Plant Taxonomy of Jacob's Ladder:
Characteristics of Jacob's Ladder:
The height of Jacob's ladder plants will vary considerably, according to the type you grow. The basic Polemonium caeruleum attains a height of about 3 feet (with a narrower spread), with an upright habit.
Flowers are bell-shaped and first appear, depending on variety, anywhere from mid-spring to early summer. Besides blue flowers, color choices for Polemonium include lavender, pink, purple and white.
You either love the fern-like leaves or hate them. Some people find them "weedy-looking," but I appreciate the contrast in texture they provide with a plant like hosta. Foliage appears in early spring.
Planting Zones for Jacob's Ladder:
Sun and Soil Requirements for Jacob's Ladder:
Uses for Jacob's Ladder:
Care for Jacob's Ladder:
Types of Jacob's Ladder:
Besides the more standard types of Jacob's ladder bearing blue, purple or lavender flowers and green leaves, the following cultivars are likely to catch your attention:
- Polemonium caeruleum 'Album' has white flowers
- Polemonium caeruleum 'Brise d'Anjou' is variegated
Besides caeruleum, other species of Polemonium exist. E.g., the species, reptans is native to North America. Although it doesn't creep, as the specific epithet reptans would suggest, this type of Jacob's ladder does stay shorter than Polemonium caeruleum. 'Stairway to Heaven' is variegated. Even shorter than reptans is the alpine viscosum.
Origin of Names, "Jacob's Ladder," "Polemonium Caeruleum":
The common name, "Jacob's ladder" derives from the appearance of this perennial's leaves. The leaves are compound, composed of numerous opposite, small, narrow leaflets -- like the rungs on a ladder. But "ladder plant" was, presumably, dismissed in favor of a more colorful name. Instead, the most famous ladder in literature was evoked: Jacob's ladder, a vision Jacob saw in a dream as related in Genesis 12-19: "And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven...."
The botanical name, Polemonium caeruleum is another matter. There is much disagreement over the origin of the genus name, Polemonium. The most we can say with certainty is that the name goes back to the Greek and Roman Classical period; it appears, for example, in the Greek author, Disocorides. The specific epithet, caeruleum, is Latin for the most common color for Jacob's ladder flowers, blue. Please view my photo gallery for pictures of other plants with blue flowers.
Another common name for Jacob's ladder is "Greek valerian." True valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a medicinal herb plant; its root has been used to treat such ailments as sleeping problems. It's only speculation on my part, but perhaps this common name derives from:
- A superficial resemblance between valerian and Jacob's ladder
- Polemonium's roots in the Classical world
Need more choices for shady locations? See my article on the Best Perennials for Shade.