Jupiter’s Beard

Centranthus ruber

I have known this plant as Red Valerian for donkeys’ years, but the other day I found out it’s also called Jupiter’s Beard! What a lovely image that conjures up!

Not to be confused with Goats’ Beard, Jupiter’s Beard is perhaps the most perfectly suited to my garden. This wonderful plant loves poor, alkaline soil… the stonier , the better. It is drought resistant, very hardy, self-seeds but isn’t invasive, loves full sun and the summer heat, and flowers from the end of May until the first frosts! If I cut off the flowerheads as they fade I can keep it in check and it will continue flowering nonstop.

The flowers are a pinkish red, and the leaves are a bluish-green. It stands upright in clumps, grows out of walls at odd angles, and  always seems happy, whatever the weather. This perky little plant (that can grow to a metre tall) is native to the Mediterranean region, but is now naturalised in most of Central Europe. Bees and butterflies, and in particular the Hummingbird Hawk-moth, love the funnel-shaped flowers, and yet they don’t seem to be fragrant. In fact the leaves have a distinctly “bitter” smell.

I found this fabulous photo of a Hummingbird Hawk-moth, tickling Jupiter’s Beard, on Wikimedia Commons…

And then I attempted to photograph one myself…

… which wasn’t easy!

… They are so fast, zig-zagging from one inflorescence to the next…

There is also a white Valerian: Centranthus ruber “Albus” … shall we call it Angel’s Beard? 😉

Apparently there is a pale pink one too, but I haven’t actually seen one yet.

Does this plant grow where you live?

28 thoughts on “Jupiter’s Beard

  1. What a wonderful plant. I doubt we have it here in the Pacific NorthWest because we have such acid soil, but I’d bet the hummingbirds would love it, too. You did a great job of snapping the moth if they move anything like the hummingbirds do.

      • At my previous house, we had some year-round resident hummers. Then in the springtime, we’d get an influx of hordes of them that had me filling at least four quarts of sugar water daily for roughly a month. They were a feisty lot. I can’t remember which were the migrants and which were the ones who hung around, but they were Ruby-Throated and Anna’s. They used to try to feed from the feeder as I carried it into the house to refill it.

        A couple of times one got stuck in the garage and they kept trying to escape by flying up, thus missing the doorway out. We’d have to let it keep flying until it ran out of energy and then it would go dormant. I actually had a chance to pick it up (very carefully) and move it outside, providing some sugar water to help it revive. It eventually woke up, sipped some sugar water and flew off. One of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced.

  2. Do I detect a beard theme? I have known valerian as a medicine but this is the first time I have seen it. Now I will find out if it grows here. I also saw my first Hummingbird Hawk-moth today in your blog. I learn things here and large doses of beauty besides.

  3. Hi, I specially looked for this plant in wiki. Here in North, near Saint Petersburgs, it grows as Valeriana officinalis. I’ve not got Valeriana in my garden, but I loved it and will plant the next year.

  4. Hi Cathy, you have many beards in the english language :). I didn´t know this plant and I would like to have it. Not only for getting more hummingbird-moths (Taubenschwänzchen). May be the hummingbird moths are still on the route from Italy, where they spend the winter. They are able to fly more than 1000 km up to Denmark (summer location).

    • For some time now they are occasionally seen in England too. I remember seeing my first one on the beach on the East coast of England, as they had been swept across the North Sea with the wind.

    • Actually I didn’t need to wait; I went out one morning and there it was, so I grabbed my camera and it stuck around for a few minutes while I photographed it from the patio!

  5. I didn´t know “Red Valerian” up to now, it´s a lovely colourful plant and enriches your rockery. Beautiful photos as always! The second picture shows a really wonderful sight of the rockery, the colours are harmonizing so perfectly…
    I like “Hummingbird Hawk-moth” – it´s a pleasure to watch it. I´ve seen just one “Taubenschwänzchen” this year, but there will be more when my “Phlox” will bloom.
    Wish you a sunny nice Sunday!

  6. We have a wild valerian that grows around here (it’s purple), but I’ve never seen the garden variety. To be honest, they might not even be in the same family, since common names get confusing where wild plants are concerned…
    Love the photos – especially the second one that shows more of the garden. Wonderful combinations!

    • Thanks! I have noticed that the name is confusing, as it is not related to the wild valerian. I only know that the wild one (Valeriana officinalis) is used medicinally, and has some similarities, but is normally a pale purply colour or white – it grows down near our river.

  7. Pingback: Valeriana officinalis | Words and Herbs

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    • Aah, how lovely Shirley! We occasionally get a fleeting glimpse of a Swallowtail. Lots of fritillaries, panited ladies and skippers this year again too. 🙂

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