Right at the time we are obsessed with world-wide respiratory distress, pulmonaria pops out of the earth and blooms in delicate pastels. Last spring I bought two “twinkle toes” because the flowers looked so sweet. In the fall I cut each into three with my trusty bread knife and moved them to the front of a wet shady patch. Now look at them, all surviving and all in bloom.
These cute little guys were named by Leonart Fuchs, a German physician in the 1500s. He is considered one of the fathers of botany. At the time, Christian doctors believed in the “doctrine of signatures.” That is that God put plants on earth to help humans. (Aren’t we amazing in considering ourselves to be the center of the universe.) So he shaped them to look like the parts of the body they could heal.
When Fuchs saw this plant he must have said, “My lord, all the spots on these leaves look like a diseased lung. I will call it pulmonaria.” So he did and we still call it by the Latin word for lung and in English, lungwort. Whether it helps coughs, I don’t know. I do know it gives pleasure to the eyes to see these perky fellows and know their leaves will be around into winter.
The light green or silver spots on the leaves are actually air pockets that cool the leaves. I must say ingenious; a word I often find myself uttering when plant facts come my way. Mixed with hellebores and ferns, they brighten the wet shady garden in spring.