This lovely member of the mint family grows 2 to 3 feet tall in a vase-like shape and bears large spikes of tubular purplish-blue flowers throughout summer. The erect, square stems are mostly branchless, bearing grayish-green leaves and loose, six-inch racemes of flowers. Often found in dry woodlands, the plant is very easy to grow and performs best in partly shaded and dry-to-medium conditions; however, it will do just fine in full sun and moist, well-drained sandy, clay, rocky, and poor soils. In addition, it tolerates heat, drought, and foliar diseases.
Although it’s primarily pollinated by bumble bees, many types of insects and some hummingbirds eat the nectar. The unusual-looking flowers feature an entrance with a domed, fuzzy overhang (some say this is the source of its common name) and a large lower lip with a white central path leading down the throat of the flower to the nectar. Insects retrieve pollen from the anthers beneath the flower’s overhang. The flowers eventually fall off to reveal extremely unusual-looking cup-like capsules, which offer another theory for the common name of “skullcap.” The common name “downy” (the plant is also known as hoary skullcap) refers to the soft, fine hairs that cover the plant. Although it looks similar to anise hyssop, skullcap’s flowers are larger and even more attractive. It’s distinguished from others in its genus by a later bloom time, taller height, lack of sticky hairs, and terminal racemes of flowers.
Native habitats include savannas, open areas and rocky slopes of woods, river banks, thickets, and roadsides. It’s quite appealing when planted in drifts in open woods and on wooded slopes, as well as in beds and borders, naturalized areas, meadows, and wildflower gardens.
Prefers full or part sun.
Grows 1-3’ tall and wide.
Prefers dry-to-medium soil but tolerates a wide range of well-drained soils.
Violet, 2-lipped flowers occur in closely spaced pairs for up to 6” along the upper stem during July and August. Lower lip is larger and bears a central patch of white; the upper lip is a “hood.” Brown capsules contain 2-4 nutlets.
Ovate, yellow-green leaves are up to 3” long with toothed margins.
It’s pollinated primarily by bumble bees; other visitors include small carpenter (they nest in stems, not your house) and halictid bees, bee flies, butterflies, skippers, and wasps.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
The dried roots have been used in China to treat diarrhea, insomnia, dysentery, respiratory infections, and inflammation. Native Americans used a leaf tea to transition young girls to womanhood. Infusions of the roots were used to treat diarrhea, kidney problems, and breast pains. The plant was used in folk medicine as a sedative and to treat anxiety. Herbalists and naturopaths continue to use skullcap as an antispasmodic, a tonic, and a sedative.
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