What’s in a name? To quote William Shakespeare, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Well, Bill, I’m not so sure about that.

Scary plant names

Did you know that there are several scary plant names? First of all is the corpse flower. Secondly, there is a bleeding tooth fungus. Yuck! Next, we have deadly nightshade, bleeding hearts, brain cactus and devil’s claw. None of these plant names invite you to stop and smell the flowers, but you need not be frightened.

Lastly, we have today’s topic, the heartleaf skullcap. What’s that, you say? I am so glad you asked.

  • Heart Leaf in the name

Don’t get me started on hearts. We all know that our hardest working muscle does not resemble the Valentine’s Day symbol or that cute little emoji some of us use, but there are many plants that include “heart leaf” in their common name.

There is a heart leaf philodendron, heart leaf brunnera, heart leaf begonia, heart leaf ice plant and a heart leaf foam flower.

  • Skullcap in the name

Now about that name – the first thing that comes to my mind is a motorcyclist’s do-rag. That is dangerous and scary. How does this relate to this plant? Something that only bikers will cultivate? No, no, no. That is not it at all. Part of the bloom resembles a medieval knight’s headgear; hence, the skullcap moniker.

Found here, beyond

Heartleaf skullcap’s official scientific name is Scutellaria ovata. It is native to Texas, and it can be found as far north as Minnesota and as far south as Florida. It can grow from Kansas to the Atlantic Ocean.

Local bloom season

This plant can be found here blooming in spring and early summer. It does not like the heat. So, we won’t be seeing it much longer during our hot weather. It will go dormant and reappear in the fall.

In mint family

The heartleaf skullcap is a member of the mint family. Beware – just as mint can be invasive, the heartleaf skullcap is an opportunist as well. If you don’t want it to take over your entire flower bed, plan accordingly. Put up a border. Plant it in a container or remove the overgrowth.

Hardy perennial

This plant looks delicate but is a hardy perennial. The foliage is velvety blue-green with bluish-purple blooms. Sometimes, it is a challenge to include blue flowers in your garden. Who doesn’t want more blue flowers?

  • Resembles but is not salvia

Distinct from salvia, heartleaf skullcap can be confused with salvia as they are related. The leaves are oily, making it deer resistant. Deer don’t want to eat it.

It is drought tolerant and great for low-water areas. It also will survive cold temperatures.

  • Growing properties

Heartleaf skullcap prefers partial sunlight, although it flourishes in full sunlight in the xeriscape garden at Victoria Educational Gardens. This low-growing, low-maintenance plant makes an excellent groundcover. It attracts bees and hummingbirds because of its nectar. We all should provide more food for our bee population. Who doesn’t want bees and hummingbirds to visit their garden? Yes, please.

Heartleaf skullcap prefers well-drained, sandy soil. While it will grow in a bed in full sunlight, it can be used in a rock garden.

You can propagate it by seed, transplanting clumps or planting the roots. It does not grow above 18 inches tall. The individual plants are about 15 inches in diameter.

  • Herbal medicinal uses

In addition to its beauty, heartleaf skullcap is known to be an herbal medicine. The leaves have been used for centuries as a mild relaxant for treatment of anxiety. It also is said to have powerful antioxidant properties that may lessen food allergies and may help with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Before you go chewing on the leaves, please check with your health care provider.

There is another herb, Chinese skullcap, with a similar name and uses.

Do not confuse heartleaf skullcap with the Chinese skullcap, Sculletaria baicalensis, which is native to China with research indicating it has been used to treat inflammation, insomnia, hepatitis, epilepsy, atherosclerosis and some cancer.

Try it – contrary to scary name

Don’t be afraid to cultivate the multi-faceted heartleaf skullcap. This delicate, wispy plant is easily grown. As long as you don’t overwater it or give up on it during the hotter months, you will find it a welcome addition to your garden, despite its somewhat scary name.

What’s in a name? The name may be misleading. However, heartleaf skullcap may become one of your favorite plants. I encourage you to give it a try.

The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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