The beautiful spicy sweet scent of Dames Rocket is wafting through the evening air. Its purple flowers blend well with the yellow roses blooming by it. But I know on some webpage somewhere people are being called to action against the lovely Dames Rocket. “It’s a noxious invasive plant” they holler, “we must pull it all up- join us for a work day pulling this invasive plant!”
How ridiculous this is. Dames Rocket, Hesperis matronalis, has been on this continent almost as long as European people and as long as dandelions and apples and honeybees. It was a cottage garden flower that also served as an early source of spring greens and it was as carefully planted here by early European settlers as roses and cabbages. This is one immigrant that fully deserves permanent legal status.
Dame’s Rocket looks rather like phlox, both the native woodland phlox and the phlox of cultivated gardens. It is in the mustard family however and has 4 flower petals instead of five like phlox. Its leaves are arranged alternately on the stem rather than opposite each other as in phlox. Dame’s Rocket is considered to be either a short lived perennial or biannual plant. It spreads by seed, which is produced in long narrow pea pod like structures. Dames Rocket is found in most of the Eastern half of the country, southeast Canada and a few places further west.
Yes Dames Rocket escaped early gardens and popped up in unexpected places. You’ll see the tall clusters of beautiful fragrant flowers in shades of lavender, pink and white blooming along roadsides and ditch banks in late spring. Many a gardener has stopped and collected some for their own garden. They bring beauty to otherwise dull and man damaged areas.
Dames Rocket is loved by bees and butterflies. The larvae of many native butterflies and moths have adapted to eating it and it’s considered a good host plant for several species. In Europe it’s still a garden plant, and double flowered varieties and other strains exist. So why is there such an animosity against it by some in the “native only” crowd?
Dames Rocket isn’t poisonous. It doesn’t spread disease or damage agricultural crops. Its only crime is to occupy space that some misguided people feel should be occupied by other plants, native plants. And here’s the funny thing about that. The places you see Dames Rocket growing are not natural, undisturbed environments. They are generally found in places already changed drastically by man. Native plants would struggle to grow in most of these environments and if Dames Rocket wasn’t there some other more unpleasant invader might be. And Dames Rocket may actually be better for some species of wildlife than many native plants that might grow in these disturbed areas.
If you’ve ever driven along back country roads you have probably seen apple trees that have grown up along them, maybe from bait pile apples set out for deer or from apples eaten by animals and the seeds deposited in their poop. These apple trees also pop up sometimes along nature trails, busy freeways and parking lot and retention pond edges. They occupy space that could be occupied by native trees. But have you ever seen a campaign to eradicate these alien invasive plants?
I love Dames Rocket and do what I can to keep it blooming here on my property. I don’t judge plants by their country of origin, just by their beauty and usefulness. I think the perfume industry should look into turning the fragrance of Dames Rocket into a new scent, “eau de alien” maybe. And for those who like spring greens try growing Dames Rocket in the vegetable garden.
When someone urges you to take action against Dames Rocket, simply because it’s occupying space they feel belongs to some other plant, tell them to stop interfering with nature. We rarely need to intervene, although there may be instances when removing truly harmful plants is justified. Nature knows how to heal damaged environments and provide for creatures in the web of life. Tell them to go pull dandelions and cut down wild apple trees instead. Make your property a sanctuary city for Dames Rocket.