Lungwort is a classic garden perennial prized for its early spring blooms. These beautiful plants work wonders in shade gardens because of their multicolor, long-lasting blooms, and their silver-pattern foliage. What’s not to love?
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In the past, people believed that when a plant resembled a body part, it was capable of curing ailments of said part. Lungwort's leaves reminded early botanists of a diseased lung, and therefore people thought the plant could cure respiratory issues. This led to its common name, but it does not in fact have any medical properties. However, lungwort does have pretty spring blooms that are almost tissue paper-like in appearance and come in a variety of colors. They fade beautifully in color, starting as a lovely shade of red; as they age, they become a rich purple.
Medium green lance- and heart-shape leaves on lungwort sport silver speckles. This silver spotting can actually become so dense that the entire leaf appears silver in color. With their playful patterns and lovely silver color, these plants work well with other shade plants and add brightness to dark corners of the garden.
Lungwort Care Must-Knows
This rugged shade plant is tolerant of a variety of conditions. Ideally, it would appreciate evenly moist, well-drained soils as it begins growing. Once established, however, lungwort has no problem with a little drought. If plants are in full sun, they will be less tolerant of drought, and plants may become brown and dry. They will also look best in soils rich with organic matter, so it may be helpful to add in compost before planting, especially in dry clay soils.
Lungwort performs best in part shade and ideally shaded from the hot afternoon sun. The plants can perform well in full sun and full shade as well, with a few caveats. As previously mentioned, lungwort isn't quite as drought-resistant when in full sun; the plants may need supplemental watering to look their best. In full shade, these plants will not bloom as well, and they are more prone to powdery mildew. While this is a fairly common ailment in lungwort, it doesn't slow them down; it's just a little unsightly. To treat, simply remove and dispose of the affected leaves. You can also use a horticultural oil to clean them up.
Related: Deer-Resistant Shade Plants
Generally, lungwort tends to be a short-lived perennial. After several years, clumps may begin to slowly thin out and decline. Luckily, with fairly regular division (every few years is good), you can keep them going much longer. Lungwort will also politely reseed around your garden as another way to keep them going, so watch for any exceptional seedlings!
Lungwort got its start as a garden plant in Europe, and many of the later varieties were from there as well. In the early to mid-'90s, lungwort became more visible in the United States, with many new varieties introduced. Though it fell out of fashion for a while, lungwort is now back on the rise. New varieties focus on tougher plants with increased disease resistance and longevity. Longer bloom time, as well as an abundance of flowers, is also an improvement.
More Varieties of Lungwort
Pulmonaria saccharata 'Benediction' produces beautiful deep blue violet flowers in early spring. Its leaves are lightly spotted and remain handsome through the season. It grows to 10 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 4-8.
Pulmonaria saccharata 'Excalibur' has silver leaves rimmed and veined with emerald. Its rose pink flowers bloom in spring. It grows to 9 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 4-8.
Pulmonaria 'Opal' bears beautiful pale blue flowers flushed with pink and silver-spotted leaves on a 10-inch-tall plant that grows well in Zones 4-8.
Pulmonaria rubra is one of the earliest to bloom in spring. Its clusters of nodding funnel-shape pinkish-red flowers rise above solid light green leaves that lack spots. It grows about 15 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 5-8.
Lungwort Companion Plants
Hellebores are so easy and so pretty that they have a place in nearly every landscape. Their exquisite bowl- or saucer-shape flowers in white (often speckled), pinks, yellows, or maroon remain on the plant for several months. Deer resistant and mostly evergreen, hellebores' divided leaves rise on sturdy stems and may be serrated along the edges. They do best in shade where soil remains moist; some prefer acid or alkaline conditions, depending on variety.
Take a walk down the primrose path, and you'll never look back! Primroses are classic cottage flowers popular with collectors who covet the hundreds of varieties—especially some of the tiny and rare alpine types. Many are staples of cottage gardens and rock gardens, while others provide spring color to damp spots, rain gardens, and bog gardens. Their basal rosettes of oval leaves can be puckered or smooth. The colorful flowers may be borne singly or rise in tiered clusters, or even spikes. Provide humus-high soil that retains moisture, and plant in some shade for best results.
This plant hardly grown 40 years ago is now one of the most commonly grown garden plants. But hostas have earned their spot in the hearts of gardeners—they're among the easiest plants to grow, as long as you have some shade and ample rainfall. Hostas vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive 4-foot clumps with heart-shape leaves almost 2 feet long that can be puckered, wavy-edged, white or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged—the variations seem endless. New varieties touting new foliage features seem to appear each year. This tough shade-loving perennial, also known as plaintain lily, blooms with white or purplish-lavender funnel-shape or flared flowers in summer. Some are intensely fragrant. Hostas are a favorite of slug and deer.
For that shady spot, you can't go wrong with holly ferns. Their evergreen fronds always look good, and they mix well with other shade-lovers without taking over. They can be planted close and massed as a groundcover, or used as an accent plant where soil is rich and well-drained.