Hesperis matronalis

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Hesperis matronalis

Apparently Secure  (NatureServe)[1]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Brassicales
Family: Brassicaceae
Genus: Hesperis
H. matronalis
Binomial name
Hesperis matronalis
H. matronalis foliage

Hesperis matronalis is an herbaceous flowering plant species in the family Brassicaceae. It has numerous common names, including dame's rocket, damask-violet, dame's-violet,[2] dames-wort, dame's gilliflower, night-scented gilliflower, queen's gilliflower, rogue's gilliflower, summer lilac, sweet rocket, mother-of-the-evening, Good & Plenties, and winter gilliflower.

These plants are biennials or short-lived perennials, native to Eurasia and cultivated in many other areas of the world for their attractive, spring-blooming flowers. In some of those areas, it has escaped from cultivation and become a weed species. The genus name Hesperis was probably given because the scent of the flowers becomes more conspicuous towards evening (Hespera is the Greek word for evening).[3]


Hesperis matronalis grows 100 cm or taller, with multiple upright, hairy stems. Typically, the first year of growth produces a mound of foliage, and flowering occurs the second year; the plants are normally biennials, but a number of races can be short-lived perennials. The plants have showy blooms in early to mid spring. The leaves are alternately arranged on upright stems and lanceolate-shaped; they typically have very short petioles (or lack them) and have toothed margins, but sometimes are entire and are widest at the base. The foliage has short hairs on the top and bottom surfaces that give the leaves a somewhat rough feel. The larger leaves are around 12 cm long and over 4 cm wide. In early spring, a thick mound of low-growing foliage is produced; during flowering the lower parts of the stems are generally unbranched and denuded of foliage and the top of the blooming plant might have a few branches that end in inflorescences.

The plentiful, fragrant flowers are produced in large, showy, terminal racemes that can be 30+ cm tall and elongate as the flowers of the inflorescence bloom. When stems have both flowers and fruits, the weight sometimes causes the stems to bend. Each flower is large (2 cm across), with four petals. Flower coloration varies, with different shades of lavender and purple most common, but white, pink, and even some flowers with mixed colors exist in cultivated forms. A few different double-flowered varieties also exist.[4] The four petals are clawed and hairless. The flowers have six stamens in two groups, the four closest to the ovary are longer than the two oppositely positioned. Stigmas are two-lobed. The four sepals are erect and form a mock tube around the claws of the petals and are also colored similarly to the petals.[5]

Some plants may bloom until August, but warm weather greatly shortens the duration on each flower's blooming. Seeds are produced in thin fruits 5–14 cm long pods, containing two rows of seeds separated by a dimple. The fruit are terete and open by way of glabrous valves, constricted between the seeds like a pea pod. Seeds are oblong, 3–4 mm long and 1–1.5 mm wide.[6]

In North America, Hesperis matronalis is often confused with native Phlox species that have similar large showy flower clusters. They can be distinguished from each other by foliage and flower differences: dame's rocket has alternately arranged leaves and four petals per flower, while phloxes have opposite leaves and five petals.

Stand of H. matronalis in a forested setting
Naturalized H. matronalis in Whitelands Wood, Butser Hill, England


Hesperis matronalis has been a cultivated species for a long time, and grows best in full sun to partial shade where soils are moist with good drainage.[7] It is undemanding and self-seeds quickly, forming dense stands. Extensive monotypic stands of dame's rocket are visible from great distances; these dense collections of plants have the potential to crowd out native species when growing outside of cultivated areas.

The successful spread of dame's rocket in North America is attributed to its prolific seed production and because the seeds are often included in prepackaged "wildflower seed" mixes sold for "naturalizing". The plants typically produce a low-lying rosette of foliage the first year; in subsequent years, blooming and seed production occurs in tandem throughout the blooming season. This species is commonly found in roadside ditches, dumps and in open woodland settings, where it is noticed when in bloom. Although it makes an attractive, hardy garden plant, it has been found to be ecologically invasive in North America.[8]

Hesperis matronalis is propagated by seeds, but desirable individuals, including the double-flowering forms, are propagated from cuttings or division of the clumps.

Culinary use[edit]

Young leaves are high in vitamin C, slightly bitter, and can be eaten in salads or cooked. They are available in the winter months in temperate climates, when few other greens are available. The tender shoots of the plant during the spring-time, when cooked, are considered an excellent vegetable. The flower buds are eaten as well, and the flowers used for their spicy flavor and bright color. [9] Additionally, the seeds of the plant can be sprouted and eaten in salads.[10][11]


Deschambault-Grondines, Quebec, Canada

Hesperis matronalis is native to southern Europe from Spain to Turkey, and has been introduced to many other parts of the world with temperate climates.[12] H. matronalis is found in many areas of Ireland,[13] including Belfast, as a garden escape.[14]

Dame's rocket was brought to North America in the 17th century and has since become naturalized there, now growing throughout most of the US and Canada. The US Department of Agriculture website has a map showing states and provinces in which the plant has been found.[15]

In Europe, it is host to the caterpillars of several butterfly species, including the orange tip (Anthocharis cardamines), large white (Pieris brassicae), small white (Pieris rapae), and moths, such as Plutella porrectella.


H. matronalis flower detail

It is considered an invasive species in some areas. Five U.S. states[16] have placed legal restrictions on it:

  • In Colorado, it is classed as a noxious weed (B-list), with plans for eradication or management varying by area and year.
  • In Connecticut, it is classified as invasive and banned, making it illegal to move, sell, purchase, transplant, cultivate, or distribute the plant.
  • In Massachusetts, it is prohibited.
  • In New York, it is classified as invasive and eradication considered infeasible.[17]
  • In Wisconsin, it is classed as restricted, i.e. an invasive species that is already widely established in the state, and causes, or has the potential to cause significant environmental or economic harm.

In Alberta, Canada, it is considered a noxious weed, meaning its growth or spread needs to be prevented.[18]


  1. ^ NatureServe (2023). "Hesperis matronalis". Arlington, Virginia. Retrieved 6 December 2023.
  2. ^ BSBI List 2007 (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  3. ^ Britton, N. F.; Brown, Addison (1970). An illustrated flora of the northern United States and Canada: from Newfoundland to the parallel of the southern boundary of Virginia, and from the Atlantic Ocean westward to the 102d meridian. New York: Dover Publications. pp. 175. ISBN 978-0-486-22643-9.
  4. ^ "Explore Cornell - Home Gardening - Flower Growing Guides - Growing Guide". www.gardening.cornell.edu.
  5. ^ "Hesperis matronalis page". www.missouriplants.com. Archived from the original on 2008-08-07. Retrieved 2008-07-09.
  6. ^ "Hesperis matronalis in Flora of China @ efloras.org". www.efloras.org.
  7. ^ "Help for the Home Gardener". www.mobot.org.
  8. ^ "Dame's rocket - Wisconsin DNR". dnr.wi.gov.
  9. ^ Thayer, Samuel (April 2023). Sam Thayer’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern & Central North America. Weyerhaeuser, Wisconsin, USA: Forager’s Harvest. p. 346. ISBN 978-0-9766266-4-0.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  10. ^ "Hesperis matronalis (Dame's Rocket, Dame's Violet, Mother-Of-The-Evening, Sweet Rocket) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox".
  11. ^ "Hesperis matronalis Sweet Rocket, Dames rocket, PFAF Plant Database".
  12. ^ "Hesperis matronalis L." Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanic gardens, Kew. Retrieved 17 April 2023.
  13. ^ Scannell, M. J.P. and Synnott, D.M. (1972). "Census Catalogue of the Flora of Ireland." Dublin: The Stationery Office
  14. ^ Beesley, S. and Wilde, J. (1997). "Urban Flora of Belfast" The Institute of Irish Studies and The Queen's University of Belfast
  15. ^ "Plants Profile for Hesperis matronalis (dames rocket)". plants.usda.gov.
  16. ^ PLANTS Profile for Hesperis matronalis (dame's rocket) | USDA PLANTS
  17. ^ Invasive Species Western New York PRISM
  18. ^ Edmonton, City of (2018-02-08). "Dame's Rocket". www.edmonton.ca. Retrieved 2018-02-08.

External links[edit]

Media related to Hesperis matronalis at Wikimedia Commons