Greek valerian (Polemonium reptans)
creeping Jacob's ladder
Greek valerian and Jacob's ladder are used with other species (i.e.,
SCIENTIFIC SYNONYMS: There are no scientific synonyms for
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of Greek valerian
is Polemonium reptans L. This is a rather floppy plant, although both the
flowers and foliage are attractive. The bell-shaped flowers and compound
leaves together provide Jacob's ladder with a distinctive appearance. The
only other species that resembles it, Polemonium vanbruntiae (Greek
valerian), which is native to some of the Eastern States. This latter species
is more erect in habit, and has slightly larger flowers with exerted stamens.
These flowers are usually a darker shade of blue than those of Jacob's
ladder, and their anthers are often yellow, rather than white. The common
name of Polemonium reptans refers to the pairs of opposite leaflets on the
compound leaves, which supposedly resemble a series of steps on a ladder
in a dream by the Biblical Joseph.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: This native perennial plant is 11½' tall, branching occasionally.
The stems are usually glabrous and have a tendency to sprawl across the
ground. They are often dull reddish green and somewhat angular.
Leaves: The alternate compound leaves are odd pinnate, consisting of
bout 5-15 leaflets, and they are up to 1' long. Sometimes, there are a few
white hairs at the base of the petioles of the compound leaves. Each leaf-
let is oval to narrowly ovate, hairless, and with a margin that is smooth. It
is about 1½" long and ½" across.
Flowers: Flowering stalks develop from the upper axils of the compound
leaves that are several inches long. These stalks are glabrous and often red-
dish green, terminating in a small corymb of floppy or nodding flowers.
Each bell-shaped flower is about 2/3" across. It has 5 rounded petals that
are light blue, 5 stamens with white anthers, a style that is divided at its tip
into 3 parts, and a reddish green calyx with 5 teeth that is united at the base.
There are fine lines running along the length of the petals, while the sta-
mens are the same length as, or shorter than, the petals.
Fruit/Seeds: The flowers are replaced by rounded capsules containing 3
cells. Each cell contains several seeds.
Roots: The root system consists of a taproot.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Greek valerian propogates itself
HABITAT TYPES: Habitats include deciduous mesic woodlands, wood-
land borders, mesic black soil prairies, fens, and semi-shaded areas along
rivers. This plant prefers high quality natural habitats, and rarely wanders
far from wooded areas.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Greek valerian prefers light shade or
partial sun, mesic conditions, and a rich soil with lots of organic matter.
Full sunlight and conditions that are moister or drier are also tolerated.
It is not aggressive, and adapts well to flower gardens, especially in par-
tially shaded areas.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period usually occurs
during the late spring and lasts about 2-3 weeks.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Greek valerian is a species primarily of
the eastern United States and adjacent Canadian provinces. From Georgia
to southern New England and westward to the eastern Great Plains states
and north to Ontario. It does not naturally occur in the Rocky Mountain
states, most of the northern Great Plains states and provinces, the south-
western states, and the far western and northwestern Pacific states and
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: The nectar and pollen of the flowers
attract bees primarily, including honeybees, bumblebees, little carpenter
bees, mason bees, cuckoo bees (Nomadine), Halictid bees (including
green metallic), and Andrenid bees. A visitor from this last group,
Andrena polemonii, is an oligolege of Polemonium spp. The flowers are
also visited by Bombylius major (giant bee fly) and various butterflies,
skippers, or moths, which seek nectar. Syrphid flies also visit the flowers,
but they feed on the pollen and are unlikely pollinators. Apparently, little
information is available about this plant's relationships to birds and
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