Why, but why, do they call it Obedient Plant?

Despite evidence to the contrary, this photograph does not illustrate why they call it “o-bee-dient” plant. Though the flower does seem to exert a siren call: Oh, bee… Oh, bee-eee…?

This is Physostegia virginiana, and it’s called Obedient Plant for the way you can bend the individual florets to your will, making them go thisaway and thataway.

I would have posted on this flower sooner, but I spent a fruitless evening searching for the reason why. What an unprofitable study. Citation after citation told me that the reason you can move the florets into position was due to their “hinge-like” stem.

Such nonsense. Hinge-like? How is it hinge-like, I kept snarling at the computer. [And, for reference, have a look at these hinges, courtesy of Stantheoldhardwareman.com]. Where’s the barrel, and which part pivots inside which part to make it all happen?

Saying that the florets fold and stay in place because the stems are hinge-like is as meaningless as saying they do it because little fairies hold them in position ā€“ though I’m tempted to like that explanation a whole lot better. I prefer fairy tales to imprecision. For pity’s sake, someone: Give me the science behind it.

They certainly don’t call it Obedient Plant for its well-behaved garden etiquette (however, there is a lovely white cultivar called ‘Miss Manners’ which is supposed to mind its). Given good garden soil and decent moisture, these little cuties will elbow their way into any space available in the garden.

Needless to say, I have killed it ā€“ as I’ve killed many “invasive” plants ā€“ by trying to grow it in dry shade on a sandy slope under Norway maples.

When I say killed, in this case I really mean thwarted. Since the snippet from our neighbour T. was planted on my problem slope about four years ago, it is, in fact, still hanging in. It puts out about four 6″ stalks a year. This Year of the Big Rains, it actually bloomed… two (2!) mingy-looking stems.

Like many of the flowers that thrive in late summer, when the Norway maples on our street are at their thirsty and leafy peak, I have to be satisfied with admiring their beauty in OPGs (Other People’s Gardens).

Just call me a Batters-bee.

5 comments

  1. Thanks for the demonstration. Can't say as I've ever seen this plant; it's pretty. While I found the whole floret-fondling thing fascinating, it leaves me wondering: which part of the obedient plant do you eat and how do you prepare it?

  2. Garden Ms. — Yep, fairies did it again.

    Thanks, Monica — Bad puns a specialty.

    CitySlipper — Unless you're a bee, you'll have to leave this one on the hoof.

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