Description & Overview
Verbena stricta, commonly known as Hoary Vervain, is a Wisconsin native perennial occurring naturally in our prairies, glades, and fields. This tall-growing perennial is sure to turn heads with its beautiful spires of lavender. It grows in a narrow, upright clump and draws in local pollinators from far and wide.
Hoary Vervain is a vigorously growing perennial that is most commonly found throughout Wisconsin in prairies and meadows. Hoary Vervain is extremely drought tolerant and thrives in dry sandy and shallow rocky soils, as well as average and moist conditions.
The flowers, which develop from the bottom upward, are extremely showy and densely packed on tall, pencil-like panicles. These flower towers of light blue to lavender are butterfly magnets. Flowers will bloom only a few at a time, typically from bottom to top. We recommend using this perennial in naturalized landscapes, butterfly gardens, prairie restoration projects, or as a backdrop for a dry site.
A pollinator magnet, there are many different kinds of beneficial insects that are drawn to the flowers of Hoary Vervain. Several different species of bees are frequent visitors, including Long-Horned, Short- and Long-Tongued, and Leafcutter bees, Bumblebees, Honeybees, Green Sweat Bees, and the rapidly declining Ashton Cuckoo Bumblebee (Bombus Ashton). Hoary Vervain has a specialist species of bee, Calliopsis nebraskensis, the Verbena Bee, and is a larval host plant for the Verbena Moth (Crambodes talidiformis), and Fine-Lined Sallow Moth (Catabena lineolate). Specialists have specific relationships with only a few plant species, with some foraging for pollen or nectar that can only be found on a single plant species.
Several skippers probe the flowers for nectar including Peck’s (Polites peckus), Silver Spotted (Epargyreus clarus), Fiery, and Eastern Tailed-Blue. As for butterflies, Hoary Vervain attracts many butterfly species including Monarchs (Danaus plexippus), Common Wood Nymphs (Cercyonis pegala), Cabbage Whites (Pieris rapae), Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele), Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), and the Little Yellow (Pyrisitia lisa).
Attracted to nectar, several kinds of Syrphid Flies (Eristalis spp., Toxomerus spp., Tropidia spp.) buzz about like bees to deter predators. With long mouthparts and their ability to hover, Bee Flies (Bombylius spp.) visit Hoary Vervain for its nectar in spring.
The seeds of all Verbena spp. are eaten by songbirds including cardinals, field sparrows, and juncos. With hairy and bitter foliage, mammals rarely eat Hoary Vervain.
Plant Hoary Vervain in full sun in well-draining soil. This perennial thrives in dry locations so overwatering should be avoided. It’s a good fit for a rock garden or in a naturalized setting such as a prairie or meadow. It has excellent drought tolerance.
This clump-forming plant self-seeds readily. We recommend deadheading to control spread if that is desired.
Hoary Vervain is free from serious insect or disease problems. It should also be noted that mammalian grazers like deer rarely munch on the foliage that is bitter and hairy.
The genus name Verbena refers to the usage of some plants in religious ceremonies and in medicine. The specific epithet stricta means “erect” or “upright”.
Hoary Vervain was held in high esteem and was considered sacred to the Egyptians as they believed the first vervain was born from the tears of the goddess Isis as she wept for her love, Osiris. Once considered magical, the Druids thought Vervain held special powers, as did Thor’s worshippers from Scandinavia. Greeks and Romans saw Vervain as holy, often using it to anoint their temples and bless alters. Vervain is also sometimes called “the herb of the cross” as it’s believed by many Christians, that the plant was used to treat Christ’s wounds on the cross.
Also known as “the herb of love,” Vervain was used as an aphrodisiac during the Middle Ages, and was a frequent ingredient of magical potions. Oh my.
The Aztecs, Dakota, and Omaha made an infusion of the leaves of Hoary Vervain to treat stomach aches, headaches, circulatory problems, and insomnia, and in general as a hot tea.