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Midwest Gardening
Pulmonaria

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Pulmonaria, commonly known as lungwort, create a bright spot in your shade garden

Also known as lungwort, cowslip, or Bethlehem sage, Pulmonaria are perfect perennials for a semi shady garden.  They are one of those old fashioned garden perennials that seem to be once again gaining popularity with new cultivars being developed.  There are well over a dozen species, but only a few commonly cultivated for garden use.  Pulmonaria saccharata commonly known as Bethlehem Sage, is one of the most showy of the species and is semi-evergreen, but only in warm zones.  These have large showy leaves, usually speckled or spotted with silvery white, that really brighten up a shade garden.  The spots are created by air pockets in the foliage that cools the underside of the leaves.  One could assume that the more spots, the sun tolerant.  Pulmonaria officinalis is also semi-evergreen in warm climates and bears the classic spotted leaves.  It is very mildew prone, and is not generally used for the newer hybrids.  These lungwort are commonly known as either Common Lungwort or Jersualem Cow Slip.  Pulmonaria longifolia, also semi evergreen, has long narrow leaves and is fairly tolerant of sun and has a very good mildew resistance.  It is quite commonly used for new hybrids. These lungwort are commonly referred to as Long Leaved Lungwort.  Pulmonaria vallarae is strictly deciduous.  The leaves are distinctively waved along the edges and may, or may not be spotted.  These are not found commercially.  Pulmonaria rubra is semi-evegreen with large hairy leaves and salmon red flowers..  These unusual lungworts are typically only available in cool regions because of their poor tolerance for heat.  They are typically known as Red Lungwort.  Pulmonaria mollis is the largest of the lungwort species, reaching 2 feet tall and wide.  They are deciduous with the classic speckled leaves or either silvery white or pale green.  They have quite good sun tolerance.  The best lungwort for sun tolerance is pulmonaria affinis ‘Margaret’.  ‘Margaret’ is the only lungwort presently available of this species.  Pulmonaria angustifolia  is indeed confusing.  The nursery trade has applied the species name to several cultivars and hybrids that are not necessarily of this species.  Pulmonaria angustifolia ‘Alba’ is supposedly the only verified cultivar of the species.  However Beth Chatto cultivated ‘Beth’s Pink’ and ‘Beth’s Blue’, that are quite certainly angustifolia.  The leaves are very lightly spotted or solid green.  These lungwort are commonly referred to as Blue Cowslip or Blue lungwort.

One of the first perennials to emerge and bloom in spring, lungworts produce blue-bell like flowers usually in pink and blue.  Flower stems rise above the foliage and produces clusters of downward nodding bells that are notched and flared.  The blooms often appear in late March or early April in northern regions, earlier in warmer regions and last for a few weeks.  When the blooms begin to fade, the larger leaves develop from the center of the plant.

Pulmonaria prefer light to medium shade, so under deciduous trees is ideal. Sun exposure should be either dappled or morning sun, but they will generally adapt to full sun in cooler regions as long as consistent moisture is provided, but shade in the hottest part of the day would be beneficial. Ideally, lungworts should be planted in moist, well drained, enriched soil, but they can adapt to slightly dry and average soil.  Amending your soil with compost or peat moss will improve the growth of Pulmonaria and improve moisture retention.  If your soil remains wet, the foliage will deteriorate quickly and wet soil over winter may kill the plant.  In hot humid climates, Pulmonaria will go dormant in midsummer, reappearing when the weather cools toward fall.

Pulmonaria forms a mounded clump that spreads over time by underground rhizomes, but is well behaved and will not spread aggressively.  Hardy and adaptable, lungwort is perfect for semi shady spots, used and an underplanting or groundcover, and is an excellent choice for the front of a shady border. Plant lungwort so the top of the roots are one inch below the soil level.  Lungworts are fairly short lived plants, living at most 10 years under ideal conditions.  If you divide the clumps every few years you will be able to maintain them in your garden by producing new young plants to replace expired ones.  Lungwort is also easily grown from root cuttings.

 

 Pulmonaria saccharata ‘Mrs. Moon’
Pulmonaria 'Mrs. Moon' flowers by Julie Weisenhorn

  • Common Name:  Lungwort, Bethlehem Sage
  • Plant Type:  Herbaceous perennial, semi-evergreen
  • Height:  10-12”
  • Spread:  12-24”
  • Sun/Shade Requirements:  Part shade
  • Water Requirements:  Average to consistent moisture requirements.
  • Soil Requirements:  Prefers a rich, moist soil, will adapt to average moisture.  Very tolerant of clay soil.  Neutral to alkaline pH preferred.
  • Growth Habit:  Mounded clump
  • Bloom Time: March in warmer regions, April in the north
  • Bloom Color: Blue
  • Bloom Form:  Clusters of nodding funnel shaped bells.
  • Foliage:  12” long green leaves spotted silvery gray
  • Fragrance:  None
  • Pest and Disease Resistance:  Frequently bothered by slugs, susceptible to powdery mildew.
  • Fertilize: Top dress with composted manure and bone meal (if soil tends toward acid) as soon as flowering is complete, and twice more during the summer with a mild fertilizer such as fish emulsion.
  • Maintenance: Very easy to grow and care for and virtually maintenance free.
  • Other:  Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Hardiness:  Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Pulmonaria 'Mrs. Moon'

‘Mrs. Moon’ is the old time favorite of the Pulmonaria.  Clusters of rose pink buds open to deep blue blooms on 12” stems.  Pink buds, partially opened violet blooms, and fully opened dark blue blooms appearing simultaneously create a very showy effect against the dappled foliage.  The foliage emerges early and flower buds will open in very early spring, anywhere from March to May depending on your climate region.  ‘Mrs. Moon’ performs best in part shade, and will prefer morning sun.  Fairly dense shade that receives about 2 hours of morning sun is ideal as the leaf color will be most intense.  The leaves are heavily splotched with silvery gray, and will remain fresh and lush with adequate moisture and shade.  Foliage that deteriorates can be sheared off to encourage new growth.  Somewhat fussy about soil, plant in humus rich soil that has been heavily amended with moisture retentive peat moss and composted manure.  Do not allow the soil to dry out in dry periods, be sure to provide water.  The plants may recede and go dormant during extended dry periods, likely in southern regions.  In regions with mild winters the plant will often remain evergreen.  If it does not die back, remove damaged or dead foliage to promote fresh spring growth  To ensure healthy lush growth, divide every 4-6 years in early autumn.  The plant will slowly spread by creeping rhizomes to form a “patch”, but not aggressively.  In western regions, ‘Mrs. Moon’ will perform reliably to zone 9 if moisture is adequate.  Deter slugs with diatomaceous earth.  ‘Mrs. Moon’ is a perfect perennial to brighten shady spots, pair with brunnera or hosta, or use as underplantings.

 

Pulmonaria saccharata ‘Reginald Kaye’
Pulmonaria 'Reginald Kaye' flowers by TOG

  • Common Name:  Lungwort, Bethlehem Sage
  • Plant Type:  Herbaceous perennial, semi-evergreen
  • Height:  8-10”
  • Spread:  12-24”
  • Sun/Shade Requirements:  Part shade to full shade
  • Water Requirements:  Average to consistent moisture requirements.
  • Soil Requirements:  Prefers a rich, moist soil, will adapt to average moisture.  Very tolerant of clay soil.  Neutral to alkaline pH preferred.
  • Growth Habit:  Mounded clump
  • Bloom Time: March in warmer regions, April in the north
  • Bloom Color: Pink, light blue, white
  • Bloom Form:  Clusters of nodding funnel shaped bells.
  • Foliage:  Large, broad green leaves spotted silvery white
  • Fragrance:  None
  • Pest and Disease Resistance:  Frequently bothered by slugs, susceptible to powdery mildew.
  • Fertilize: Top dress with composted manure and bone meal (if soil tends toward acid) as soon as flowering is complete, and twice more during the summer with a mild fertilizer such as fish emulsion.
  • Maintenance: Very easy to grow and care for and virtually maintenance free.
  • Other:  Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Hardiness:  Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Pulmonaria 'Reginald Kaye' by TOG

‘Reginald Kaye’ has very showy foliage with large, heavily mottled silver and green leaves, excellent for brightening dark shady spots.  ‘Reginald Kaye’ is perhaps the most attractive of the lungworts, both flowers and foliage. Flowers are produces very early in spring, when the leaves are still fairly small.  The leaves mature quite large by the time blooming is finishes.  The leaves remain quite fresh throughout the growing season unless subjected to prolonged sun and heat. Foliage that may look poor in midsummer heat can be cut back to the ground, and fresh foliage will produce for the cooler days of summer and fall.  In regions with mild winters the plant will often remain evergreen.  If it does not die back, remove damaged or dead foliage to promote fresh spring growth  The flower buds are pink-red, opening to pink blooms that mature to blue.  The blooms are held just above young foliage in clusters on short stems.  ‘Reginald Kaye’ prefers light shade and is a perfect perennial for the front of a partly shaded border or edging a woodland border.

 

Pulmonaria saccharata ‘Sissinghurst White
Lungwort Sissinghurst White by Addison Berry

  • Common Name:  Lungwort, Bethlehem Sage
  • Plant Type:  Herbaceous perennial, semi-evergreen
  • Height:  10-12”
  • Spread:  12-18”
  • Sun/Shade Requirements:  Part shade to full shade
  • Water Requirements:  Average to consistent moisture requirements.
  • Soil Requirements:  Prefers a rich, moist soil, will adapt to average moisture.  Very tolerant of clay soil.  Neutral to alkaline pH preferred.
  • Growth Habit:  Mounded clump
  • Bloom Time: March in warmer regions, April in the north
  • Bloom Color: White
  • Bloom Form:  Clusters of nodding funnel shaped bells.
  • Foliage:  12” long green leaves spotted silvery white
  • Fragrance:  None
  • Pest and Disease Resistance:  Frequently bothered by slugs, susceptible to powdery mildew.
  • Fertilize: Top dress with composted manure and bone meal (if soil tends toward acid) as soon as flowering is complete, and twice more during the summer with a mild fertilizer such as fish emulsion.
  • Maintenance: Very easy to grow and care for and virtually maintenance free.
  • Other:  Deer and rabbit resistant.  Will grow under Black Walnut.
  • Hardiness:  Zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Lungwort Sissinghurst White

‘Sissinghurst White’ lungwort produces dainty pink buds that open to white with pink tinged petals and mature to a crisply white flower.  The large leaves are speckled with silvery white spots, much more subtly than the splashy leaves of ‘Reginald Kaye’.  But the combination of the white spotted leaves and abundant white flowers is quite showy and creates a bright, but delicate attraction to dark shady spots.  Beautiful when combined with brunnera or blue-green hosta.  Make sure soil stays moist but not waterlogged.  If foliage deteriorates in midsummer heat, cut back to the ground.  Fresh foliage will emerge for the cooler days of late summer and fall.  In regions with mild winters the plant will often remain evergreen.  If it does not die back, remove damaged or dead foliage to promote fresh spring growth.  ‘Sissinghurst White’ does not produce true from seed, so you may prefer to deadhead spent blooms to prevent seeding.  However seeding is very minimal from most lungwort.  ‘Sissinghurst White’ is one of the longer living varieties of Pulmonaria

 

Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’
Lungwort Trevi Fountain flowers by Cliff

  • Common Name:  Lungwort, Long Leaf Lungwort
  • Plant Type:  Herbaceous perennial, semi-evergreen
  • Height:  10-12”
  • Spread:  12-24”
  • Sun/Shade Requirements:  Part shade
  • Water Requirements:  Average to consistent moisture requirements.
  • Soil Requirements:  Prefers a rich, moist soil, will adapt to average moisture.  Very tolerant of clay soil.  Neutral to alkaline pH preferred.
  • Growth Habit:  Mounded clump
  • Bloom Time: March in warmer regions, April in the north
  • Bloom Color: Dark blue
  • Bloom Form:  Clusters of nodding funnel shaped bells.
  • Foliage:  6” long green leaves spotted silvery gray
  • Fragrance:  None
  • Pest and Disease Resistance:  Frequently bothered by slugs, susceptible to powdery mildew.
  • Fertilize: Top dress with composted manure and bone meal (if soil tends toward acid) as soon as flowering is complete, and twice more during the summer with a mild fertilizer such as fish emulsion.
  • Maintenance: Very easy to grow and care for and virtually maintenance free.
  • Other:  Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Hardiness:  Zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Lungwort Trevi Fountain by Cliff

‘Trevi Fountain’ lungwort bears large clusters of pink buds that open to cobalt blue flowers held just above the foliage.  The blooms are about the darkest blue of the lungworts.  From bud to completed blooming, the plant is colorful for nearly two months.  The slender green leaves are heavily spotted silvery white.  Shortly after flowering and late in summer, the foliage may need a bit of trimming to keep the plant looking fresh.  Remove spent blooms if you prefer a neat appearance.  Although ‘Trevi Fountain’ will withstand heat and humidity somewhat, make sure is gets regular watering and don’t let it dry out in drought periods.  Perfect for shady and low lying areas of the garden or woodland border.  Trevi Fountain’ will likely do just fine in zone 3 and zone 9, in fact is probably the one of the best Pulmonaria for southern regions if planted in afternoon shade and supplied regular water.  ‘Trevi Fountain’ is a hybrid cross between Pulmonaria longifolia ‘Bertram Anderson’ and Pulmonaria vallarsae ‘Margery Fish’.

 

Pulmonaria angustifolia ‘Beth’s Pink’  ‘Beth’s Blue’
Pulmonaria 'Beth's Blue' by Sericea

  • Common Name:  Lungwort, Blue Cowslip
  • Plant Type:  Herbaceous perennial
  • Height:  12-14”
  • Spread:  12-18”
  • Sun/Shade Requirements:  Part shade
  • Water Requirements:  Average to consistent moisture requirements.
  • Soil Requirements:  Prefers a rich, moist soil, will adapt to average moisture.  Very tolerant of clay soil.  Neutral to alkaline pH preferred.
  • Growth Habit:  Mounded clump
  • Bloom Time: March in warmer regions, April in the north
  • Bloom Color: Blue/Coral
  • Bloom Form:  Clusters of nodding funnel shaped bells.
  • Foliage:  10-12” long green leaves, generally solid green.
  • Fragrance:  None
  • Pest and Disease Resistance:  Frequently bothered by slugs, susceptible to powdery mildew.
  • Fertilize: Top dress with composted manure and bone meal (if soil tends toward acid) as soon as flowering is complete, and twice more during the summer with a mild fertilizer such as fish emulsion.
  • Maintenance: Very easy to grow and care for and virtually maintenance free.
  • Other:  Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Hardiness:  Zones 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Beth Chatto’s cultivars are a confusion also.  In theory, ‘Beth’s Blue’ is the same as ‘Beth Chatto’ and ‘Cedric Morris’. At the very least, they are similar enough that you won’t be able to tell the difference.  The flowers are held somewhat higher above the foliage on 12” stalks.  The leaves are generally a solid green or very lightly spotted, and a bit darker than most lungwort.  The plants are fairly heat tolerant and will do quite well even in deep shade.  ‘Beth’s Blue’ flowers are a rich deep blue, and ‘Beth’s Pink’ flowers are a coral red.  ‘Beth’s Pink’ foliage is generally more spotted and with a bit broader leaf.  Neither of these lungwort are semi evergreen.

 

Pulmonaria longifolia ‘Bertram Anderson’
Pulmonaria longifolia 'Bertram Anderson' by douneika

  • Common Name:  Lungwort, Long-Leaf Lungwort
  • Plant Type:  Herbaceous perennial, semi-evergreen
  • Height:  6-12”
  • Spread:  12-18”
  • Sun/Shade Requirements:  Part shade to full shade
  • Water Requirements:  Average to consistent moisture requirements.
  • Soil Requirements:  Prefers a rich, moist soil, will adapt to average moisture.  Very tolerant of clay soil.  Neutral to alkaline pH preferred.
  • Growth Habit:  Mounded clump
  • Bloom Time: Early April in warmer regions, later April in the north
  • Bloom Color: Blue
  • Bloom Form:  Clusters of nodding funnel shaped bells.
  • Foliage:  8-12” long green leaves, heavily spotted
  • Fragrance:  None
  • Pest and Disease Resistance:  Frequently bothered by slugs, susceptible to powdery mildew.
  • Fertilize: Top dress with composted manure and bone meal (if soil tends toward acid) as soon as flowering is complete, and twice more during the summer with a mild fertilizer such as fish emulsion.
  • Maintenance: Very easy to grow and care for and virtually maintenance free.
  • Other:  Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Hardiness:  Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

‘Bertram Anderson’ is compact and a bit lower growing than some lungwort.  Blooms often appear a week or two later than most lungwort.  The bright pink buds open to dark violet blue flowers.  The long narrow leaves are heavily spotted in silvery white.  The mounding habit is somewhat loose and open.  ‘Bertram Anderson’ is fairly tolerant of heat and humidity and will do better in the southern regions than many pulmonaria.  Do not allow soil to dry out to keep the plant looking it’s freshest.  If foliage deteriorates, prune out scorched and wilted leaves, or cut back to the ground to rejuvenate the plant.  ‘Bertram Anderson’ is semi-evergreen in warmer regions.  Lungwort should not receive afternoon sun, especially in warmer regions.  ‘Bertram Anderson’ pulmonaria has for many years been a garden standard lungwort. 

Pulmonaria ‘Cotton Cool’
Pulmonaria Cotton Cool by peganum

  • Common Name:  Lungwort
  • Plant Type:  Herbaceous perennial, semi-evergreen
  • Height:  8-12”
  • Spread:  12-18”
  • Sun/Shade Requirements:  Part shade to full shade
  • Water Requirements:  Average to consistent moisture requirements.
  • Soil Requirements:  Prefers a rich, moist soil, will adapt to average moisture.  Very tolerant of clay soil.  Neutral to alkaline pH preferred.
  • Growth Habit:  Mounded clump
  • Bloom Time: Early April in warmer regions, later April in the north
  • Bloom Color: Blue
  • Bloom Form:  Clusters of nodding funnel shaped bells.
  • Foliage:  Long silver gray leaves with white splotches
  • Fragrance:  None
  • Pest and Disease Resistance:  Frequently bothered by slugs, good resistance to powdery mildew.
  • Fertilize: Top dress with composted manure and bone meal (if soil tends toward acid) as soon as flowering is complete, and twice more during the summer with a mild fertilizer such as fish emulsion.
  • Maintenance: Very easy to grow and care for and virtually maintenance free.
  • Other:  Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Hardiness:  Zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

‘Cotton Cool’ is fairly tolerant of average soil, but does prefer a moist, but well drained organic rich soil.  The leaves are fairly unique for pulmonaria, they are a silvery gray rather than green.  They are subtly blotched with white and mature long, upright and arching.  Like most lungwort, pink buds give way to blue flowers held in clusters above young foliage.  Morning sun is tolerated just fine, but this lungwort must have afternoon shade.  This is a very reliable performer when grown in mostly shade to dense shade with very good resistance to mildew.  When the plant gets too large, divide to produce fresh plants.  ‘Cotton Cool’ is a hybrid of unknown parentage introduced from Britain.

Pulmonaria longifolia ‘Diana Clare’
Pulmonaria Diana Clare by peganum

  • Common Name:  Lungwort, Long Leaf Lungwort
  • Plant Type:  Herbaceous perennial, semi-evergreen
  • Height:  8-10”
  • Spread:  12-18”
  • Sun/Shade Requirements:  Part shade to shade
  • Water Requirements:  Average to consistent moisture requirements.
  • Soil Requirements:  Prefers a rich, moist soil, will adapt to average moisture.  Very tolerant of clay soil.  Neutral to alkaline pH preferred.
  • Growth Habit:  Mounded clump
  • Bloom Time: Early April in warmer regions, later April in the north
  • Bloom Color: Blue
  • Bloom Form:  Clusters of nodding funnel shaped bells.
  • Foliage:  Long green leaves silvery speckled
  • Fragrance:  None
  • Pest and Disease Resistance:  Frequently bothered by slugs, good resistance to powdery mildew.
  • Fertilize: Top dress with composted manure and bone meal (if soil tends toward acid) as soon as flowering is complete, and twice more during the summer with a mild fertilizer such as fish emulsion.
  • Maintenance: Very easy to grow and care for and virtually maintenance free.
  • Other:  Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Hardiness:  Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

‘Diana Clare’ blooms a couple of weeks later than most lungworts.  The foliage is silvery speckled early in the season and matures to nearly all silver.  Once mature, the leaves appear to have green margins with a prominent center green vein.  Typical for lungwort, pink buds open to deep blue flowers.  The violet blue blooms are beautiful against the soft patina of silver foliage.  ‘Diana Clare’ tolerates heat very well and rarely needs to be cut back because of deteriorating foliage.  This lungwort will do fine with some sun, but of course will prefer some afternoon shade and moist cool soil.  The plant is semi evergreen in warm regions.

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Pulmonaria