Purple Loosestrife: Perfect for British Gardens

Purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, is native to Europe. I’d call it “vigorous” in the UK, although outside Europe it can be an invasive menace. Google it and you’ll see what I mean. It’s the North American equivalent of Himalayan Balsam in Britain. Its consequently malevolent appearance on the internet is a shame.

Purple loosestrifeIn the UK, Purple loosestrife is a beauty. Like the Buddleias growing in railway sidings it’s so common people don’t notice it. Purple loosestrife flowers around the same time, and it seems to me to be just as a good a plant for pollinators. Our Purple loosetrife is covered in honey bees, bumblebees, hoverflies and butterflies. I was cross I didn’t manage to get a photo of one of the lovely Clouded Yellows we’ve had this summer, but I’ve got the next best thing – A Yellow Brimstone. I hope they’ll discover my Alder Buckthorn too.

It’s one of those flashy flowers like Toadflax which people don’t believe really can be British wildflowers (and no, Buddleias aren’t native, which explains why they can be problemmatic in the UK). We’ve messed about with Purple loosestrife to produce a number of “garden” cultivars but honestly, why bother?

Purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria
Purple loosestrife and squid!
Its lush flowering spikes are 30cm long and seem to last for ages*. I reckon that makes Purple loosestrife a prime crossover candidate – ideal for use in more formal circumstances than wet wasteland. At Hookgate we’ve planted Purple Loosestrife along a swale, which has worked – well, see for yourself. It’s as tough as old boots; these plants are growing in solid clay, at one moment concrete, the next gloop. They’re usually associated with wet areas, though. We sell them in our “marginal aquatic plants” selection.

Apparently Darwin was interested in the flowers as the size of their pollen, stamens and styles varies between Purple Loosestrife plants. I don’t understand how that works – will need to ask a botanist. Oh, and Purple loosestrife is unrelated to Yellow loosestrife, Lysimachia vulgaris, in one of those pleasing confusions that keep the botanists happy.They’re not a confusion at all in Latin.

*Producing an estimated 2 million seeds per plant. Blimey.