Physostegia virginiana (Obedient Plant)

Plant Info
Also known as: False Dragonhead
Family:Lamiaceae (Mint)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; moist soil, along streams, wet fields
Bloom season:August - October
Plant height:1 to 4 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FACW
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Flower shape: tubular Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] Tall spike up to 10 inches long at the top of the stem, often with shorter, lateral spikes and arising from the uppermost leaf axils. Flowers are tubular, about 1 inch long, pink to purple or occasionally white. The lower lip has 3 lobes; the middle is broadest and has dark pinkish purple spots on the inside. 4 purple-tipped stamens arc against the wide upper lip. The hairless calyx is tubular and has 5 sharply pointed triangular lobes. Flowers bloom from the bottom of the spike up.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are up to 5 inches long and 1½ inches wide, lance-elliptic or widest just above the middle, hairless, sharply toothed with pointed tips. The lowest leaves are short-stalked and wither away early; upper leaves are stalkless. Stems are square, hairless, and somewhat swollen at the leaf nodes. Plants can create colonies from spreading rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of developing fruit] The calyx persists and holds 4 1-seeded nutlets.


Obedient Plant gets its common name from the fact the individual flowers can be repositioned and will continue to grow that way. It does well in a home garden, though can become a bit aggressive in moist soil; it is better behaved in drier soils and is easily managed with a bit of hand pulling. There are 2 recognized varieties (or subspecies, depending on the reference): var. praemorsa, a more southern species that lacks rhizomes, and var. virginiana that is found throughout the eastern half of North America and is present in Minnesota.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Anoka and Ramsey counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dzuik taken at Louisville Swamp, Scott County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Jake - Austin, Minnesota - Mower Coun
on: 2009-08-28 23:32:50

I was riding my bike and while around Todd Park, I saw this beautiful flower. I stopped and made sure it wasn't a wild musk orchid. It was still beautiful. I quickly came home and googled it. This is the plant!

Posted by: Jen, near Cloquet, MN
on: 2010-03-23 18:19:49

I have seen Physostegia virginiana in two seperate places on the Cloquet River near Cloquet, MN.

Posted by: Norah - Minnetonka
on: 2011-06-04 14:09:19

This was one of many flowers planted in my yard before I bought my house, and I thought it was lovely. BUT, I've found it to be aggressive and abundant. It's taken over a large portion of the garden and, compared to the phlox and similar-colored bloomers, has not quite enough payoff (either in leaf attractiveness or flower) to have to deal with the spread. And, unlike Monarda or phlox, it is difficult to remove due to the rhizomes (note the "mint" family connection.)

Posted by: carolyn
on: 2011-09-19 13:00:14

Last year I dug this plant up from a friend's garden, planted it in my yard and forgot about it......until, this week, when this very tall and hardy plant bloomed so beautifully. I had no idea, nor did my friend of it's name until I brought a clipping to our local nursery. I Love it! Can I buy some more, or just hope that it will multiply for me?

Posted by: Brian - St. Peter
on: 2013-02-22 21:27:38

I saw this plant in bloom on August 29, 2012 in Gores Pool #3 WMA near Hastings (near the bridge with cardinal flowers and fog fruit), and again on September 18, 2012 up a small stream draining into the Minnesota River south of the MN 22 bridge over the river.

Posted by: Pat - Cass Cty, along the Crow Wing River
on: 2014-01-09 18:04:24

Found this volunteer plant growing in my new Water Side Garden along the Crow Wing River. My experience with this plant in the past has shown it to be highly aggressive in a garden area. Fortunately it now has to duke it out with other highly successful rhizomatous species in this area.

Posted by: Sean - Meeker Island Dam, St. Paul (dog park)
on: 2015-07-29 13:07:55

IN bloom this morning on the river flats.

Posted by: Kimberly - Rock County
on: 2016-07-27 16:16:55

Found a dozen plants along the Champepedan Creek, right on the Rock/Nobles County line

Posted by: Kenny h - Cedar River Austin
on: 2017-08-02 17:33:17

Found this plant growing in partial shade...east of Roosevelt bridge...first time find for me...took lots of pictures...growing in floodplain.

Posted by: Dorothy J - Near La Crescent, Minnesota
on: 2017-08-03 22:53:31

I have had the white obedient plant for years and never knew what it was. A friend has the purple, which is identical except for the coloring. I am happy to finally know its name.

Posted by: Jay H - East shore, Lake Hiawatha, South Minneapolis
on: 2017-08-04 11:20:45

Two plants found among the grasses and willow suckers south of the swimming beach. Larger one about 3.5 ft tall with many flowers, some developing fruits. Second plant about 2 ft tall, far fewer flowers.

Posted by: Laurie O - Cloquet Island, Mississippi River, Anoka County
on: 2017-08-09 10:38:57

Found a bug playing peek-a-boo on this plant on the island.

Posted by: Gayle H - Willard Munger Trail, Duluth
on: 2017-08-31 08:00:25

Found these growing on the side of the Willard Munger Trail near Riverside.

Posted by: John - Mpls
on: 2018-07-23 13:37:19

If I have the right ID, P virginia has shown up periodically in my yard as an invasive species. When pulled up it has a characteristic right angled root indicating the connection to the rhyzome.

Posted by: JESSICA - Rochester
on: 2018-09-07 00:22:48

In bloom at Quarry Hill this week.

Posted by: John Lawrey - Willard Munger Trail-Riverside
on: 2019-08-30 19:48:14

Saw this eye-catching plant while riding bikes. What a beautiful flower.

Posted by: Anna Kristensen
on: 2020-01-04 15:45:09

I wondered whether these wildflowers were native. Jill Kirchner had the same question after photographing this group of obedient plants in Cass County. Minnesota Wildflowers advises that obedient plant does well in a home garden, though can become a bit aggressive in moist soil; it is better behaved in drier soils and is easily managed with a bit of hand pulling. Kim El-Baroudi has a thriving colony in her Polk County yard; most of the plants have paler blossoms.

Posted by: Lila M Smith - Minneapolis
on: 2020-01-07 16:10:26

We planted Obedient plants in our large Community Garden's Rain Garden in 2012. They didn't do much the first year, but the last few years have attempted to take over the whole garden. I love them,The are beautiful, but want to encourage and keep other native plants around them. I'm considering planting another mildly aggressive plant next to it to help keep it in check. Any suggestions?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-01-08 10:09:43

Lila, the Facebook group Native Plant Gardens in the Upper Midwest is highly recommended for anyone interested in gardening with natives. Loads of expertise to be had there.

Posted by: Jay Hatch - East shore of Lake Hiawatha, south Minneapolis
on: 2020-08-08 10:45:25

It occurs in small clumps in the shoreline buffer vegetation between the beach and the bridge over Minnehaha Creek. Some clumps are right next to the walking trail, easily seen. Flowering now. I first noticed them coming up in this area in 2018.

Posted by: Molly Stoddard - Fergus Falls
on: 2020-08-20 11:06:08

This plant grows at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center and along the Central Lakes Bike Trail.

Posted by: Melissa - New Brighton, Ramsey County, Minnesota
on: 2020-09-07 13:44:48

In my yard. I've been planting natives on an unused section of our property. This is the first year I've seen this flowering for us. Very pretty, excited to see it. And we don't mind if it spreads, in fact we'd like it to.

Posted by: Shirley - Darwin
on: 2020-09-20 19:05:49

These were growing in 2 gardens when we bought our house, one garden was way too compact and in a bad location so we removed them. The other garden we are transplanting some of them to the lake bank to hope they will spread and help control the lake erosion. There will be plenty left in the original garden as they had spread quite a bit.

Posted by: Sherry Gray - Lebanon Hills Regional Park, Dakota County
on: 2023-08-10 18:18:15

Growing off boardwalk on north side of Jenson Lake.

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