Undoubtedly, the most popular perennial in today's shade garden is the hosta. While the hosta's popularity is justified, there are other perennials that also deserve a place in the shade garden. The lungwort (Pulmonaria sp.) is one such perennial.
Like hostas, lungworts are grown chiefly for their attractive foliage. The leaves of most species and varieties are spotted with silver or white. They also produce blue, pink, or white flowers in early spring.
Lungworts are relatively easy to grow. They prefer partial shade and moist, well-drained soils. Poor, clay soils can often be improved by incorporating compost, sphagnum peat, or well- rotted manure. Lungworts do not perform well in hot, dry or wet sites. Their leaves wilt badly in hot, dry areas. Plants may rot and die out in wet soils.
Pulmonarias are compact, clump-forming perennials. Most species and varieties are 8 to 15 inches tall with a spread of 18 to 24 inches. Lungworts can be planted as a single specimen, border, or groundcover. Though they can be left undisturbed for years, lungworts can be propagated by dividing the clumps in early fall.
Lungworts don't have serious pest problems. Powdery mildew can be a problem in areas with poor air circulation. Insects can also cause minor leaf damage.
Listed below are some of the most noteworthy lungwort varieties. Most of the following are hybrids of P. saccharata, P. angustifolia, and P. longifolia.
- 'Berries and Cream' -- has silvery foliage and rosy pink flowers.
- 'Bertram Anderson' -- has long, narrow, dark green leaves with
- silvery spots. Flowers are violet-blue.
- 'British Sterling' -- produces silvery leaves with narrow green margins. Magenta flower buds become blue flowers.
- 'David Ward' -- has dull green foliage with thin white margins. Coral flowers in spring.
- 'Excalibur' -- bears silvery white foliage with green margins and midribs. Pink flowers.
- 'Janet Fisk' -- has heavily marbled foliage and pink flowers which fade to blue.
- 'Mrs. Moon' -- is an old favorite with silver-white spots. Pink flower buds turn light blue.
- 'Pierre's Pure Pink' -- has green leaves dotted with silvery spots. Pale pink flowers in spring.
- 'Raspberry Splash' -- produces green foliage mottled with silver spots and raspberry pink flowers.
- 'Roy Davidson' -- has dark green leaves with silver-white spots. Flowers are pale blue.
- 'Sissinghurst White' -- is grown for its silver-white spotted foliage and white flowers.
- 'Smokey Blue' -- produces silvery spotted foliage. Pink flowers turn to blue.
- 'Spilled Milk' -- has wide, silvery foliage accented with a few green spots. Magenta flowers fade to pink.
- 'White Wings' -- produces white flowers that are larger than 'Sissinghurst White.' Foliage has silver spots.
Like many perennials, pulmonarias have an interesting common name. The common name, lungwort, refers to the former belief that the leaves were a cure for ailments of the lung.
This article originally appeared in the February 5, 1999 issue, p. 10.