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Growing Concerns: Grow the showy ‘ear of corn’ for an amazing summer show

January 21, 2019
Stachys Hummelo is the 2019 Perennial Plant of the Year.

The Perennial Plant Association has selected Stachys Hummelo as the 2019 Perennial Plant of the Year.

This group of professional growers has been selecting a plant of the year since 1990. Members of the group choose plants based on the following criterion: Plants must be low maintenance, pest- and disease-resistant, be suitable for a wide range of growing climates, exhibit multiple seasonal interest, and be readily available at a local garden center.

Stachys is one of the largest genera in the Lamiaceae family, with an estimated 300 to 400 species in the genus. Characteristics of the Lamiaceae family, or mint family, include square stems, fragrant foliage, and two-lipped flowers. Hummelo was the highest-rated Stachys in a Chicago Botanic Garden Evaluation trial. It outperformed the other species and cultivars in vigor, habit, flower production and winter hardiness.

Many Stachys species are grown for their gray, wooly leaves. Hummelo is grown for its showy flowers, which put on an amazing summer show. The rose-lavender flower spikes stand well above the foliage at 2 feet tall. Deadheading encourages more flowers, lengthening the bloom season. Stachys is a derivative of the Greek word stacys, meaning ear of corn, a reference to the spike inflorescence.

Selected and introduced by German grower Ernst Pagels, Hummel translates to bumblebee in German. How appropriate for this bee magnet! The cultivar name also honors designer Piet Oudolf, who used the plant in many of his designs. Piet’s home and nursery are in Hummelo, Netherlands.

Stachys species form basal rosettes of foliage, creating a thick groundcover, and Hummelo is no different. Most Stachys species have gray, wooly foliage while Hummelo has textured, bright green foliage. In warmer zones, Hummelo is evergreen, but don’t expect this in Minnesota.

Grow Hummelo in full sun to part shade with moist, well-drained soil. Once established, the plants will be drought-tolerant. Prune plants back after blooming and divide when needed.

The common names for Hummelo include betony and woundwort. Betony simply means herb.

The suffix wort — from wyrt, meaning root — was used with plants that were believed to have medicinal uses. The first part of the word denoted what the plant was used to treat. For example, lungwort was used to treat diseases of the lungs. Goutwort was used to treat gout. Woundwort was used to treat wounds.

Asclepias tuberosa, Echinacea, Eryngium, Perovskia and ornamental grasses are excellent companions for “Hummelo.” Include it in the border, cottage garden and wildflower or meadow garden.

Hummelo is sold in the industry as Stachys officinalis, S. monieri, S. macrantha, and S. pradica. Whichever species it belongs to, Hummelo is a brilliant performer in the garden. The plant is low-maintenance, free from serious disease and insect problems, and attracts butterflies and pollinators while deterring deer. Look for Hummelo at the local garden centers this spring.

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