Sunday, July 7, 2013

Happy Hypericums

I try to make each post as timely as possible and this one is no exception. The Hypericum plants are so happy right now. Three different species are lighting up the garden with the cheeriest of yellow flowers. I would like for more people to learn about these sun-loving, summer-blooming dynamos.

Hypericum densiflorum
The common name for Hypericum is St. John’s wort  and it is probably best known for its medicinal qualities. It appears that the non-native species H. perforatum is the one most used in that regard, so don’t come to my garden for your herbs because I don’t have that one! Some species have very showy fruit capsules and are used in floral arrangements (likely non-native also).

Peeling bark on H. densiflorum

In the eastern US, plants in this genus take the form of shrubs, perennials and annuals. Some of the shrubs can get quite big. In particular, bushy St. John’s wort, Hypericum densiflorum, develops a very handsome trunk that has exfoliating bark. In general, species in this genus have yellow flowers and oppositely arranged leaves that can have a blue-green tint.

Shrub form

Hypericum frondosum – this is perhaps the showiest one in the bunch. A well-known cultivar is ‘Sunburst’. This is known as golden St. John’s wort or cedarglade St. John’s wort. One gardener even found it to have great foliage color in the fall.
Hypericum frondosum

Hypericum densiflorum – this is one that I discovered quite by accident. It came in as a hitchhiker on some other plants and a seed found its way into the soil near the driveway. It is partially evergreen, has beautiful bark and the most flowers of any Hypericum that I’ve seen. This year’s show is probably in excess of 200 flowers. The flowers are much smaller than H. frondosum but they are perfectly stunning. 

Bumblebee approaches Hypericum densiflorum

Hypericum hypericoides – this species blooms a little later than the others and the blooms are very modest. Sometimes referred to as St. Andrews’ cross, the petals of this species do form a perfect ‘X’ shape.  I find this shrub in the wild quite often in heights that range from just a few inches to up to 2 feet tall. The taller forms are quite gangly. I wonder if they aren’t different species but have not been able to identify them as such.

Hypericum hypericoides

Perennial form

Hypericum punctatum – this is one of my favorite roadside blooms (oh wait, do I say that about everything?). Bright and cheery flowers form mostly at the top of the plant, creating a bigger effect than if they were held singly. It’s fun to get out a hand lens to see the tiny black dots that give this species its name (punctatum means “spotted).  Look carefully and see that both leaves and petals have black dots.
Hypericum punctatum
Hypericum punctatum

Annual form

Hypericum mutilum – I was quite surprised to identify a little mystery plant in my yard as this species. First of all, I had no idea that there were any annual species. Second, the whole plant was so tiny that it didn’t seem possible to be related to the others. This little guy is quite attractive in bloom.

Hypericum mutilum

Yes, the Hypericums are very happy these days. And you know what? They make me happy too!


  1. Another one of my "favorite" summer bloomers. The bees love them! I have just one in my garden and will definitely need to add more. Thank you for profiling the variety of natives available. The St. Andrew's cross is a new one to me.

  2. From looking at your fotos.. a small volunteer I had yet to identify, may be from this genus..I will research further.. thanks!

  3. Thanks so much for this interesting bunch of information! I live in the woods, in the mountains and have been having a ball finding out what will volunteer around my yard. One of those volunteers is Hypericum puntatum. It and others further up the mountain are not yet in bloom, but your post has me anticipating their "arrival".

  4. I second Karin--the bees adore these shrubs! We have a few planted at the Pisgah Forest Ranger station, and when they come into bloom, the number of bees is almost scary! They must taste like ice cream. ;)