Blue-Blooming Vitex and Plumbago:
Butterflies Love ‘Em, Deer Don’t
For indigo blossoms, butterfly habitat and deer resistance, few plants beat Vitex and Plumbago, two adapted bloomers recently added to the Texas Superstar plant program.
Started in 1989, the Texas A&M University Texas Superstar program applies Aggie horticulture smarts to some of our best-known plants. They have been developed and cultured to be even more desirable, marketable and successful for Texas gardens. When you see the Texas Superstar tag, you know the plant’s a good bet.
This summer Plumbago and Vitex join this elite group. They’re getting their own “star” on the Lone Star state’s “plant walk of fame”.
Plumbago is a tender perennial with profuse blue flowers. It loves the heat, doesn’t mind our long, humid summers, and is reasonably drought tolerant. A white-blooming version is less prolific, while blue Plumbago produces flowers non-stop from summer until frost.
Disease-, pest- and deer-resistant, Plumbago is also known as Skyflower because of the sky-blue color of its flowers. It blooms even in considerable shade. While it is native to South Africa, it’s well adapted to South Texas conditions and will keep your yard full of butterflies all summer.
Plumbago responds well to pruning. It will flower profusely if you cut it back after a growth-flush, since it bears flowers on new wood.
Vitex, our other Superstar, is also known as Texas Lilac or the Chaste tree. A native of China and India, it actually naturalized throughout North America as early as 1670.
For people living in the warmer parts of the South, the “Lilac Chaste Tree” has been the shrub of choice to mimic beloved lilacs that are restricted to cooler regions. It grows best in full sun and in a location that drains well. Vitex loves the heat, and is so tough that even the Texas Department of Transportation plants it in highway medians.
Vitex is a spectacular butterfly-attracting plant, hummingbirds love it, and it’s deer-resistant, although bucks will brush their antlers on its branches if the plant is allowed to grow large.
So, you’re probably wondering, what’s not to like about Vitex and why isn’t it planted in every yard in town?
That’s where the Superstar horticulturists step in. The old Vitex had small spikes of flowers that were pale lilac, mauve, off-white or light pink. The blooms were small and unimpressive. Horticulturists now have identified and tested improved varieties such as ‘Montrose Purple’,
‘LeCompte’ and ‘Shoal Creek’ that have 8- to 12-inch long spikes. These varieties will all be marketed under the name ‘Texas Lilac’ Vitex.
The bloom spikes on these improved varieties are not only large and beautiful, they’re also fragrant and provide long-lasting cut flowers.
But—once the bloom spikes have provided several weeks of beauty, black and dark-brown seeds result. Not only do these seeds prevent additional bloom spikes, they may, in some regions, produce a mutant seedling population what will not be as glamorous as the parent plants.
What to do? Deadhead, of course. If you want to enjoy the full monty of these spectacular blossoms, you must prune the spent blooms. Diligently. The challenge is that Vitex is extremely fast growing. It can grow into a small tree if not cut to the ground yearly.
The seed pods of ‘Texas Lilac’ Vitex must be removed after every bloom cycle—it will be blooming again in less than a month. The entire plant should be cut back to the ground every winter. If you live in an area with a large deer population, the deer will “prune” the Vitex plant back to the ground for you as they rub t heir antlers on the branches. Or, it will certainly be a reminder that you’ll need to cut back the ravaged stems.
For those who seek a Superstar medicinal plant, Vitex fills the bill. Vitex agnus castus belonged in the official group of medicinal plants of antiquity, and is mentioned in the works of Hippocrates, Dioscorides and Theophrast.
Other fun facts about Vitex and Plumbago:
Children often make “earrings” with sticky Plumbago flowers—letting them stick to their earlobes. The Plumbago bloom produces sticky gland-tipped hairs on the flower calyx. The seed capsule retains the stickiness which presumably helps disperse the seed by attaching to animals. The top of the capsule splits opens and drops the seed out.
Plumbago traditionally is used to treat warts, broken bones and wounds. It’s also taken as snuff for headaches and as an emetic to dispel bad dreams.
Vitex can be found in the writings of Hippocrates from the 4th century BC. He recommended the plant for injuries, inflammation and swelling of the spleen. He also recommended using the leaves in wine to stop hemorrhages and the “passing of afterbirth”.
Vitex also has astringent properties, and has been recommended for wild animal bites, swelling of the spleen and for dropsy.
The English name for Vitex agnus castus, ‘chaste tree’, is derived from the belief that the plant would suppress libido in women. In Greek cities, festivals in the honor of Demeter included a vow of chastity by the local women.
In Europe, the Catholic Church developed a variation on this theme by placing Vitex blossoms at the clothing of novice monks to supposedly suppress their libido. The common name ‘Monk’s Pepper’ refers to the medieval belief that utilizing potions made from the berries helped monks maintain their vows of chastity. There is nothing in contemporary scientific literature to suggest that it actually does suppress the libido.
For more information about Vitex, Plumbago or other Texas Superstar plants, contact Dr. Jerry Parsons, Professor and Horticulture Specialist for the Texas Cooperative Extension Service. His E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org or E-mail him through the website, www.PLANTaswers.com.
For images and further information on Plumbago, see:
For images and further information on Vitex, see: