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).


  1. Shane Morgan 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!

  3. Laura Fernandes says:

    Dames Rocket is dead easy to grow or pull out if you decide you don’t want it somewhere. Plus it has a heavenly fragrance, and looks awesome in drifts (especially the purple one) – so much so, that people were getting out of their parked cars on the side of the road to take pictures of a large drift of it near where I live. It was (stunning). Also, it blooms longer in the shade, and faster in sun, thus making it possible to co ordinate a kind of ‘timing’ effect of the blooms in different areas of the garden. Plus, I’m reading that if you ‘deadhead’ it, you’ll be rewarded with more bloom (which I’m trying next year). My only complaint is that it gets kind of ‘straggly looking’ if you’re waiting for more seed to plant elsewhere in the garden for next year, and it’s biennial, which means you have to wait two years to see bloom. Although, I’m sure there are ways to get around (that), and if you plant ripe seed in some parts of the country, you may just have mature enough plants next year to get bloom (which I’m also trying this season, in southern Ontario, where I live). I love it, and so do the hummingbirds, butterflies, etc. This website is pretty cool, too.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Laura. The drawback of course is that it crowds out many native species because it’s so prolific, so I do as you say and pull most of it here, just leaving a couple of small spots.

      1. Laura Fernandes says:

        Yes Margaret, I’m sure that, especially in some of the southern states, it really could get out of control. It stays pretty tame here in southern Ontario, especially in wooded, shadier areas. Although I can understand the concern about the crowding out of native species. Mostly, where I’ve seen larger drifts of it, were in sunny fields and ditches, where it gets lots of exposure. The one I (really) regret bringing home to my garden is the wild creeping bell flower, seen along roadsides, in southern Ontario here. No matter how much I pull- it always comes back. Sometimes those ‘pretty’ wild ones are best left right where they are, for sure. What is that old saying? .. ‘Some things cost too much, even when they’re free’ .. . Lesson learned.

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