The Other Lamb’s Ears

I’m assuming even you tree people (aka other
Garden Professors) are familiar with the soft, silvery leaves of Stachys
or Lamb’s Ear (variously Lamb Ears and Lamb’s Ears).  Not to
disparage S. byzantina, but in our part of the world it looks like a
pile of wet dryer lint in the winter; and can become similarly
disfigured during a hot, wet summer.  Spring brings bright,
pet-able new ears, followed by woolly flower spikes that could serve as
Q-tips for Shrek. Runs/reseeds like a banshee in my home garden.
Dr. Allan Armitage notes, “We’ve been lamb-eared to death.”

But there are several other species of
garden-worthy Stachys, one of which is garnering lots of attention in
our campus garden at the moment. Behold, Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’ – Wood Betony or Alpine

Also sold under S.
and S. densiflora. Most nurseries seemed to have settled on
S. monieri
, but that specific epithet does not appear in the ITIS
(Integrated Taxonomic Information Systems) database. Armitage lists it as a cultivar
of S. officinalis and then has S. monieri as a separate species.

Regardless of pedigree, ‘Hummelo’ is a terrific perennial.
Clumps of glossy green scallop-edged foliage are topped with
spikes of rosy-lavender flowers throughout the summer. Heat- and
cold-tolerant; it’s hardy from Zones 4 to 8. Full sun or part shade,
drought tolerant, deer resistant…what’s not to like?

Back to the ubiquitous version of lamb’s ear…we
have a superior selection of S. byzantina with the fabulous cultivar
name of ‘Countess Helene von Stein’. Rarely flowers, and has bigger, tougher leaves that hang in there regardless of humidity. Very effective
when barked at students with a Teutonic accent: “Countess Helene von
Shtein! You vill learn dis plahnt!”  You may find this in
the U.S. under the comparatively boring ‘Big Ears’.

9 thoughts on “The Other Lamb’s Ears”

  1. I love this perennial, too, and coincidentally featured it and the variety ‘Nana’ on my blog this morning. It is a very easy to care for, neat in the garden, perennial.

  2. Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’ is blooming around the Pavilion at Taltree right now. It look awesome and unlike the baptisia it is still standing after all the wind and rain we’ve had this month. Plus it attracts lots of bees and as it is National Polinators Week, seems very well timed.

  3. The one saving grace that the old fashioned lamb’s ear has is that in my garden it’s the best bee attractor I’ve ever seen. The bumbles and honey bees love the ratty looking flowers.

  4. There is lots of this growing in Chicago’s Lurie Garden in Millenium Park. I was wondering what it was – now I know!

  5. Thanks for the comments, y’all!
    Kandi, you’re right – we had a ton of our honeybees on it at home…you’d think they’d get fuzz on their tongues 😉

  6. I am relieved to read about alternative-I hate this plant and of all the things in my garden it won’t die-even in shade or part shade!! Under a pecan tree of all things they can’t be compatible but they dwell together in unity.

  7. For several years Hummelo was nibbled to the ground in my garden prior to flowering. Deer, bunnies, or some other varmint, but now deer repellent saves the day and they grow lush and bloom for nearly a month. And they spread slowly.

  8. Dave, interesting about the bunny/deer issue. Have seen it marketed as deer and rabbit resistant!

    Back to the Countess, she’s a nurserywoman, with one the oldest mail-order nurseries in Germany. Her Uncle is the von Zeppelin of dirigible fame, according to Allen Bush of Jelitto (and he knows everything). Me and Paul’s pal Janet Draper actually worked in her garden! Janet reports her ears were, in fact, fuzzy.

    just kidding.

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