The first flowers of Jacob’s Ladder sway on the breezes of early Spring. I found a few specimens near the nature center at Wildwood Park in the middle of April and they were just beginning to bloom.
It’s actually a new plant for me. 🙂 I did see one at another park several years ago, but it was past blooming and I just wasn’t sure of the identification back then. I should go back there to take a look around to see if I could find it near that creek.
Wildwood Park is situated on the northern edge of Harrisburg, PA and offers a convenient place to walk in a nature setting. Many dog walkers and mommies with babes in strollers take advantage of the wide trail that runs all along the edge of Wildwood Lake. The boardwalks are wonderful places to see ducks and other waterfowl and migrant birds.
A spillway in the southern end of the lake controls the water level of Paxton Creek which runs through the city. It’s not too far from the spillway where the Jacob’s Ladder grows — look between the spillway and the Nature Center.
Clusters of light blue flowers nodding in the wind caught my attention. The white anthers at the stamen tips were quite noticeable, although you had to bend down to peer into the flowers.
Each bloom on its own little stalk had five rounded petals that were grouped together into a bell shape by the five-pointed calyx at the base of the flower.
The whole plant was about a foot tall and seemed to be a little floppy, but the flowers were held above the leaves.
The foliage appears rather symmetrical, meaning the leaves are pinnate with opposite leaflets. The paired oblong leaflets might be about an inch long with smooth edges and pointed tips. Each leaf is terminated with a single leaflet.
The leaves are so uniform that they resemble the rungs of a ladder. Indeed, that is how the plant got its common name, Jacob’s Ladder, as it was taken to represent the Stairway to Heaven of the Biblical Jacob.
As a member of the Phlox Family, Polemoniaceae, Jacob’s Ladder is a common name given to several members of the genus Polemonium of which there are 24 species. The one photographed here, Greek Valerian, P. reptans, appears to be the most common one in Eastern North America.
If you want to look for a Jacob’s Ladder near you, its habitat is moist woods and bottom lands or glades in more mountainous regions.
(Photos taken 13 April 2016. Click on any small image for a larger view.)
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As luck would have it I came upon a different species of Jacob’s Ladder offered for sale in a nearby greenhouse, Engle’s Greenhouse.
The tag on the potted plant indicates that this Jacob’s Ladder, Polemonium caeruleum ‘Apricot Delight’, will grow in USDA Zone 4 to Zone 9. It’s suggested as an attractive addition to rock gardens, perennial gardens or woodland gardens.
From the back of the tag:
Blooms in spring.
Plant in sun or partial shade.
Water weekly during dry spells.
Grows 15-20 inches tall.
Space 24 inches apart.
“Profuse flowers and striking foliage. Attractive in the rock garden, perennial or woodland garden, or massed beneath shrubs or flowering trees. Beautiful with spring bulbs and hosta. Good cut flower for early season bouquets.”