In spite of its common name, mountain heliotrope is not a true heliotrope and is not even in the same family. It is a member of the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, that also includes weigelia, abelia, and twinflower. A native of northwestern North America from Alaska and northern Canada to Montana to northern California, this rhizomatous perennial grows in subalpine meadows and moist mountain forests and is also called Sitka valerian. Plants grow up to 3′ tall but may be dwarfed by extreme condition to under 10″ tall. The opposite lanceolate leaves grow so closely they appear whorled and are deeply lobed or pinnately divided with five coarsely toothed leaflets. In late spring or early summer, rounded terminal clusters of white, sometimes pinkish, flowers appear. The small flowers are tubular, aromatic and have 3 stamens that extend well beyond the 5 petals. The fruit is an achene bearing a plume. The genus name, Valeriana, is a medieval Latin name possibly derived from the Latin word valere, meaning to be healthy, referring to the plants’ use to cure nervousness and hysteria. The specific epithet, sitchensis, refers to the Russian settlement of Sitka on Baranof Island where the plant was first collected.
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Bloom: Rounded terminal clusters of small tubular, white, sometimes pinkish, flowers with 3 stamens extending beyond the 5 petals from late spring to summer
Size: 6-36′ H x 6-36″ W
Light:Full sun to partial shade
Hardiness: Zones 3-8
Care: Low maintenance
Pests and Diseases: None of significance
Propagation: Seed, division (difficult)
Companion Plants: Glacier lily, lupine, indian paintbrush
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
A conspicuous, stately perennial with a 2-3 ft. stalk bearing opposite leaves with coarsely toothed leaflets, and a rounded clusters of small, tubular, aromatic flowers. The flowers are generally white but may have a pinkish tinge. Stamens protrude conspicuously. In fruit, each flower is transformed into a tiny, plumed parachute.
In subalpine meadows where the protection of trees and other taller vegetation is lacking, Sitka Valerian may be only 6-10 in. tall.
Sitka valerian. It is native to northwestern North America from Alaska and northern Canada to Montana to northern California, where it grows in many types of habitat, including moist mountain forests. In moist subalpine meadows, it is often one of the most common plants. This is a rhizomatous perennial herb producing a stout, erect stem to about 70 centimeters in maximum height, but known to exceed one meter at times. The leaves vary in size and shape, often having deep lobes or being composed of several leaflets. The inflorescence is a cyme of many white or pink-tinged flowers, each under a centimeter wide. The flower has five corolla lobes and three whiskery stamens protruding from the center.
Erect sturdy stems, most leaves along stem. Leaves deeply lobed or coarsely toothed, hairless to slightly hairy. Inflorescence is tight head at stem top. Flowers white or pale pink tubes opening to 5 lobes, stamens and pistil extending beyond lobes. Grows in wet places at mid- to alpine elevations. Common species in North Cascades subalpine meadows. Distinguished from V. scouleri by coarsely toothed leaf margins, more stem leaves, flowers more often white than pink.
Propagation of American Valerian:
Seed – sow spring in a cold frame and only just cover the seed because it requires light for germination. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant out into their permanent positions in the summer if sufficient growth has been made. If the plants are too small to plant out, grow them on in the greenhouse or frame for their first winter and plant them out early in the following summer. Division in spring. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is best to pot up smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a greenhouse or cold frame until they are growing away well. Plant them out in the summer or the following spring.
The Sitka valerian, or mountain heliotrope, common in Idaho, is usually found growing in the moist open shade of evergreen forests. The plants bloom in late spring at montane elevations, and later in the subalpine zone. Usually one cluster of small white flowers is borne on each stem. Groups of opposing lanceolate leaves appear at intervals along the stem, growing so closely together as to appear whorled. The leaves are pinnately compound at the base, usually with five leaflets. The plants spread by their roots, so several are often found growing together in one place. Three stamens and a pistil extend well beyond the flowers’ five petals, giving the flower head a feathery look. The species name, sitchensis, refers to the Russian settlement of Sitka on Baranof Island, where the plant was first collected by Karl Heinrich Mertens (1796-1830) while on a Russian round-the-world journey (1836-1839).
Cultivation of the herb:
Moist open or wooded places at mid or upper elevations in the mountains, often in wet meadows.
- Rarity: Locally Common
- Flowering Time: Mid Summer
- Life Cycle: Perennial
- Height: 12–48 inches
- Habitat: Meadow, West-Side Forest, Alpine
- Found In: Crater Lake NP, Olympic NP, Mt. Rainier NP, N Cascades NP, West Gorge, Siskiyous
- Native: Yes
|Moist open or wooded places at mid or upper elevations in the mountains, often in wet meadows.|
|Range||Western N. America – Alaska to California.|
Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: May , Jun , Jul , Aug
USA: AK , CA , ID , MT , OR , WA
Canada: AB , BC , ON
Native Distribution: S. Yukon & s. AK, s. to w. MT, c. ID & n. CA; absent from Coast Ranges of OR & lowands of the Puget trough
Native Habitat: Wet meadows & moist, open woods at mid- to high elevations
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil Description: Moist soils.
Conditions Comments: In subalpine meadows where the protection of tree and other taller vegetation is lacking, Sitka valerian may be only 6-10 in. tall.
Description: Can be grown from seeds or pieces of rhizome.
Propagation recommendations: Seeds preferred, but limited vegetative propagation, by cutting large rhizomes with several growing crown points, was also successful for this species although seed propagation was preferred to avoid the need for digging up rhizomes from their native sites
From seed, direct sow outdoors in fall
If sowing indoors, stratify, winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse
Soil or medium requirements:
Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline
Installation form (form, potential for successful outcomes, cost): Place seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant out into their permanent positions in the summer if sufficient growth has been made. If the plants are too small to plant out, grow them on in the greenhouse or frame for their first winter and plant them out early in the following summer. Division in spring. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. Pot smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a greenhouse or cold frame until they are growing well. Plant them out in the summer or the following spring.
Recommended planting density:
18-24 in. (45-60 cm)
Care requirements after installed : medium moisture requirements
Normal rate of growth or spread; lifespan: establishment phase 3 months, active growth phase May – August