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Plant Profile: Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

Have you ever thought about making a salad with tansy? John Evelyn, the 17th century writer did but preferred it in stir fry with spinach, primrose leaves, violets, and green corn. Humm…sound interesting but tansy is toxic and was used in the middle ages to induce abortions. It was also used then to increase fertility and prevent miscarriages, so apparently there was no consensus on this point. It was also used as a strewing herb to mask bad odors in the home as it was crushed underfoot, and has been used in both the home and the garden to control insect pests. It found a place in my garden because its foliage was very attractive and its flowers useful in dried arrangements. It became aggressive and spread everywhere and I decided it did not earn its keep. That was long ago and my garden was small so this 4’ plant producing rhizomes at a grand rate was not a desirable resident. At present, with a larger garden, I will give it another chance with the hope that the heat and humidity of my North Carolina garden will curb its enthusiasm for spreading.

Type: Perennial herb.

Bloom: Yellow flowerheads , 1/3-1/2” across, are produced in loose clusters during late summer and fall.

Foliage: Fern-like foliage of pinnately divided leaves.

Size: 3-4’ H (spreads rapidly).

Light: Full sun to partial shade.

Soil: Average; does well in a variety of soils; the richer the soil, the more lush the growth.

Hardiness: Zones 4-8.

Care: Keep a watchful eye on its spread.

Pests and Diseases: Tansy beetle has developed resistance to the plant and lives almost entirely on it.

Propagation: Division, seed.

Outstanding Selections: Small cultivars are available that are good in a rock garden; they are not as easy to grow as the species and need good drainage, but they are also not as rambunctious.

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