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How to Grow Obedient Plant, a Native Plant

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.


The first time that I saw an obedient plant, I fell in love. My friend though, warned me. It may be called obedient plant but it is anything but obedient and will take over your garden if you are not careful.

What is Obedient Plant?

Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) is a hardy perennial which is native to North America. It has a wide range stretching from Canada to northern Mexico. It is a member of the mint family. Obedient plant has the square stems that are characteristic of the mint family. It also spreads quickly just like its mint cousins.

The plants are hardy in growing zones 3 – 10. There are two subspecies.

  • Physostegia virginiana ssp. praemorsa inhabits the southern portion of the US from Texas to Mexico. It prefers dryer conditions thriving on the prairies. It also lacks a rhizome.
  • Physostegia virginiana ssp. virginiana can be found further north. It prefers wetter environments like the banks of streams. It has clump forming rhizomes.

The plants are called obedient plants because if you bend one of the stems, it will stay in that position.

The plants are 3 – 4 feet tall and 2 – 3 feet wide. The leaves are 3 – 6 inches long and dark green. They are lance shaped with serrated edges.

The leaves are lance shaped with serrated edges.

The leaves are lance shaped with serrated edges.

The flowers look like the flowers of snapdragons even though they are not related. The resemblance inspired another nickname for this plant, False Dragonhead. The colors range from white to pink to lavender. They appear in four rows on the flower stalks and open from the bottom to the top. Bloom time is late summer into the fall.

Remove the flowers when they have finished to prevent the plants from forming seed. The seed will drop in your garden and sprout more plants.

The flowers look like snapdragons.

The flowers look like snapdragons.

How to Grow Obedient Plants

If you are brave enough to want to grow this pretty plant in your garden, you should be aware that it grows from a rhizome that sends out underground runners resulting in new plants popping up all over your bed. They are easy to pull up.

If you don’t want to have to constantly be removing seedlings, you can cut the bottom out of a flower pot, sink it into the ground and plant your obedient plant in it. The sides of the pot will prevent the rhizome from sending out underground runners, while the open bottom will allow the plant’s roots space to grow.

Obedient plants grow best in clumps so that they can support each other without flopping over from the weight of the flowers. Alternatively, you can stake your plants to keep them upright.

Obedient plants do best in full sun. They will tolerate some shade, but tend to flop over. If you are growing them in partial shade, you will need to stake them.

They prefer moist, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic, pH 5.5 – 6.3 but are very forgiving. They will grow in just about any soil, even clay. If your soil is poor, don’t worry, it just means that your plants won’t spread as quickly.

Once established, obedient plants are drought tolerant, only needing to be watered during prolonged dry spells. A thick layer of mulch will help keep the soil moist.

There is no need to fertilize your plants. In fact, if you fertilize them they will spread more quickly than usual and take over your garden.

In the fall, resist the urge to cut down the plants. The dead foliage will act as a protection in the winter. As soon as you see the first sprouts in the spring, you can cut down the old foliage.

When grown in clumps, the plants don't need staking.

When grown in clumps, the plants don't need staking.

How to Divide Obedient Plants

If your clump of obedient plants are thinning out in the center and getting floppy, it’s time to divide the clump. Division should be done in the spring just as the plants are starting to show new growth.

Use a garden fork to carefully dig up your clump. Pull the rhizomes apart, discarding the old ones in the center and keeping only healthy ones from the outside of the clump. Discard any dead or diseased rhizomes.

Replant your divisions 2 feet apart. They will quickly fill in the space.

© 2021 Caren White


MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 08, 2021:

Frankly, I didn't know what an obedient plant is. Thanks for the information. Nice reading about it.

Caren White (author) on February 08, 2021:

This is a North American plant so it's not found in the wild in India. Southern India is probably too tropical for it, but it would probably grow in a garden in northern India.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on February 08, 2021:

Nice and informative article about the Obedient plants. They look beautiful.

I don't think, they grow here. Thank you for sharing the details.

Caren White (author) on February 08, 2021:

Try growing mint in containers to prevent it from spreading. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 07, 2021:

The fact that they spread like mint told me what I needed to know. When we moved into the home where we now live, the mint had infiltrated just about all of the garden beds. It took me a long time to eliminate it. Now I grow it in restricted areas only. The flowers of the obedient plant really do resemble snapdragons.

Caren White (author) on February 07, 2021:

Yes, they are lovely but dangerous.

Caren White (author) on February 07, 2021:

Yes! They are deer resistant.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on February 07, 2021:

I've seen these plants, but didn't know their name. They are so pretty.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on February 06, 2021:

Are they deer resistant!