’m wandering around, and I’m usually saying something like, “Now, what in the world is that?” Usually I find out — at least, eventually.

  3. Haha–I used to have some Obedient plant and it was a most misbehaving thing! Flopped all over everything. Lovely shots, I’m loving those little happy bee in bloom photos!

    1. These plants were covered with so many bees you could hear them buzzing from several feet away. It’s good to see so many flowers blooming for them. I’m starting to see bumblebees now, too; they’re such fun, and they really do bumble around the flowers. I’m still not good at identifying bees, but at least I can spot some native ones now.

  4. these are really lovely. I had obedient plant at the city house for a few years. I’d forgotten about this sweet native. I’ll have to check the nurseries and see if I can get it established out here.

    1. The USDA map doesn’t show it as native in your county, but the BONAP map does. I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t do well for you, particularly since it’s listed for the surrounding counties. The fall obedient plant doesn’t seem quite so widespread, although I see it a good bit in Brazoria County.

    1. It’s been fun to discover plants that work well in the garden, and that are widely enough spread that people from other areas of the country — like you! — can appreciate them. One woman’s wildflower is another’s garden staple, so to speak!

    1. Thanks, Pit. They are beauties, and they get relatively tall. They’re not hard to spot in the landscape, that’s for sure, and the bees do a great job of finding them.

  5. Beautiful images of a lovely flowering plant.

    It reminds me of a similar flower I saw in the Melbourne Zoo landscaping many years ago, but the name escapes me at the present time. Same flower colour as yours. I vaguely remember mine also being of the mint family.

    1. I wonder if you might have seen Foxglove or Penstemon. They resemble this flower, and both are in the mint family. They both come in pinks with white and purple trim. I remember seeing foxgloves used in the landscaping around a Frank Lloyd Wright house; the flowers were large enough to fit well in such a place.

  6. Sometimes those lovely looking flowers become the bane of farmers if they take over what cows or sheep like to eat. We have ‘Paterson’s curse’ which is on the list of noxious weeds. I used to love looking at fields of them, beautiful to look at, but it kills livestock.
    Of course the flowers might well say that they were there first and that livestock are an introduced species.
    It’s never easy.

    1. The good news is that this plant (the obedient plant) is completely non-toxic; it won’t do any harm at all to livestock or humans, and not even to the children who like to play with the flowers.

      I’d not heard of ‘Paterson’s Curse,’ so I looked it up. It does sound like a problem: I found this on the venerable Wiki: “Echium plantagineum, commonly known as purple viper’s-bugloss or Paterson’s curse, is a species of Echium native to western and southern Europe, northern Africa, and southwestern Asia. It has also been introduced to Australia, South Africa and United States, where it is an invasive weed. ”

      Paterson’s curse may sound bad, but ‘purple viper’s bugloss’? That’s one seriously nasty-sounding name.

      1. In South Australia, the same plant is called Salvation Jane, as it provides food for sheep during droughts. Bad for horses though as it affects the liver. Bee keepers love it, nice honey, and this puts them at odds with the farmers.

  7. Love the photos of a really pretty plant. A few years back- maybe seven or so, I planted the obedient one, after much thought and thinking that surely it would behave in my alkaline soil. The area required watering about two or three times each week. By the second year it was no longer obedient and was happily proving me wrong as it encroached on the neighboring salvia and blue mist. With a heavy heart it was dispensed and put in the trash. I did not seek a new home for it, having figured that it would probably cause grief for someone else.

    1. I think everyone likes close-ups of bees and other insects. Most of the time, even when we see them, we don’t really see them. Once we get close and have a chance a look at all those details, they’re amazing.

  8. It does resemble a snapdragon!!! And gee, what a pretty, delicate color! I’m glad you educated me about the bees this morning — watching them at work must have been most gratifying for you.

    1. Bees are great fun to watch, especially now that I’ve learned they’re much more interested in nectar and pollen than in me. The big, solitary bees are my favorites. They’re slow but determined. It’s interesting that different bees prefer different flowers; there’s something for everyone.

    1. I can’t say about the fall obedient plant, but this spring version likes its moisture, and I usually find them in ditches or swales rather than in the middle of pastures. They can form great colonies, though. I have photos somewhere. I didn’t publish them because they weren’t very good, but I’ll look around and see if I can find one for you.

  9. I might note, if someone already hasn’t Linda, they are starting from the bottom and working their way to the top, an American success story, if ever there was one. –Curt

    1. Even though I mentioned the bees’ tendency to work their way from the bottom up, I missed that second meaning entirely. Perhaps the ‘busy-ness’ of bees is more purposeful than we thought!

      1. For sure, Linda. Busy bees always have a purpose! But I don’t think they care whether they start at the bottom and work their way up or start at the top and work their way down, as long as there is nectar available.

    1. It’s in the same family as foxglove, and does resemble it in shape and color. If you’d like a plant that spreads, this is one that would be glad to oblige you!

    1. I share that mild aversion. A hint of peach or magenta can do a good bit to redeem the color pink — at least in my view. As for the bees, with absolutely no one around, I felt free to pursue them around and around the plant like a crazy woman. It was worth it.

  10. Another old friend of mine. I loved to show visitors my little trick. It never became invasive, unlike toadflax, which after one season HAD to go!

    1. I’d never seen a field full of toadflax until this year. Usually, I find them scattered around, but not thick. It seems as though our freeze wasn’t just a killer; it seems to have shocked a few species into enthusiastic growth, and toadflax was one.

      1. My mind can hardly take in the thought of a field of it! But as I recall, I initially sought it out because of its useful herbal properties.

    1. Apparently white forms pop up in nature, too, as they do with so many pink or blue flowers. There are some glorious variants that have been produced, like this one. I didn’t delve deeply, but it seems that the fall obedient plant’s the one that’s been bred; most of the white varieties I found showed they were P. virginiana.

  11. Obedient or not it is a gorgeous plant, and I could think of worse things to run rampant in my garden.

    1. Exactly. Even where it spreads (and spreads, and spreads) it doesn’t seem to harm anything except the sensibilities of gardeners who’d prefer it stay put. It is beautiful, especially in the early stages. The flowers are pretty, but I like seeing the structure of the early buds.

    1. It’s in the same family as foxglove, as well as a few other plants with similarly shaped (and colored) flowers. If I had a garden, I’d surely give it a try. For me, its tendency to spread would be a virtue.

    1. It’s one of those delicate-but tough plants that does a fine job of providing for the pollinators, and is easy on our eyes, too. It’s popping up everywhere now, even in town.

  12. Love the flowers and the great detail on the bees. I always feel like I am fighting when I try and capture insect images. My techniques lacks so far.

    1. I’ve found that for every decent insect photo I get, there are about fifty that leave a little — or a lot — to be desired. I know there are tricks — get butterflies in the early morning when they’re still cold, for example — but knowledge isn’t always enough. The easiest ones to capture are the flower beetles. Given them a pollen-covered flower, and they’ll stay put, little gluttons that they are.

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