Keep an ear out for word of this ornamental plant

Keep an ear out for word of this ornamental plant

It was a perfect day in southeast Texas. Beautiful Becki Stedman, “chief” of the weekly farmer’s market on College Street, was in place, smiling and greeting folks coming in for herbs, tomatoes, bread and more. Happily, I learned that the farmer’s market goes on for months more. I scored some veggies and squash blossoms then headed off 10 miles west to China, Texas, to pick up my new puppy and see what’s new in this town of 1,160.

China was actually bustling with activity in its green downtown area. It was there that I found a patch of the healthiest looking lamb’s ear ever. Wooly lamb’s ear has the unwieldy botanical name Stachys byzantine. It’s a commonly grown plant for children’s gardens because it’s so fun to touch. Lamb’s ear is easy to grow and its felt-like leaves make a pretty and unusual plant for edging. The leaves are silvery and usually grow about 6 inches long. They make a soft mat in early summer and have stems with reddish tiny flowers bloom on some varieties.

Historians and medicinal plant growers tout the wooly leaves used on wounds as battlefield dressing for centuries. The Fig and Honey website says, “The soft, fuzzy leaves absorb blood and help it to clot more quickly. They also contain antibacterial, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.” Fig and Honey suggests an infusion of silvery lamb’s ear leaves as a cooled eyewash to treat pinkeye. Bruised leaves can be cut and put on bee stings and other insect bites to reduce the swelling. Who knew!

This unique plant is native to Turkey, Armenia and Iran. It is cultivated over much of the temperate world these days as an ornamental. A close relative of lamb’s ear called “lambari” is grown in Brazil as an edible herb.

Look for a location with well-draining soil in sun or shade. One use in the landscape is as a groundcover. Plant them as mass plantings in border areas near other perennials or grow them in containers. Once they are established just water when the soil is dry. Mulch under the leaves to keep the beautiful silvery foliage from rotting after heavy rains. You can trim and prune out any brown leaves in the spring. The “Big Ear” cultivar is great for our area. Its leaves are double the size of many lamb’s ear plants, and it is tolerant of our heat and humidity. Another good option is “Silver Carpet.”