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JANUARY : Jupiter’s beard : Centranthus ruber

Imagine having a perennial in your garden that boasts vibrant flowers from spring all the way to the first frost. What if this plant not only added a burst of color to your landscape but also required minimal care, displayed drought tolerance, and harmonized seamlessly with surrounding flowers and shrubs? Believe it or not, such a plant exists.

Introducing the Centranthus ruber, affectionately known in our region as Jupiter’s Beard or Red Valerian. This hardy and versatile plant not only thrives in these conditions but can also enhance the beauty of your garden in Santa Fe.

Originally hailing from the Mediterranean region, the Centranthus species has not only adapted to various global climates but has also, at times, ventured beyond cultivation to establish itself in numerous parts of the world, notably spanning USDA Plant Zones 5 to 8 in North America. While introduced plants can sometimes pose a threat by becoming overly aggressive, leading to invasive tendencies, the situation varies geographically.

In South Africa, for instance, the Centranthus has earned the label of being invasive to such an extent that it’s outright banned in the country due to its prolific reseeding. However, in the contiguous United States, particularly within Santa Fe’s plant zone 6b, Jupiter’s Beard exhibits a more tempered demeanor. Although assertive in its growth, it has yet to raise alarm among vigilant agencies monitoring invasive species.

This Old World perennial stands out in Santa Fe, offering a rare spectacle as it consistently blooms from mid-to-late May until the chill of mid-to-late October prompts its winter dormancy. Thanks to its hardy roots and woody base, Jupiter’s Beard demonstrates resilience in cold weather, ensuring a healthy return each spring after Jack Frost’s temporary slumber.

Rather than taking center stage in a garden showcase, Jupiter’s Beard is often chosen to play a supporting role, serving as an underplanting for taller companions or contributing to the harmonious mix within a flowerbed. Its aesthetically pleasing, symmetrical growth habit ranges from 1.5 to 3 feet in height with a spread of around 30 inches. The hollow, smooth stems are adorned with reddish floral clusters, complemented by opposite, oval, or lanceolate, gray-green leaves.

The basal leaves are connected to the stem via petioles, while the upper leaves elegantly clasp directly onto the stem (sessile). At the terminal ends of the stems and within the axils of the sessile leaves, multiple tiny bisexual flowers grace the plant in tight clusters known as cymes. These flowers, belonging to the Centranthus ruber and its cultivars, exhibit a spectrum of hues from rose-red to light pink, with the less common white-flowering cultivar, Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’. The flowers’ fragrance is subjective; some sources note an unpleasant odor, while others highlight it as a desirable attribute, suggesting that scent perception may vary.

Regardless of the scent, these flowers serve as a haven for pollinators. Hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, and bees all eagerly compete for the abundant supply of nectar, making Jupiter’s Beard a delightful and buzzing pollinator paradise in the garden.

Culture

Jupiter’s Beard stands out as a resilient, low-maintenance, and effortlessly vibrant perennial, making it a top choice for adding lasting garden color. Flourishing in conditions that might otherwise be considered neglectful, this plant thrives in average to sandy, well-drained soils with medium moisture, excelling in both full sun and partial shade. While it leans towards slightly alkaline soils, it surprisingly performs well even in poor, infertile conditions, often adopting a more compact growth form.

This hardy plant is a first-year flowering perennial, showcasing its blooms for an extended period without demanding excessive care. In optimal conditions, it freely self-seeds, showcasing its adaptability, though this prolific self-seeding can verge on becoming weedy. To maintain its blooming prowess and curb seed formation, a simple yet effective measure involves promptly removing spent flower stems, or, for larger plantings, giving them a shearing. This straightforward practice not only encourages additional blooms but also keeps the plant’s exuberance in check, ensuring a vibrant and well-maintained garden display.

Jupiter’s Beard

GENUS NAMECentranthus ruber
COMMON NAMEJupiter’s Beard
PLANT TYPEPerennial
LIGHTSun
HEIGHT1 to 3 feet
WIDTH2 to 3 feet
FLOWER COLORPink, Red, White
FOLIAGE COLORBlue/Green
SEASON FEATURESFall Bloom, Spring Bloom, Summer Bloom
SPECIAL FEATURESCut Flowers, Low Maintenance
ZONES10, 11, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
PROPAGATIONDivision, Seed, Stem Cuttings
PROBLEM SOLVERSDeer Resistant, Drought Tolerant, Slope/Erosion Control

Invasive species

In the Western Cape of South Africa, Jupiter’s Beard, classified as a NEMBA 1b invasive species, holds a stringent status. This designation entails strict regulations, prohibiting ownership, importation, cultivation, relocation, sale, gifting, or disposal in waterways. The plant’s invasive nature demands compulsory control measures as an integral part of invasive species management programs, emphasizing the need for removal and destruction.

The severity of Jupiter’s Beard’s invasive potential is underscored by the possibility of infestations qualifying for inclusion in government-sponsored invasive species management initiatives. Under these circumstances, no permits for the activities mentioned above will be issued, emphasizing a zero-tolerance approach to curb the adverse ecological impact of this species in the region.

How to grow Jupiter’s beard

Red Valerian, known for its easygoing nature, thrives with minimal demands, requiring only well-drained soil and basking in full sun, although it does tolerate a bit of shade. Optimal growth is favored in alkaline soil, while an excess of nutrient-rich soil is not conducive to robust plant development.

To encourage continuous blooming, it’s advisable to trim down flowering stems. In cases where flowering halts during hot summer weather, a shearing of one-half to one-third of the plant can stimulate a fresh burst of blooms later in the season. Red Valerian has a self-sowing tendency, resulting in seedlings popping up throughout the garden. If this spontaneous proliferation is not desired, a straightforward solution involves either hoeing or pulling out unwanted plants or removing old flowers before they have a chance to set seeds. This uncomplicated maintenance routine ensures a well-managed and vibrant Red Valerian presence in the garden.

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