Lunaria, AKA “money plant”, June 2020 POM

I’m always so flattered and happy when asked to write a POM (Plant Of the Month) for our newsletter.  In case you haven’t noticed, I always like to a feature a plant that is “doing something” in the month of the newsletter.  This month is no different.  So why am I highlighting a plant that usually dies in June? Seed pods!  You’ve probably already guessed it, but we’re talking about Lunaria annua (sometimes listed as L. biennis), good old fashioned “honesty”, “money plant”, or just plain lunaria (which is what I call it).  These fun plants absolutely love Chico and have escaped in parks, alleys, and old farmsteads. They are classic biennials, meaning the plants flower in the spring after their first winter. they producing leaves their first summer, then they flower, set seed, and die the spring after their first winter.   No matter how early you start them the first year,  they won’t flower until their first spring, so save yourself time and follow nature:  plant the seeds in mid to late summer when they naturally fall from the plant, then the following spring you’ll get flowers.  That’s much faster (and easier). June, July, and August are perfect months to sow seeds for flowers in February and March.

They can be sown in pots or in the ground any time in spring or summer. They thrive best in partial shade, but will tolerate a bit more, or less, sun.  Just give them water when they’re dry (especially as seedlings) and enjoy.  The first year foliage is perfectly nice, if not showy, and the large display of four-petaled flowers in spring is quite a show. Flowers can be purple, mauve, pink, white, or in-between. There are varieties with variegated foliage (though it doesn’t appear until flowering time).  Several seed companies sell specific flower colors or mixes, so just go with what you like (the wild type is a mauve-purple).  After the very nice, long flower show, the seed pods form. When dry, brown, and ripe, you can peel away the skin (and seeds) on the front and back of each seed pod to reveal a very pretty, translucent disc which is prized for dried arrangements.  The silvery discs, which are reminiscent of a full moon (hence the genus name, similar to “lunar”) hold on to the stems and last months outdoors and years indoors (when I was a kid, some people spray painted them silver or gold for indoor holiday arrangements). Attached are pics of a first year plant, some flowers, and the pods being peeled to expose the papery discs.

One of the best things about  lunaria is how little care it needs. If you’d like to add some greenery to your garden’s shady areas, and some dried material to your vases, give lunaria a try.  If you do, I hope you’ll let me know what you think!

Happy gardening,
Grant (