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The diminutive flowers of this compact, herbaceous perennial are often overlooked, but the charming blooms are long-lived and important for pollinators. The plant is named for its dish-shaped calyx that looks like a miniature skull cap. It grows 3 -12” tall and prefers dry conditions with shallow rocky or sandy soils, although it tolerates clay. It prefers full sun but will take morning shade as long as it gets afternoon sun. Erect, four-sided stems that indicate the plant’s membership in the mint family arise from a rosette of basal leaves. Triangular, green leaves line the stems, and tubular-shaped flowers bloom a few at a time from late spring to early summer in shades of blue to lavender. On the lower petals, a blue-and-white mottled trail ensures pollination by guiding insects through a pollen-laden path and into the center of the flower to reach the nectar. Occasionally, the plants produce a closed white tube that becomes a cleistogamous (self-pollinating) flower. This is replaced by a two-lipped seed capsule that contains tiny seeds for reseeding. The plant also spreads by rhizomes with little nodules—in the fall, each node produces a shoot that overwinters as a rosette.  If sited in sunny areas with no competition from taller plants, Scutellaria will easily spread to form an attractive mat. 


Native habitats include hill and upland prairies, gravel and sand prairies, barren savannas, banks of rivers or lakes, rock ledges, thinly wooded bluffs and slopes, and abandoned fields. It usually grows where ground vegetation is fairly sparse and is ideal for sunny rock gardens, borders of gardens, and for filling in gaps. For companion plants, try pussytoes, prairie smoke, and wild petunia.


Plant Characteristics:  

Grows 3-12” tall and spreads to form a groundcover. 


Prefers full or part sun.


Performs well in dry conditions and shallow soil with sand or rocky material. Tolerates clay soils.


Blue-violet flowers bloom April-July. Each flower is around 1/3” long with 5 petals fused into a cup, 4 stamens, and a pistil and style. 


Pairs of opposite leaves about ¾” long are broadly lance-shaped or oval with smooth to slightly toothed margins. 


Light green stems are slightly hairy and unbranched. 


Wildlife Value:  

Host plant for Lepidoptera larvae of one moth and 3 beetle caterpillars. The flowers are cross-pollinated by long- and short-tongued bees, syrphid flies, and skippers. Small mammals tend to avoid the bitter foliage.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:  

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.


The dried roots have been used in China to treat diarrhea, insomnia, dysentery, respiratory infections, and inflammation.  


Skullcap, Small, Scutellaria parvula

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