When I think of stachys, the furry leaves of lamb’s ears immediately come to mind. I always have a patch of these fuzzy plants growing somewhere in the garden. Lamb’s ears are mostly used for edging as they spread to form a low, dense mat of silvery foliage. Their flowers aren’t particularly pleasing and distract from the attractive foliage. The stalks tend to look scraggly and some gardeners cut them back to maintain a tidy appearance. I think that seems a bit unkind, and I leave mine to flower. The variety pictured here is Stachys byzantina ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’.
Lamb’s ears are members of the mint family and as such have square stems. The fuzzy appearance is produced by a coating of short, wooly hairs on the leaves. The term tomentum is used to describe a woolly coating formed by the ‘tomentose’ hairs. As the species name byzantina suggests, these plants are native to Turkey, Iran and southwestern Asia.
Allan Armitage observes (Herbaceous Perennial Plants 2nd ed. 1997) that lamb’s ears are ubiquitous in American gardens and we have been ‘lamb-eared to death’. That might be overstating the case, but it is true that until recently, other stachys hybrids have not been readily available at nurseries. That’s beginning to change, however. Last year, I added Stachys officinalis ‘Pink Cotton Candy’ to my garden. You would never guess that it is related to lamb’s ears.
It forms a nice clump of green leaves with scalloped margins and produces attractive spikes of pink flowers. Officinalis is better known in Europe, where it is called Wood Betony and is native to Europe and Asia minor. The small flowers are tubular, and form 2 lips, the lower having 3 lobes. ‘Pink Cotton Candy’ was bred by Richard Hawke and introduced to the market by the Chicago Botanic Garden.
This year, I acquired the purple-flowered stachys ‘Hummelo’. There seems to be some question as to whether Hummelo is properly Stachys monieri or Stachys officinalis. You can find it listed both ways. However, the two are similar, the former being native to the Alps and Pyrenees of southern Europe. ‘Hummelo’ was introduced by Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf and named for his hometown in the Netherlands.