The Scrophulariaceae family is a diverse botanical family, also known as figwort. It comprises some of our favourite garden plants, as well as others more exotic and obscure, from various locations around the world. The resulting categorisation means that snapdragon, hebe and penstemon find themselves in the same family as buddleja, speedwell and mullein.
If you look closely you can see that many of these plants share characteristics like the symmetrical, two-lipped, tubular form of the flowers, often born on long spires. This flower shape is more exaggerated in plants like snapdragons and penstemons. Unusually, the genus Calceolaria includes single bloom rarities such as Calceolaria fothergillii.
Plants in the Scrophulariaceae family grow in a range of conditions, from sunny, dry Mediterranean scrub to subtropical forests.
Below is a selection of plants in the Scrophulariaceae family.
Diascia is a tender South African perennial, typically used for bedding and hanging baskets. Flower colours range from white through to pink and orange. Diascia ‘Juliet Orange’ bears an abundance of apricot-orange blooms on upright plants. It may overwinter in milder areas but take cuttings in late summer to insure against winter losses, or move plants indoors.
Mullein, Verbascum, is a drought-tolerant plant, forming rosettes of large leaves at the base of tall flower-spikes that appear in early to midsummer. There are lots of cultivars, which are some of the prettiest garden plants in the figwort family. They look good in a sunny mixed border and self-seed readily. Verbascum ‘Clementine’ grows to 1.5m, bearing light orange flowers with a pink centre.
Alonsoa is a half-hardy member of Scrophulariaceae. Grown in the UK as an annual bedding plant, the spires of red flowers look wonderful in hot-coloured planting schemes. Flowering from early summer to autumn, Alonsoa meridionalis ‘Rebel’ bears scarlet flowers on purplish stems. Bring plants indoors to keep them over winter.
Snapdragons, Antirrhinum, are cheerful summer flowers, with a reputation for being a bit old fashioned. Popular in cottage gardens, they suit a range of situations, and make versatile plants for sunny borders. Many also make good cut flowers. Antirrhinum majus ‘Constantine’ has unusually fragrant flowers, which are attractive to bees.
Zaluzianskya is a low-growing alpine perennial native to South Africa. While not hardy, its pale flowers and lovely scent are worth nurturing. Zaluzianskya ovata ‘Orange Eye’ has an orange coloured centre to the flower. Grow near a door, window or on your patio, where you can enjoy its nocturnal perfume. Bring pots indoors to overwinter.
Calceolaria is an unusual, orchid-like genus within the Scrophulariaceae family, often referred to as ‘Lady’s slipper’. Calceolaria ‘Walter Shrimpton’ is a robust hybrid between Calceolaria darwinii, found in the farthest tip of South America, and Calceolaria fothergillii, which is native to the Falkland islands. Grow it as a houseplant or in an alpine house.
Buddleja is one of the few shrubs in the figwort family. Known as the butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii bears cones of tiny, nectar-rich flowers in late summer which are a magnet for pollinators. The flowers range in colour from purple through to magenta, pink and white. Buddleja davidii ‘Santana’ has variegated leaves with ruby pink flowers.