Virtues: Polemonium reptans ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is an herbaceous perennial that thrives in part shade and will tolerate full sun. It’s a variegated selection of a wildflower native to much of eastern North America that pops up in moist woodlands. Continuously replenishing leaves keep it looking fresh from spring until fall. ‘Stairway to Heaven’, selected by native-plant expert William Cullina, is much more long-lived and substantial than the species.
Common name: ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Jacob’s ladder
Botanical name: Polemonium reptans ‘Stairway to Heaven’
Flowers: The plant blooms light blue flowers in late spring to early summer. The bell-shaped flowers are 3/4” long and held in clusters on flimsy stems.
Foliage: Polemonium reptans ‘Stairway to Heaven’ gains its common name from the rung-like structure of the foliage. The oval leaflets are light green and variegated with white. This variegation sets this cultivar apart from the species and other selections. Leaves have a vivid purple cast when they first emerge in spring. Leaf edges then turn pink before finally fading to bright white before flowering begins.
Habit: Mounding. ‘Stairway to Heaven’ normally grows about 12 to 18 inches and thrives in areas that are partially shaded. Plant this wildflower in naturalized areas, rock, woodland or native-plant gardens. You can expect it to spread 16 to 18 inches wide. Jacob’s ladder is self-seeding and rhizomatous, but doesn’t creep as much as that identifier may imply.
Season: Late spring, early summer for flowers; spring to fall for foliage.
How to grow it: Plant Polemonium reptans in moist but well-drained, partially shaded soil. It can tolerate full sun where summers are cool and it is kept watered. This plant offers groundcover, working well to edge your wildflower and woodland gardens. It can also be easily cared for in a container; just keep the soil moist. It can be divided in spring or fall if you desire. USDA Zones 4–8.
Image: Meghan Shinn/Horticulture
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