This poetically named wildflower is an enchanting combination of gray-green leaves and papery, pearl-white flowers with golden-yellow, button-like centers. Once a mainstay of early American cottage gardens, pearly everlasting (also known as moonshine or western pearly everlasting) has fallen out of favor for use in domestic landscapes. In the wild, it typically occurs on dry, sandy, or gravelly sites across most of North America except the southeastern US. The erect stems of this low-maintenance plant grow up to 3 feet tall in well-drained soils and full or part sun. More drought tolerant than others in its genus, pearly everlasting tolerates soils that are dry or nutrient poor. The plant forms a bushy mound of cottony stems and leaves, blooming with woodsy-scented flowers from July to October. It spreads easily by seed; to control its spread, remove spent flower heads. It has no serious insect or disease problems except for a bit of chewing damage by caterpillars. This damage can be discouraging to the gardener, but plants recover and proceed to flowering a bit later in the season. Of the 100-plus species of Anaphalis, margaritacea is the only species native to North America. The Greek word margaritacea means “pearl-like,” and the common name refers to the flowers’ ability to keep their texture and color for years in dried flower arrangements.
Native habitats include dry, sandy, gravelly, or clay soils of mountain meadows, prairies, and old fields. Use in perennial borders mixed with brightly colored flowers; dry meadows or prairies; and cottage, native, or wildflower gardens.
Grows 2-3’ tall and 2’ wide.
Prefers full sun but also does well in part shade.
Prefers well-drained rocky, sandy, or clay soils with average to medium moisture. Tolerates dry and poor soils.
Male and female flowers bloom in late summer, usually on separate plants. Both have globular flower heads with tiny, white bracts in many layers around a central disk of yellowish-brown flowers. Females have a bristly, yellowish-brown ring around the top of the flower head.
Narrow, lance-shaped leaves are 3-5” long and have gray-green surfaces and white, woolly undersides. The tips are sharply pointed, and the smooth margins are often wavy or rolled. The leaves have no petioles and are arranged alternately on slender, woolly, gray-green stems.
Pearly everlasting hosts the larvae of 3 Lepidoptera species, including American lady butterfly and two specialists. Butterflies and other insect pollinators visit for nectar. Deer and rabbits tend to avoid browsing this plant.
It should be noted that the caterpillars of the American lady butterfly stitch together masses of leaves to create a bivouac to hide in between feedings. This can make your plants look like they're in trouble, but in just a few short weeks, the caterpillars crawl away to form a chrysalis, and the plants quickly recover and go on to bloom. With new plantings, it may be necessary to move some of the caterpillars to the species in other areas of the landscape so they have enough to eat to reach pupation size.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Native Americans used pearly everlasting extensively for medicinal purposes, such as poultices for treating sores and teas or steam baths for treating rheumatism or colds. It was also used as a remedy for diarrhea and dysentery.
Young leaves are edible when cooked.
Like many other native species, pearly everlasting was used as a tobacco substitute.
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