Lungwort or Pulmonaria is a great plant for the partly sunny or shade garden. It offers multiple seasons of interest starting with lovely white or lavender to purple flowers in early spring followed by the development of new, basal leaves decorated with white spots and blotches. Some cultivars have so many spots that the green is nearly hidden and in some, the whole leaf has a silvery appearance.
Lungworts get their common name from the appearance of the leaves which are roughly lung shaped and covered in spots, like a diseased lung.
Early medicinal practices often looked for plants in nature that resembled parts of the human body so this plant was used to treat diseases of the lung.
The botanical name of Pulmonaria is also Latin for lung, as in CPR – cardio pulmonary resuscitation in modern medicine. But I would not expect you to be prescribed Pulmonaria for a lung infection any time soon. Other common names for this plant include “spotted dog”, “soldiers and sailors” and “Joseph and Mary”. I can understand the “spotted dog” name but I don’t get the other two.
There are over a dozen different species but we mostly grow two main species in this area, Pulmonaria saccharata and P. longifolia. There are dozens of cultivars within and even between these two species. As you might guess the leaves of P. longifolia are generally longer and narrower than those of P. saccharata. Amongst all of these cultivars there are many combinations of flower color and foliage color or spotting pattern. You can really pick whatever strikes you eye. Pulmonarias are great companion plants with other shade-loving plants because they are slow to spread, will tolerate periods of dry weather and are quite hardy. The early spring flowers are a welcome treat too. Sometimes the foliage will even make it through the winter but it is soon covered by the new flower stems and then the rosette of foliage that grows at the base of the plant.
Planting & Care
Lungwort is often available at area garden centers in the spring but you will likely have to order online or from a catalog to get the best selection. However, it is also easy to propagate by division, much like you would with a hosta but on a smaller scale. If you or a gardening friend have a plant for about five years of more, you can probably take out a chunk of it and not cause any serious harm to the main plant. Take a look at the plant you would like to divide, feeling around with your fingers to see if there is a separate plant or shoot that is a little farther out to the side of the main plant. That will be a good candidate for division. Use a sharp trowel to dig down between the side plant and the parent plant, cutting the roots and crown. Then dig around the division to loosen the soil and roots around the plant so that you can lift the plant with soil still around the roots. Dig an appropriate sized hole to accept the new plant, firm the soil around the plant and water thoroughly. If you need to, fill in the gap by the old plant with some extra soil. Division is probably best done in the spring but later in the season, and especially fall would be a good time too. Just keep the new transplant watered so that it can get well established before the ground freezes up for winter.