By Debbie Roland, Master Gardener
Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) is a good addition to the flowerbeds in West Texas, adding a spiky, bright flower that looks like a snapdragon. It got its common name because flower stems can be bent to stay in place, not because of its growing habit. Research shows it is anything but obedient in a garden bed.
If you don’t mind tending to the spreading of this plant, it is a good addition for our area. Once planted they seem to pop up everywhere, but the good news is that they are easy to pull up. Be sure to deadhead them before they go to seed. By doing this you can get a second bloom during the growing season.
More recent cultivars, like “Miss Manners”, tend to be better about maintaining a clumping form and not get so out of hand like the original variety which can take over a bed where planted. The flowers boom from bottom to top. So, look on the flower spike to see how this plant got it sname. The genus name comes from the Greek words physa (bladder) and stege (covering) which refer to the green sepals which cover and protect the bud and expand as the bud develops.
Only pollinators with tongues long enough to reach the nectar can pollinate Obedient Plant. So, our native bumblebees are its most important pollinators. Hummingbirds and butterflies with this long proboscises also visit for their nectar.
Obedient plant is easy to divide and move to other parts of your garden or share with friends. This square stemmed plant is a member of the mint family which always offers prolific spread and because of that it is a good candidate for a container. Be sure the bottom has drain holes and sink it into the ground which helps to discourage growth. The blooms are pink, white or pale purple and make good cut flowers. Leaves are a deep green but there is also a variety that has a variegated leaf edged in cream that takes on a deep purple when days become shorter and cooler.
This plant grows in well-drained soil and full sun but will tolerate some shade. In too much shade, or hot summer temperatures the stems may bend over, but they can be staked. It requires little attention and occasional watering once established. Height in West Texas is about 12” to 18”. It is deer resistant and drought tolerant.
This plant is usually available locally. Happy Gardening and remember that the Master Gardener plant sale is coming up – April 10 at the Ector County Coliseum.
If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information. Additional information is available at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and westtexasgardening.org.