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Growing rosebay willowherb

Posted: Monday 15 July 2013
by James Alexander-Sinclair

Rosebay willowherb is not, as you could easily imagine, a pouting starlet on the brink of a promising career in Eastenders, but a weed...


Rosebay willowherb 'Stahl Rose'

Rosebay willowherb is not, as you could easily imagine, a pouting starlet on the brink of a promising career in Eastenders, but a weed, which will be familiar to many of you.

If you haven’t heard the name, you may have seen its wispy pink flowers, which look delightful on a motorway embankment or a piece of waste ground.

Rosebay willowherb is not terribly welcome in the garden. The reason for this is that it spreads uncontrollably. The seeds are as light as thistledown, they can carry long distances on the slightest breeze, and once they hit the ground they germinate very easily. It is definitely not one to scatter around the borders.

But sometimes rules are there to be broken. I have planted a big block of willowherb in my garden, by the kitchen door, but in my defence, this is not normal, everyday rosebay willowherb. It is a very beautiful variety, called Epilobium angustifolium ‘Stahl Rose’.

It grows to be about 1.6m high and has the palest pink flowers, each one marked by a dark pink cross. I am not sure of its antecedents, but I do know that Rose Stahl was a Canadian stage actress who was famous around the beginning of the 20th century (whether this mildly interesting fact has anything to do with this plant seems unlikely, but you never know).

So - I hear you say - it may be pretty but what about the risk of self seeding? Well, this plant is sterile, so the seeds, though produced in abundance, will never germinate. What it does do, however, is spread by underground rhizomes, so you must be prepared to do a fair bit of digging in the spring to stop it from taking over.

To be honest, I probably should not have planted rosebay willowherb in the bed by the kitchen. You would be better off putting it somewhere a bit wilder. I think it’s well worth planting somewhere, though.





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Roy Hill 17/07/2013 at 00:23

Do some moth larvae still like the leaves?

Welshonion 17/07/2013 at 13:26

Yes, some of the Hawk Moth Larvae.  They are the huge ones with horns.