Some native plants have such high wildlife value that they are sought after despite their rather pedestrian ornamental value. One such species is Scrophularia marilandica, AKA Late Figwort, which has been given a special rating by the Xerces Society because it’s high value to insects. The summer blooming small red flowers contain abundant nectar, attracting large numbers of native bees, wasps and butterflies, and are a magnet for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. In addition, this plant is s superb attractor of predatory or parasitoid insects that prey upon pest insects. Since the foliage is bitter and acrid, however, deer and other mammalian herbivores rarely browse it.
In contrast to providing a spectacular show of bees and hummingbirds, the petite flowers of Late Figwort are easy to miss and are best appreciated close-up and in person. The summer-long bloom period provides ample opportunity to enjoy the plant and it’s myriad visitors, and in the fall the leaves and stems turn maroon, and teardrop shaped seed pods develop.
Late Figwort has a history of usage in herbal medicine. Native Americans brewed a tea from the roots for treating fevers and piles, and for use as a diuretic and tonic. At one time it was employed in treatment of scrofula (tubercular swelling of the lymph glands of the neck), hence the origin of the genus name.
While Scrophularia marilandica’s flowers may be unassuming, the plant itself is no shrinking violet.
Mature plants can tower as much as 8 feet and spread 4 or 5 feet wide. Late Figwort thrives in sandy soil, but grows well in average garden soils, both on the wet or dry sides. It will perform in full sun and tolerates up to 70% shade, but does best in bright part shade. If one has such an area where informal plantings are welcome, this plant will reward with a month’s-long parade of pollinators, hummingbirds, and beneficial insects. For viewing visitors, favor locations near seating, or in areas frequented on a regular basis.