Crooked Run Valley
dames rocket (Hesperis matronalis)
SCIENTIFIC SYNONYMS: There are no synonyms for Hesperis matronalis.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for dames rocket is Hesperis matronalis L.
NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: First-year plants develop into low rosettes at ground level and stay green all winter. Flowering plants start as a rosette in early spring, but soon send up an erect, 2-4 foot tall flower stem. Flower clusters branch out from the upper parts of the plant. It often grows in extensive stands.
Leaves: Rosette leaves are up to 6 inches long. Flowering-stem leaves are pointed and lance-shaped, 2-6 inches long, wider at the base, and attached alternately along the stem. Leaves decrease in size up the stem. Lower leaves usually have short petioles (leaf stalks), while the upper leaves attach directly to the stem. There are widely spaced teeth along the leaf edges. Both stems and leaves are covered with fine hairs.
Flowers: Each flower is 4-petaled, with colors on different plants ranging from purple or pink to white. Blossoms are 3/4 -1 inch wide and grow in branching clusters that lengthen over the 4-6 week flowering period. Each flower develops into a seedpod called a silique. Blossoming continues at the tips of the flowering branches, while at the same time seedpods ripen below.
Fruits/Seeds: Ripening occurs over the summer and large quantities of seeds are produced in thin, wiry seedpods that are 2-5 inches long and slightly hairy. In late summer and fall they split lengthwise to release tiny dark brown seeds. Each plant is capable of producing hundreds of seedpods, each with abundant seeds. Seeds remain viable in the soil for many years.
Roots: The root system consists of a taproot and branching secondary roots.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Dames rocket propogates itself by reseeding.
HABITAT TYPES: Dames rocket prefered habitats include lowland forests, moist meadows, woodland edges and openings, open woods, thickets, semi-shaded fence rows, and banks of ditches and roadsides.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Dame’s rocket prefers partial sun, moist to semi-dry conditions, and fertile loamy soil, but avoids acidic soil. It will tolerate full sun if there is sufficient moisture.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period occurs from late spring to mid-summer and lasts about 1–1½ months.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Dames rocket occurs throughout much of the United States and Canada. It is absent from South Carolina and all the Gulf Coast states, as well as Oklahoma and Arizona. It occurs in all Canadian provinces except Yukon and Nunavut).
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: The primary pollinators of the flowers are butterflies and moths, which suck nectar. Other insect visitors, with one or two exceptions, are less effective at pollination and are attracted by the pollen (their mouthparts aren't long enough to reach the nectar). Observations have been made of the following visitors: white butterflies, soldier flies, Syrphid flies, Halictid bees, Andrenid bees, and honeybees. Among the Syrphid flies, a Rhingia sp. have been observed sucking nectar because of its exceptionally long proboscis. Information about this plant's relationships to birds and mammals is currently unavailable.
Dame’s rocket was introduced for ornamental purposes from Eurasia in the early 1600s. Its spread nationally has been accelerated by the inclusion of dame’s rocket in “wildflower” seed mixes for gardens. The leaves, oil and seeds of this plant are edible. The young leaves are rich in vitamin C and can be eaten raw as a cress substitute in salads. The plant is also cultivated for its essential seed-oil which is used in perfumes.