Bethlehem sage (Pulmonaria saccharata) bears small pink buds that develop into delicate funnel-shaped blue or pink flowers. One of the first plants to bloom in late winter or spring, Bethlehem sage sports feltlike green leaves with sprinkles of silvery spots in summer. Its interesting foliage makes it a standout in shade border gardens and an attractive noninvasive ground cover for shady areas.
Common name: Bethlehem sage, lungwort
Botanical name: Pulmonaria saccharata
Plant type: clump-forming herbaceous perennial
Zones: 4 to 8
Height: 12 inches
• Sun: Part to full shade, but will tolerate some sun in northern climates if kept moist
• Soil: Plant in soil rich in organic matter.
• Moisture: Bethlehem sage does best in moist but not boggy soil.
• Mulch: Use a thin layer of compost or shredded leaves to keep weeds under control, especially if you plant Bethlehem sage as a ground cover.
• Pruning: Remove spent flowers in spring.
• Fertilizer: Apply one light application of balanced fertilizer per summer, if needed.
• Start seed as soon as it is ripe.
• Divide after flowering or in the fall.
Pests and diseases
• Bethlehem sage may get powdery mildew in summer when weather is very dry, but it doesn't hurt the general health of the plant.
• Slugs and snails may be a problem.
• Several cultivars of Pulmonaria sacchrata are available with varying flower color and speckling on the foliage. The cultivar ‘Mrs. Moon' (pictured) has blue flowers and lightly marbled leaves. P. saccharata ‘Spilled Milk' has rose to blue flowers and heavily silvered leaves. P. saccharata ‘Pink Dawn' has pink to violet flowers and more lightly spotted leaves.
• In warmer parts of the country, Bethlehem sage retains its foliage throughout most of the winter, and grows new foliage just before starting to flower in the new season.
• Seeds collected from the garden usually will not come true.
All in the family
• There are several species of lungwort. Pulmonaria angustifolia (blue cowslip, blue lungwort) has solid green leaves and outstanding cobalt blue flowers. It grows 10 to 12 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 4 to 8. Pulmonaria mollis also has all-green leaves, blue flowers, and grows 18 inches tall and 24 inches wide. It's hardy in Zones 6 to 8. Pulmonaria rubra (red lungwort) has red flowers and no marbling on the leaves. It grows to 16 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 5 to 8.
• The Boraginaceae family includes heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens), an annual noted for its deep purple to blue flowers, and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia pulmonarioides), which has flowers similar in color to those of the Bethlehem sage. Its pink buds open to blue flowers in spring. The growing conditions of the bluebells are also similar to Bethlehem sage. It thrives in dappled shade and soil rich in organic matter, and it's hardy in Zones 3 to 7. Alpine forget-me-nots (Myosotis alpestris, Zones 4 to 8, and Myosotis sylvatica, Zones 5 to 9), also part of the family, are short-lived perennials that differ from Bethlehem sage in soil and sun requirements-they prefer poor soil and more sun.
Photo courtesy of Monrovia Growers