St. Johns Wort and St. Peter’s Cross
Deer don’t like St. John’s Wort or St. Peter’s Wort, nope, not at all. If you take a midsummer walk in the Georgia woods, one of the few flowers that the deer have not eaten is anything named Hypericum.Its delicate red-bark branches and blue-green leaves swaying with each breeze are completely unconcerned by marauding deer. Deer will not eat the flowers, they will not eat the leaves, they willn’t eat any part of it. The same herbal/chemistry reasons that make it unpalatable for deer make these plants our herbal allies.
The various St. Johns Worts, or other plants in the Hypericum genus have a long medicinal history with humans across the Northern Hemisphere. The Cherokee, Alabama, and Choctaw tribes used Hypericum hypericoides in various forms to treat dysentery, eye complaints, and fever. Hypericum gentianoides, or Pineweed, an annual species, was used by the Cherokee to clean wounds, nosebleeds, and treat fevers (http://herb.umd.umich.edu/.) In Europe and Asia Hypericum perforatum has been used in treating depression and as an anti inflammatory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Johns_Wort, and Mayo Clinic). Western use of Hypericum perforatum goes back to the Ancient Greeks, about 100 BCE. However, this European species (H. perforatum) is listed as a noxious or invasive weed in North America; in the American West three herbivorous beetles have been introduced as biological controls (Chrysolina quadrigemina, Chrysolina hyperici and Agrilus hyperici ). Here in Georgia we have roughly 37 Hypericum species of our own (if you include the Triadenum genus), and over 100 species of native Hypericum distributed over North America. So there’s no North American St. John’s Wort shortage looming, thank goodness!
However, if you look in local gardens and yards, you will rarely see this handsome plant used in landscaping. One of the few Hypericum that is commonly available is the robust Cedar Glade St. John’s Wort, Hypericum frondosum. Do you need some hardy, foolproof bumblebee fodder? Just take a look at the explosion of anthers here. A bumblebee will straddle the pouf of anthers and excitedly dance around it in circles. When a bumble alights on a frondosum or other Hypericum species with prolific anthers, the buzzing becomes high pitched and frenetic. Bumblebees love these plants; just look at the pollen combs on her legs: absolutely stuffed with pollen. Cedar Glade St. Johns Wort is a full sized shrub, and when mature is about three to four feet across and three and a half feet tall. It is swamped with 1.5 inch yellow flowers for several weeks in the late spring to early summer. The leaves are a lovely blue green, and are present for much of the year until a hard frost claims them. The bark is red-brown with a peeling texture.
Would you prefer something a bit more delicate than an exuberant mound of frondosum? Look at Early St. Johns Wort, Hypericum nudiflorum. It is a plant that occurs in the Floyd County Prairie community. The flowers are in delicate clusters at the end of each branch, each bloom measuring a little over a half inch across. The shrub is a cluster of upright wands wrapped in red brown, peeling bark, and it sways with each breeze that passes by. Moist soil and part shade seem to suit this shrub just fine.
Do you want something low to the ground? Creeping St.John’s Wort, Hypericum stragulum, is a slow growing ground cover. This plant will not get any taller than about 6 inches as it gradually forms a patch in dry, shady area. Here is a picture of a naturally occurring patch in my friend Sigrira’s back yard. The picture is by Sigrira, so thanks! She had about three patches that were roughly 16 inches across by about 24 inches long and about 6 inches tall. They made a lovely ground cover, and would provide good cover for nestlings when planted in a grouping with other low, dense plants. One big plus over blue rug junipers would be that this plant has delicate yellow blooms off and on through most of the summer. This is an upland plant that can take dry sandy soils and part shade to shade.
Here is a close up of the flowers: