False Dragonhead (Obedient Plant)

Physostegia virginiana

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Photo of false dragonhead plant with flowers
False dragonhead is called "obedient plant" because when you push one of the flowers sideways, it "obediently" stays in place for a while.
Family

Lamiaceae (mints)

Description

False dragonhead is a member of the mint family that grows 3-4 feet tall and forms dense spikes of pink or lavender snapdragon-like flowers. When you push one of the flowers sideways, it "obediently" stays in place for a while. It's a native perennial with single or sparingly branched, hairless stems that are square in cross-section. The flowers are in long, terminal spikes with a few lateral spikes, tightly spaced in vertical rows, pink to pale lilac with darker purplish markings, funnel-shaped with a hoodlike upper lip and a 3-divided lower lip, lacking scent. Blooms May–September. Leaves opposite, stalkless, narrowly lance-shaped, sharply toothed, to 5 inches long.

Similar species: Two other "false dragonheads" occur in Missouri, both with more limited ranges. P. angustifolia has less-dense flowering spikes and thicker, narrower leaves; it occurs only in the southern half of the state. P. intermedia has smaller flowers and few or no teeth on the leaves; it is limited to swampy areas of our southeastern counties.

Size

Height: to 4 feet.

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Photo of false dragonhead closeup of flowers
False Dragonhead (Obedient Plant)
False dragonhead occurs in moist soils of fields, prairies, thickets, woodland openings and borders, along rivers and streams, and lakesides.
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in moist soils of fields, prairies, thickets, woodland openings and borders, along rivers and streams, and lakesides.

image of False Dragonhead Obedient Plant distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Human connections

False dragonhead is often grown in flower gardens, and special cultivars have been developed. It can spread aggressively, however. It is called “obedient plant” because the flowers, when pushed from their normal position, will remain for a while where they have been turned. "True" dragonhead is a similar-looking species that grows in Europe.

Ecosystem connections

Bumblebees, other bees, and hummingbirds visit the flowers. Not many mammals eat the leaves.