Wildflowers of the United States
Hesperis matronalis – Dame’s Rocket, Damask Violet, Night-scented Gilliflower, Queen’s Gilliflower, Mother-of-the-evening, Summer Lilac. While Hesperis is a genus of about 25 species native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, only 1 species is found in North America. Hesperis matronalis was introduced from Europe in the early 1600s as an ornamental plant, and has since then spread across the continent except for a few southern states, and a few northern Canadian provinces. That spread is due to the prolific generation of seeds by the plant, and also by the inclusion of its seeds in wildflower seed mixes for gardeners. Demonstrating its continued spread, the USDA Plants Database map to the right is outdated; the plant is also now found in the wild in Alabama and Oklahoma. While so far it hasn’t seemed to have an impact on native plants, its encroachment continues and caution should be exercised if you are considering growing it.
The scientific name of Hesperis – Greek for evening – and matronalis – matron or mother – was probably determined from one of the common names for this plant – Mother-of-the-evening, which was probably given because the scent of the flowers is more prevalent at that time of day. Whatever name you use, the leaves, oil, and seeds are reported to be edible (use caution, your own judgement, and do NOT rely on this page to determine edibility).
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Dame’s rocket, or Hesperis matronalis, is a member of the Brassicaceae family of plants, which includes arugula, broccoli, and mustard.
Native to Europe, it was originally brought to the United States as an ornamental plant.
As with many introduced varieties, its seed spread beyond garden borders and naturalized in surrounding woodlands and meadows. And, while I enjoy seeing its lovely pink/purple and white blossoms along roads in my region, it is considered invasive in most states.
You may know H. matronalis as damask violet, dame’s violet, or gillyflower, a generic name used for several fragrant flowers.
To look at this plant, you’d likely think you were looking at a native phlox plant, Phlox paniculata. To make a certain determination, count the petals. H. matronalis has four, but phlox varieties have five.
Dame’s rocket is a biennial, meaning it blooms in the second year. However, it is a self-sower. If it’s allowed to drop seed, you’ll soon enjoy a continuous yearly bloom, as with a perennial plant.
Did you know that the leaves and seeds of dame’s rocket are edible, used for medicinal purposes, and purported to be endowed with aphrodisiac properties?
Another unique characteristic of this plant is that it bears blossoms and seed pods simultaneously. Its names are interesting as well.
The Latin word hesperis refers to evening, the time when the flowers emit a fragrance that’s a cross between cloves and violets. And matronalis comes from the Roman Matronalia, a celebration of Juno, the goddess of motherhood and childbirth.
As for its common name, “dame” is no surprise, given its feminine origins. But, where does the rocket come from?
It’s probably derived from the plant’s edible leaves. You see, in Europe, its cousin arugula is called “rocket.”
You’ll find a delicious recipe for arugula . You may like to try with the pungent young leaves of dame’s rocket instead.
Hesperis matronalis Plant Facts
- Average, well-drained soil
- Blooms May through August
- Colors include various shades of pink and purple, and white
- Easy to grow
- Edible leaves and seeds, with culinary and medicinal applications
- Fragrant flowers
- Full sun to partial shade
- Introduced and considered invasive in most states
- May reach three feet in height
- Zones 3 to 8
Where to Buy
Packages containing 100 dame’s rocket seeds are available from the Dirty Gardener on Amazon.
Heirloom Gilliflower Seeds
Packages containing 500 seeds are also available.
Contain and Enjoy
H. matronalis offers robust color, fragrance, and use in culinary and medicinal applications.
However, its invasive nature must not be ignored.
Like the bachelor’s button cornflower, it has become a country classic, bordering highways and dotting meadows across our nation. However, it also contributes nothing to the habitat of local bees, birds, and butterflies.
Mindful of this information, if you choose to cultivate H. matronalis, you may want to contain it as the European ornamental it once was. And remove the seed pods for home use or reseeding next spring, rather than letting them scatter into the environment.
Our article Gardening in Small Spaces has some great container ideas to help you keep this plant in check.
What are your thoughts about dame’s rocket? Do you grow it? Serve it in salad? Let us know in the comments section below.
Product photo via The Dirty Gardener. Uncredited photos: .
The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!
Purple Rocket Nursery
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
5 1 5
Hi, I felt the need to give my personal view on this nursery having read the last. My daughter has been attending Purple Rocket for 2 and a half years now and it is the most amazing nursery I have found. I wish my older children attended this nursery too and we will all be very upset when she has to leave for school next year. Olivia has developed beyond our expectations. Each and every member of staff are excellent at the care the give and the approach to which they deliver that care to both children and their parents. I have never had one complaint to make, not one. Susan who owns and runs this nursery is the most passionate women I know and the children in her care are her absolute priority and she genuinely adores each and every one of them. She knows everything about them and their families. She is amazing and her staff are an absolute credit to her! Yes it is more expensive but worth every last penny. Infact you can’t put a price on the reassurance you have as a mum leaving the most precious thing you have with others……Olivia has an amazing time every day she’s there and I come away at complete ease that she’s happy and safe. We as a family are absolutely gutted that she will have to leave. There is nothing false about this nursery at all and let’s face it, parents roaming through the house while the children are trying to settle is not going to work is it? Again, I cannot praise this nursery enough. Amazing!!!
Students were devastated after the destruction of their experiment aboard the unnamed rocket that exploded on Tuesday.
Rockwall High School students Will Brown, Ryan Figert, Brooks Helmer, Chase Howerton, Harrison Smith and James Matthews worked with mentors from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center to construct an experiment for the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program, which is part of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education. They began working on the experiment last winter when they attended Williams Middle School.
The experiment, which aimed to discover whether or not gravity affects the growth of cells and how that could relate to cancer in humans, was on board the rocket that recently exploded.
The students held a watch party in anticipation of the launch on Monday, but the launch was cancelled due to a sailboat down range of the rocket. A second watch party was held Tuesday and the students watched a live feed of the take off and saw the explosion.
Vance Clark, Vice President for Communications of Chapter 416 of the Air Force Association, was with the students for both watch parties.
“They were so disappointed,” Clark said via email. “They hope to hear in the next few weeks on steps ahead to get a second chance.”