953 Stachys byzantinaCommon Names: lamb's ear, wooly betony Family: Lamiaceae (mint Family)
Lamb's ear is a low growing, mat-forming perennial in the mint family that is grown for its velvety white wooly leaves, rather than its mediocre little purple flowers. The leaves, 2-4 in (5.1-10.2 cm) long, thick and wrinkled, grow in basal rosettes, 1-2 ft (0.3-0.6 m) in diameter, forming mats of attractive wooly gray-green or silvery foliage. Flower spikes, 12-18 in (30.5-45.7 cm) high, are produced in summer. They hold small velvety purple-pink flowers that are each about 0.5 in (3.8 cm) in length, . There are several selections to choose from, including 'Big Ears' with leaves to 10 in (25.4 cm) long; 'Cotton Boll' with aberrant flowers that grow in strange little cottony balls along the stems; 'Primrose Heaven' with yellowish leaves; and 'Silver Carpet', which does not flower at all.
Lamb's ear, Stachys byzantina, comes originally from the Middle Eastern region, especially Turkey and Iran.
CultureThe densely tomentose foliage of lamb's ear traps moisture and dew, and in warm humid climates, lamb's ear often succumbs to rot and leaf diseases by mid summer. It is usually grown in spring when its foliage is most attractive. Light: Lamb's ear does best in full sun in northern areas, but appreciates some afternoon shade in hotter climates. Too much shade, however, can lead to unsightly leaf diseases. Moisture: Moist, well-drained soil is best for lamb's ear. Plants should be watered in the morning so the leaves can dry out quickly. If possible, don't let the leaves get wet when watering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 7. In zones 8 and above, lamb's ear just can't take the summer heat and humidity, although it can still be used like a cool season annual in the spring. Propagation: The best way to propagate lamb's ear is by division of the root mass. Under good growing conditions, lamb's ear often self-seeds (except for the sterile cultivar 'Silver Carpet').
Lamb's ear is much used as edging, for garden design, and as background for more colorful flowers. During the spring, lamb's ear is a very attractive ground cover, but it usually suffers in hot, humid summers. Since the flowers are not very showy and may draw attention from the handsome foliage, many gardeners remove them as soon as they develop. Under ideal conditions, lamb's ear will spread to form a silvery mat of soft, wooly foliage, making a very handsome ground cover, and a favorite of children for its fuzzy feel. This is a great plant for edging, especially along sidewalks or driveways where it can spread to soften hard, straight lines.
There are some 300 species of Stachys, also known as betonies, hedge nettles and woundworts. Most are herbaceous perennials, although a few are small shrubs. One, Florida betony or rattlesnake weed (S. floridana), is a pernicious weed of southern lawns and gardens. Another (S. affinis) is cultivated in eastern Asia for its edible tubers, sometimes called Chinese artichokes.
Steve Christman 6/14/02; updated 12/6/03, 6/11/11