Rising from the ground up to 5 feet, this slender perennial of the mint family resembles an Indian mystic’s rope trick, with erect cord-like stems that delicately sway in the breeze. Blue vervain’s green or red stems are actually squarish and four-angled, terminating in flowering spikes. The spikes are densely crowded with scentless, reddish-blue or violet flowers. The plant’s name is derived from the Celtic ferfaen, from fer (to drive away) and faen (a stone), referring to the plant’s historical use in treating kidney stones in folk medicine. Native Americans used it to treat colds, coughs, fevers and stomach cramps. The plant’s etymology also includes a religious thread. Some of its common names—herb of the cross, herb of grace, holy wort—refer to the legend (disputed by biblical scholars) that the wounds of Jesus were dressed with vervain when he was taken down from the cross. Whatever the legends, it’s undeniably a beautiful late-summer sight at Nature Boardwalk.
Common Name: Blue vervain, Swamp verbena
Scientific Name: Verbena hastata
Native Status: throughout North America
Plant Type: herbaceous perennial
Height: up to 5 feet
Flowering Time: mid- to late summer
Flower Color: violet or blue
Interest: Attracts bees, wasps and small butterflies. Various songbirds, including cardinals and several sparrow species, eat the seeds.