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Unusual Native Perennials: Angelica

Tall and green!

native angelica bud opening
Native Angelica

I have long admired ornamental angelica gigas, native to Korea. The first time I read about this fascinating plant was on Margaret Roach's acclaimed website A Way to Garden. The flowers grow on huge tall stalks and unfurl majestically. Margaret describes angelica as biennial in her upstate New York garden. Biennials usually take two years to complete their life cycle. A seedling will grow the first year and then flower and die in the second year. To have flowers every year, your plant would either have to successfully self sow each year or you would need to sow seed in successive years. Between that and the fact the plant was non-native, I admired but passed on the possibility.

non-native angelica gigas budding
Korean angelica at Chanticleer Garden

I have thought about it more than once having observed these amazing flowers at Chanticleer Garden outside of Philadelphia. One day, I noticed Prairie Moon Nursery in Minnesota sells a native Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea). It is sometimes called purple stem angelica or great angelica. It is the same tall perennial I admired though the flowers are green rather than deep maroon.

I garden on 1/8 of an acre with mature trees and shrubs so was unsure as to where 7 foot tall perennials that need sun or part shade would work. These are also plants that like consistently moist soils. I finally convinced myself it would be fun to try a sort of Dr. Seuss look -- planting several of the tall gangly perennials spaced out in the flower beds -- sort of a taller version of those gardens you see from time to time with large purple alliums dotted around. While we really don't have consistently moist soils, I thought perhaps soils on the dryer side would limit the plant height. I ordered seven bare root plants.

The plants arrived in the fall of 2021. I planted them in selected spots and as spring in 2022 unfolded, I eagerly awaited the growth of these fun giants. And then I waited some more. Nothing. So I figured they did not get enough moisture and chalked it up to a fun and relatively inexpensive experiment.

native angelica plant in fall
Native Angelica plant in December

And then there we were in December of 2022 when I noticed this. I was ecstatic! One had made it, albeit in the least desirable location. It was about two feet tall and located in front of oak leaf hydrangeas. It only became apparent when the surrounding perennials died back. It too eventually died back and I waited to see what would happen in its second spring in our garden.

It grew and grew...

It topped out just over 7 feet. This location was the moistest soil of the seven locations where I planted the seven bare root plants so it made sense this was the successful one.

By early June, the flowers were beginning to mature. The stem also began to take on a purple color.

Toward the end of June, the plant was succumbing to the lack of rain. I don't know whether as a newly established plant, if watered, whether it would have retained its vigor. It did set seed so I am guessing it would have gone dormant. Most sources, including Prairie Moon Nursery describe this angelica as perennial rather than biennial.

I also read this plant has a tap root and is hard to relocate. Since the plant was in a place where I did not want it, I dug it up to see what the root system was like. It did have two tap roots but was not as deeply rooted as I thought. It also produced a lot of seeds!

This leaves a couple of questions. If left in place, with all of those seeds, would it have become a crazy spreader? If I had watered it since it was not yet established, would it have maintained green foliage through the growing season? If you deadheaded it, would it continue to bloom? If you know the answer to any of these questions, please share in the comments.

I don't think I will add it back into our small space but in a large garden, I can see where it could make quite a statement planted in multiples in a very large drift. Its native habitat is swamps and marshes. Native angelica is also the host plant for the short tailed swallow butterfly.

I saved the flowers for drying. Native angelica -- a statement plant for sure!


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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