What a funny name for a flower, you say? On the contrary, this perennial favorite is no laughing matter. It performs well, isn’t finicky, has long lasting blooms, and looks gorgeous in the garden. Jupiter’s Beard will bring an appreciative smile to all who view its charm.
Centranthus ruber, known as Jupiter’s Beard, Red Valerian, Fox’s Bush and Keys of Heaven, is a member of the Valerianaceae family. It is a herbaceous perennial flower valued for its low maintenance, tolerance of drought and non-invasive characteristics.
Native to the Mediterranean, the Jupiter’s Beard has successfully transitioned to many areas of the United States. It grows wild in California and several other states, including Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon and Utah. We aren’t so lucky here in Colorado, but the plants are readily available for purchase at our local nurseries.
The flowers are showy and appear in dense terminal clusters atop upright to relaxed stems rising above the foliage from 1.5 to 3 feet tall. The blooms are tiny and star-like in shape. Colors include white, pink, pinkish-red and different shades of red, depending on the variety. The leaves are oval to lanceolate and can be up to 4 inches long. They are fleshy, glossy and gray-green in color. They have a pleasing fragrance and make excellent fresh cut flowers.
Jupiter’s Beard is a well- branched, bushy, clump-forming, woody-based plant that has an excellent ability to grow in poor soils. It likes full sun but tolerates shade. Needs water only when dry. Additional landscape uses include planting in naturalized areas, in front of stone walls and on slopes or banks to help fight erosion.
A popular attribute (for our area) is that Jupiter’s Beard has been researched and determined to be rabbit resistant. In addition, it attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds along with all other important pollinators to the area in which it is planted.
Side notes: If not deadheaded, flowers give way to dandelion-like seed heads which are typically disbursed around the landscape by wind. Deadheading is encouraged to promote a longer bloom time. Also, there are no serious insect or disease problems. Mealy bugs and aphids are occasionally seen, causing no significant damage.
Care truly is minimal. Cut back to 6 to 8 inches in late summer to stimulate new growth and help overwintering. Don’t prune again until spring clean-up. Water when very dry and divide in early spring or fall every 1 to 3 years.
A few varieties to look for; ‘Albus’ has creamy white blooms and only grows to 2 feet. ‘Atrococcineus’ has deep red blooms. ‘Coccineus’ has rosy pink flowers and only grows to 2 feet. Lastly, ‘Roseus’ has rosy-pink flowers and grows taller.
“Summer was on the way; Jem and I awaited it with impatience. Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the tree house; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.” — Harper Lee, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
(Kerry Peetz is a master gardener and member of Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs.)