Reader P.W. of Indianapolis asked about a pretty, pink flowering perennial that seemed to be everywhere in his landscape.
Meet dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis), an invasive European native that has found homes in backyards, woodlands, roadsides and open areas.
At first glance dame’s rocket resembles our fragrant, native garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), which has purple, pink or white flowers, however there are differences.
Dame’s rocket leaves are oblong and deeply toothed. They are arranged alternately on the stem and the flower has four petals. Phlox leaves are opposite on the stem, but not toothed. Its flowers have five petals. And although both self sow, dame’s rocket is anything but a lady.
Dame’s rocket has slightly fragrant purple or pink flowers that bloom from May to August. It gets about 3 feet tall and, although a short-lived perennial, produces enough seeds to ensure it develops large colonies. Birds eat the seeds and help spread the plant about, too.
Dame’s rocket grows in Indiana’s natural areas
Introduced in North America more than 400 years ago, it was reported in natural areas St. Joseph County in 1915 and Dearborn County in 1922. By 2002, naturalists found dame’s rocket in 81 Indiana counties. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared it a noxious weed, yet despite the designation, the seed frequently is part of ‘wildflower’ mixes sold commercially.
When plants from other countries or other regions of North American have such aggressive characteristics, they crowd out and displace native species. That disrupts the ecological balance for wildlife, which depends on indigenous plants for food and shelter.
To get rid of it, hand pull the plants. At a minimum, remove flowers before seeds develop. For more info, download a pamphlet on invasive plants from the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society.