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Chelone Obliqua: a Tall, Pink Perennial with Turtlehead Flowers 

HORT 218 Herbaceous Landscape Plants ~ Horticulture & Landscape Architecture - Purdue UniversityGardeners, who shop for plants only in spring, miss an opportunity to be seduced by the easy-care, cold climate perennial, Chelone obliqua. A late summer blooming plant, it has insufficient growth in early spring to draw the plant hunter’s attention. Even if one examines its label, there is little to attract because plant tag photography does this flower an injustice.

However, by reading the information on the tag, the astute gardener will notice that it is a tall growing, long blooming perennial that thrives both in sun and part shade. It reaches 23 to 35 inches in height [60 to 90 cm] has a wonderfully small spread of 18 to 23 inches18 [45 to 60 cm] and it blooms not only for a lengthy period but also at a time when most other perennials are waning.

I discovered this plant by accident. Seedling-sized plants were on sale at a ridiculously low price and I kept filling my basket with all of the pink perennials I could find. Of the hundreds that I chose, and then discarded because they did not please me, Chelone obliqua is one of the few that I kept. crept into my affection stealthfully. During the beginning and early summer, it remained unnoticed. Its deep green foliage did not project from far. However, just as I was beginning to dread that many plants were about to end their flowering, Chelone broke into bloom, unexpectedly. Its rich, deep-pink flowers and its tall, elegant shape were pleasing to behold.

Chelone obliqua is a neat, versatile plant that adds a lush background to the perennial border. Its height makes it a perfect candidate for the last row in the flowerbed, where its slow but steady growth adds texture, and form to a garden’s composition.

Up close, one may appreciate its polite lipstick-shaped floral buds that open into upward facing turtleheads. However, from a distance, this plant requires maturity before it can add its voice to the garden's chorus. When viewed at a length from the flowerbed, a young lone stalk of Chelone in bloom is difficult to notice; its flower bud is small and its shade of deep pink does not project effectively.  However, a mature clump, with a dense amount of flower heads, is impressive. is a disciplined perennial; it grows neatly and upright, with florets that are confined to the top spear- tips of its stalk, while its tight clump does not spread beyond three feet. When it reaches that width, not only is it impressive, in shape, color, and flowers, but it is also easy to propagate. In spring, its root ball may be sliced easily into many other plants. However, if propagated in late summer, or even autumn, the cuttings will regenerate into rugged plants by the following spring.

Do not be misled by its beauty. This is a tough, hardy perennial. On many occasions, when it would overwhelm me with pleasure, I would break off a few outside stems, at the point above ground where they grew away from the plant, and stick them into soft earth. They did not die. In fact, they began to grow roots imperceptibly and by the following season, the stems had generated into respectable plants.

This perennial shows better in the garden when several are planted within view of each other. One Chelone is impressive but subtle. Three Chelone, that can be viewed, all at the same time, have a more substantial presence that is enhanced by the rhythm of odd-numbered plants. have grown the species Obliqua and a variety called Hot Lips. There is no contest between them. I allowed Hot Lips three years to develop but it never grew into a satisfying perennial. The species, obliqua, grows taller, more floriferous, and richer in color.

Chelone Obliqua ia a versatile wildflower, native to North America. It grows under any pH conditions, in most soil types, and in most moisture levels. It performs well in both sun and part shade and blooms from late summer into mid fall. This plant is a northern gardener’s dream. It is a cold climate perennial, very easy-care, and it contributes structure, form, and beauty to the late summer landscape.

There is great benefit from using hardy plants native to North America. With absolute and total neglect from me, this perennial flourishes reliably in USDA Zone 4; and some sellers report that it is hardy to Zone 3. It is heat tolerant to USDA Zone 9.

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Reader Comments (9)

I love this plant but always called it C. lyonii. Are they the same or two different species. You can't beat a big stand of it in the garden. Deer do like it though.

C. lyonii is the accurate name for what I refer to as Hot Lips. In my growing zone, it hasn't performed as well as C. obliqua.

April 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterAllan

I had these at my last home and they were lovely in my shade garden. I have ordered a new one online this year, think it is Hot Lips.


April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGatsbys Gardens

I find myself wondering why I have never grown this plant. Something else to add to my wish list!

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Allan, I am a fan of Turtlehead flowers as well. They come nicely into flower when most other perennials are fading and bloom for quite a long time. I hope to add the white variety to the garden this summer.

April 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

This plant does VERY well in the wet clay soil of my mom's back garden. We cut half the rootball out every year though, because it actually grows very fast where we are in Vancouver, and her yard is small. It is very striking against the fence and makes a nice backdrop for our daylillies and aenomes.

April 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShay

Question: Some of my chelone oblique have very twisted stems. They look wavy and curvey. Most others are sturdy and upright.
Has anyone had experience with this?
Thank you

May 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica

Veronica, I've never had that experience with Chelone. Sorry I can't add any information.

May 19, 2015 | Registered CommenterAllan

Just discovered what this tall late-flowering beauty is called. Our sample is fully four feet high or more. Just becoming in full bloom now Aug. 15th. Hope it lasts to December (I wish!). We get down to -25C in Jan/Feb. bought it along with several other perennials at an end of the season sale 2 or 3 years ago for $1 each.

August 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGeoff

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