Woodland Phlox

Phlox divaricata

Description & Overview

A native inhabitant of Wisconsin’s dapple-shaded woods and forests, Woodland Phlox is a shorter forb that can brighten up any understory. In mid to late Spring, the five-petaled, pale lavender to blue flowers are a favorite amongst butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds. With its flowers, a slowly spreading habit, and its benefit to pollinators, Woodland Phlox is a great plant for a wide range of sites.

You may also know this plant as Wild Blue Phlox, Wild Sweet William, or Blue Phlox.


Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 12-20 inches
Mature Spread: 12-24 inches
Growth Rate: Perennial
Growth Form: Upright perennial, clump-forming and spreading
Light Requirements: Partial Shade to Full Shade
Site Requirements: Moderate to moist soil.
Flower: 1′ pale purple to blue, five-parted, funnel-shaped, and sweetly fragrant.
Bloom Period: May – June
Foliage: Green, 1-2” long, hairy, and lance-shaped.
Fall Color: Tinged with red.
Fruit Notes: A brown seed capsule containing several black seeds.

Suggested Uses:

Woodland Phlox is found throughout the southern two-thirds of the state, including a few sporadic northern counties. Naturally found in the understory of the forest, it enjoys moist, rich soil and either part shade or morning sun.

It does not tolerate salt—either airborne or within the soil—and would best be planted away from roads, ditches, or driveways.

Add Woodland Phlox to a wooded site or a forested residential area, or a park where its wonderful color brightens up the understory. It is a showy addition for restoration plantings that will slowly form a fragrant groundcover. There is nothing quite like walking through swaths of Woodland Phlox, with their incredible color and fragrance.

Plant along a woodland path or near a window in part shade where the intoxicating fragrance can be appreciated.

Intermingle amongst spring bulbs to disguise the dehiscing of bulb foliage once blooms have passed.

A pollinator magnet and earlier bloomer, Woodland Phlox provides pollen and nectar to our small friends seeking nourishment after the winter. Plant in a native garden and watch as Swallowtails, bees, skippers, and moths visit!

Consider planting Woodland Phlox as a native, non-aggressive alternative to the more commonly chosen, and aggressive, exotic Vinca.

Wildlife Value:

Woodland Phlox is an important source of nectar to many species including bumblebees, bees, flies, butterflies, skippers, and moths. Interestingly, only long-tongued insects can pollinate the flowers, making them the perfect choice for butterflies, moths, skippers, and long-tongued bees that have tongues that can reach into the ends of the flowers.

A range of Sphinx moths visit including Poecila Sphinx (Sphinx poecila), Apple Sphinx (Sphinx gordius), Achemon Sphinx (Eumorpha achemon), Titan Sphinx (Aellopos titan), Nessus sphinx (Amphion floridensis), Wild Cherry sphinx (Sphinx drupiferarum), and Lettered Sphinx (Deidamia inscriptum).

Five-spotted Hawkmoth (Manduca quinquemaculata), Pink-spotted Hawkmoth (Agrius cingulata), as well as Slender Clearwing (Hemaris gracilis), Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe), and Snowberry clearwing (Hemaris diffinis) can be seen fluttering about Woodland Phlox.

Hairstreaks butterflies and a host of Swallowtail butterflies seek nectar including Eastern Tiger (Papilio glaucus), Giant (Papilio cresphontes), Black (Papilio polyxenes), and Pipevine (Battus philenor). Dusted Skipper (Atrytonopsis hianna), Broad-winged Skipper (Poanes viator), and Peck’s Skipper (Polites peckius) are all visitors.

Several species feed on the flower and foliage such as Olive Arches (Lacinipolia olivacea) and Spotted Straw (Heliothis phloxiphagus). Woodland Phlox is also the host plant to the Phlox moth (Schinia indiana).

Maintenance Tips:

After flowering, a mound of leaves will remain throughout the season to gather energy before winter. It’s best to just ‘leaf’ the leaves alone until mid-Spring.

The plant will reseed but is not aggressive. They can also spread along the ground rooting through nodes. With a shallow root system, any unwanted seedlings are easy to remove via hand-pulling.

Provide a layer of mulch to keep roots cool and retain soil moisture. This will reduce plant stress, thus reducing the likelihood of plants obtaining pests or diseases.

Woodland Phlox may require supplemental water in drought conditions.

Pests/Problems:

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: No
Rabbit Resistant: No

Deer and rabbits occasionally browse the foliage but not severely.

Powdery mildew can be an issue in high humidity. Ensure adequate airflow around plantings and thin stems after flowering if they become too dense.

Leaf Lore:

The genus Phlox is the Greek word for ‘flame’ in reference to the varying and intense color of the flowers and was so named by Carl Linnaeus, the father of scientific nomenclature.

The specific epithet divaricata means “spreading; growing in a straggling manner” an homage to the plant’s slowly spreading habit. (A Gardener’s Handbook of Plant Names. A.W. Smith. Dover Publications.1997/1963. Pg.133).

Phlox is an old-fashioned flower that became popular in the 1800s when it was used in floral arrangements. It is said that gifting a phlox expressed love or the intention of marriage, and the gift of a fragrant phlox in particular encouraged sweet dreams. (https://www.pansymaiden.com/flowers/meaning/phlox/)

Woodland Phlox was used medicinally at one time to treat various ailments. The whole plant was boiled into a tea to treat stomach problems, while the leaves were brewed into a treatment to ease skin issues such as boils and eczema. The roots were boiled and used as an eyewash.

Companion Plants:

Comingle with plants that enjoy similar site conditions such as Large-flowered Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Alpine Violet (Viola labradorica), Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Hellebores (Helleborus spp.), Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spp.), Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.), Astilbe (Astilbe spp.), Coral Bells (Heuchera spp.), Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), or Purple Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum).

Woodland Phlox do very well when planted beneath Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Basswood (Tilia americana), Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata), Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), and oaks (Quercus spp.).


Woodland Phlox, Wild Blue Phlox, Wild Sweet William, Blue Phlox BENCHCARD




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