dame’s rocket: asset, or invader?

dames-rocket-2bI WAS GOING TO SIMPLY NOTE TODAY how much I like the moment (now) when dame’s rocket, or Hesperis matronalis, blooms wherever it wishes among alliums and other late-May-and-June things, adding shades of lavender to the borders in its casual, self-sown manner. And then I read up on it (damn this internet thing…so much information, not all of it good).

It seems that dame’s rocket, a short-lived perennial and prodigious sower, is taking up more than its share of the natural spaces it spreads itself into (read: becoming invasive). In my area it is common along roadsides and woodland edges, in the filtered light of those spots, and really breathtaking at its peak. My plants blew in from across the road. But some states, such as Wisconsin, are noting its invasive tendency: the fact that it “escapes cultivation” so easily and takes up space that natives then must yield. Dame’s rocket has been on our shores since the 1600s, so it is no newcomer, but it is not a native American species, hailing from Eurasia. It’s often sold in “wildflower” seed mixes, and in packs by itself.

What do you think about our responsibility as gardeners when it comes to growing plants that are non-native, and this enthusiastic? It’s a subject I have a fair degree of knowledge about, having collaborated on “The Natural Habitat Garden” with Ken Druse some years ago and pondered many times since. Including just the other day on this blog when Highvalleygirl asked about some barberries I posted. Frankly, friends, despite my semi-expertise, I do not know the answer to this one. Tough stuff, and worth talking about (no fisticuffs, though, please).


May 28, 2008


  1. says

    I live in Southeaster PA and Dames Rocket is becoming more and more ubiquitous in our area. I do think it is lovely, and it has self sowed into my garden as well, but I agree with Andrew and Tim that sometimes we aren’t preemptive enough to thwart invasives because of their ease and beauty, or because we can see it’s invasive potential. While Dames Rocket has been here for hundreds of years, in evolutionary time that’s nothing and so I ask is this plant displacing native species which have co-evolved with our native fauna leaving them with less habitat and food, or is it just a transient opportunist filling in where others have yet to seed. If it’s the former, I say pull it.

  2. kim says

    Love, love, love Dame’s Rocket! Rumoured to be Marie Antoinette’s favorite flower, read somewhere. It is not wise, however to plant it next to your foundation, as its’ very strong roots have in the past penetrated my old stone foundation. But it is a beautiful filler and nothing a shovel cannot take care of!

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