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Back to News Updates – April 2, 2024

Updates

Mt. Cuba Staff’s Favorite Amsonia

By Sam Hoadley

Choosing a favorite plant can be a challenging proposition, and selecting a favorite Amsonia is no exception. As our recent research report showed, in addition to their many ornamental features, Amsonia as a genus are reliable, hardy, long-lived, and support a diversity of wildlife. They are also very deer resistant, which is a major consideration for many places in the mid-Atlantic region and beyond. Curious what Amsonia Mt. Cuba staff members like to grow? Read on for some of the go-to bluestars from a few members of our team.

blue flowers with a bee
Amsonia ciliata var. tenuifolia with a visiting bee

Sam Hoadley, Trial Garden Manager: Overall, Amsonia are wonderful garden plants, but If I was forced to narrow it down to only a single favorite bluestar I would choose Amsonia ludoviciana. Also known as Louisiana bluestar, A. ludoviciana is a unique species that was once thought to be extinct but has since been found in several locations in the southern United States. The species has broad leaves which resemble those of Amsonia tabernaemontana var. tabernaemontana when looking at the plants from a bird’s eye view. Viewing the leaves from below is when the plant distinguishes itself, as they are covered in a white fuzzy pubescence, a unique and fascinating trait compared to the Amsonia in Mt. Cuba Center’s evaluations. While I think that this species is inherently beautiful, it also has clear value to wildlife too. In addition to pollinators visiting its flowers, caterpillars of the native snowberry clearwing moth were observed happily feeding on its foliage in Mt. Cuba’s auxiliary trial beds. While this species was not included in the Amsonia trial planting, it has proven to be a great garden plant and is occasionally available from some specialty nurseries.


A snowberry clearwing caterpillar feeding on the fuzzy leaves of Amsonia ludoviciana

Laura Reilly, Trial Garden Assistant: My fondness for foliage is well known in the office, so it should be no surprise that my favorite bluestar is the spectacular Amsonia hubrichtii (Hubricht’s bluestar). It blooms in May, but there is so much else going on in the garden at that time that I barely notice the pale blue flowers. The gorgeous mounds of billowy foliage, on the other hand, I appreciate all season long. I try to plant these close to walkways or driveways where I can run my hands through the soft threadlike foliage as I go by. One of my favorite plantings at home is a mass of A. hubrichtii below a stone wall in full sun. These plants develop a blazing orange fall color that looks great with asters and other fall blooming plants. Although slow to get established, this species is super easy to grow, and I could not garden without it!


The golden, threadlike foliage of Amsonia hubrichtii

Mt. Cuba’s Horticulture Team: Our Horticulture team values Amsonia for their sheer reliability and for providing three seasons of interest in both the formal and naturalistic gardens here at Mt. Cuba. Amsonia hubrichtii is a team favorite along with Amsonia ciliata var. tenuifolia, and Amsonia ‘Starstruck’. From an aesthetic standpoint, A. ciliata var. tenuifolia is a miniaturized version of A. hubrichtii with the same threadlike foliage, however the entire plant only takes up a fraction of the space of Hubricht’s bluestar. The delicate appearance of A. ciliata var. tenuifolia belies its ability to grow and thrive in the hottest, driest, and leanest conditions that Mt. Cuba’s rock and scree gardens have to offer. Some specimens grow directly from the cracks in the exposed bedrock of the rock wall garden. Due to it diminutive size, A. ciliata var. tenuifolia is a great option for those that don’t have the space to accommodate some of the larger species of bluestars.


Amsonia ciliata var. tenuifolia growing in Mt. Cuba’s rock garden

Amsonia ‘Starstruck’ is a 2019 hybrid introduction from Walters Gardens in Michigan, and was not included in Mt. Cuba’s Amsonia trial. which started in 2013, Starstruck bluestar has left our horticulture staff with stars in their eyes after watching its performance over the last few growing seasons in the newly completed guest parking lot. Nick Resler, a horticulturist working in Mt. Cuba’s formal gardens, says Amsonia ‘Starstruck’ is “1000 percent my favorite!” and was quick to add some to his home garden. Nick and other members of the horticulture team love the compact form of Starstruck bluestar as well as its dark stems, sky-blue flowers, and its exceptional fall color. What is not to love?


Amsonia ‘Starstruck’ planted in Mt. Cuba’s new guest parking lot

With so many different Amsonia to choose from, and their general ease of care, reliability, and beauty in the garden, you can have your pick! We hope that some of our staff favorites inspired you, and you can read more about this great group of plants in our research report.