August 28, 2020
Obedient Plant has stories to tell

by Mary Reid Barrow

 Welcome to the neighborhood, obedient plant! 

  I am loving this flower that is blooming for the first time in my yard.

 Tall with spikes of small pale pink flowers,  this native is beautiful enough in its own right to be worthy of any elegant florist bouquet.

 But what I love most about the obedient plant is all the good stories it has to tell.  It’s always fun to read up on a new plant to  learn how it got its name and other lore and to see what critters interact with it.  And I am learning that  a mini-book, or  this blog for sure,  can be written about  the life and times of the obedient plant.

 It is called obedient plant because you can gently move the little flowers without smashing them or breaking them and they will stay where you put them.  See how I gave this  spike a new part down the center!  And like most people’s hair the flowers took several days to start moving back to where they were originally:



I have read warnings that obedient plant doesn’t always do what you want because it won’t obey your wishes to stay where you planted it.  It grows with rhizomes and likes to spread out in an area. But in my view,  it’s so pretty that the more the merrier,  as long as it’s planted in the right place.

 Obedient plant is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae. Plants with mint mamas have a square stem, a great help in beginning to identify a plant when you are stumped,  but it’s also just a neat feature.

 Square stems are so  unlike most of the rounded shapes in the plant world.  Of  course, I went out and felt my obedient plant’s obviously four-sided stem.   

 Obedient plant also is called false dragonhead because its little flowers look like snapdragon blooms.  Snapdragons also are sometimes called dragonheads, because their  flowers can be squeezed gently and they open up so their mouths, which are then said to look like a dragon’s mouth.

 So of course I gently squeezed one of my poor obedient plant flowers and it opened its mouth!  Up close I saw little ants crawling happily in and  among the blooms, not intimidated by the dragonheads at all! 

  I also saw great big carpenter bees, nuzzling their heads deep down between the blooms.  The bees were too big to enter the dragonhead flower itself to sup nectar so they did what big bees often do.  They dove deep between the flowers and slit open one close to the base and sipped nectar from there! 

 “Nectar thieves,”  they are called.

 I had never caught a nectar thief  in the act.   Over and over again,  this big old carpenter bee burrowed its head deep between the flowers and came away, looking very satisfied, so satisfied with his work that he cast nary a look at me hovering over him with my camera:


In Virginia, obedient plant is native only to  our southeastern corner where it grows mainly in wet areas and marshes.  Despite all the pestering  from me and thieving from the carpenter bees, the obedient plant didn’t complain.  It seems happy in the damp area in my garden where I planted it.  

 It’s been so nice meeting you,  obedient plant.  I look forward to seeing more of you.  You are a great conversationalist!

  Do you have a favorite tree or plant with a story to tell?  What relationships have you observedbetween plants and critters?  Who eats whom?  Who has babies where?   Send an email to





























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