by Matt Gibson
Quaker ladies are small, creeping perennial flowers that form compact little tufts or mounds of blooms. These blossoms are shaped somewhat like the hats that were once commonly worn by Quaker women, and that resemblance is where Quaker ladies got their moniker. Most commonly found in pale shades of blue and white, Quaker lady plants are also available with blooms in shades of pink, red, and purple, always with a yellow center. Quaker ladies grow to be about two or three inches tall, and each clump spreads out horizontally, reaching a foot wide at its base.
Also referred to as bluets, azure bluets and Quaker bonnets, Quaker ladies (Houstonia caerulea) are known to grow in the wild as well as being cultivated by gardeners. Hailing from China and the Pacific Islands, bluets are also hardy in United States Department of Agriculture zones three through eight.
Quaker ladies bloom in proliferation in the springtime, but they also continue to flower sporadically throughout the year. That means when you choose Quaker ladies as a ground cover or to fill a flower bed, you don’t need to worry about when they’ll go dormant or partner them up with companion plants to pick up the slack when they won’t be blooming. These flowers will add a unique beauty to your yard all year long.
These flowers are perfect for use as a ground cover or as a liner to pathways. (Tip: Ground covers also do double duty as living mulch, making them valuable landscaping multitaskers. Not only will Quaker ladies carpet your garden plots beautifully, they’ll also provide a defense against invasive weeds by choking them out. If your yard has sloping areas, planting Quaker ladies on those slanting sides can prevent the soil there from eroding as well.)
You can also plant Quaker ladies to add some interest and cheer around your yard’s stepping stones or other pieces of lawn decor. Bluets also work really well in rock gardens thanks to their complementary shape, small root systems, and breezy care preferences. In the wild, you may find Quaker ladies clustered on cliffs and ledges, meadows and fields, forests and thickets, as well as on the shorelines of rivers and lakes.
When allowed to spread out and reseed, large plots of Quaker ladies resemble a thick blue carpet. These versatile flowers can be planted in the middle of a more natural-looking grassy area as well. Not only will the bluets enjoy the company of the grass, they actually thrive in pasture-like spaces. As the Quaker ladies bloom and produce their pollen and nectar, they’ll attract a host of beneficial insects, namely bees and small butterflies. Not only will attracting these insects bring beauty and joy to your yard, you’ll also be attracting useful pollinators to your space, which means planting Quaker ladies in your garden helps your immediate environment as well as encouraging your food crops to produce.
This flower’s genus name, “Houstonia caerulea,” is in honor of a Scottish ship’s surgeon who was also an early botanist known for collecting and documenting the plants he encountered in the West Indies and Central America. This botanist’s name was Dr. William Houstoun (1695-1733). The name “caerulea” is Latin for the color sky blue.
Varieties of Quaker Ladies
The Quaker ladies are a one of a kind flower, but this attractive plant does have some very close relatives. Read on to learn more about cousins to the bluet.
The star violet (Houstonia pusilla) is a purple flowering ground cover that grows in the wild between the central and mideast United States, stretching from South Dakota to Maryland, and in the south to southeast U.S., in a territory reaching from Texas to Florida. In fact, the star violet grows just about everywhere that provides it with acidic soil, from open fields to dense forests.
The Large Houstonia (Houstonia purpurea), also called the large bluet, grows up to a foot and a half high and boasts much flower heads that are similar in shape to Quaker ladies but much larger in size. Houstonia purpurea blooms in hues of white and pink with a yellow eye. The large bluet grows from Nebraska in the central U.S. across to Maine in the northeast and from the south to southeast U.S. in an area between Texas and Florida.
Hedyotis longifolia is a very close relative of Houstonia caerulea as well, and the two plants even share the nicknames Quaker ladies, Quaker bonnets, and bluets. This flower grows to be about 18 inches tall and features single, star-shaped flower heads that top each stem in shades of white, purple and blue. The Hedyotis longifolia’s foliage is tiny, narrow, and dark green in color. Its leaves have a sweet-smelling aroma and are shaped like an ear. This flower is sometimes also called “innocence.”
Mountain bluets (Houstonia serpyllifolia) arefound primarily in the Appalachian mountains. The mountain bluet produces white flowers with yellow centers and shares many characteristics with Quaker ladies. However, the two are different in that mountain bluets have oval-shaped foliage that creeps across the ground, while Quaker ladies have basal leaf rosettes and small elliptic leaves that are tapered at the base instead.
Growing Conditions for Quaker Ladies
Quaker ladies prefer partial sun and partial shade as well as soil that is slightly acidic, in the pH balance range of 5.0 to 6.0. Optimally, soil where Quaker ladies grow should remain moist but drain sharply. An organic soil that is sandy or a thin rocky soil is preferred. Hardy in USDA zones 6-9, Quaker ladies require regular watering. This plant thrives among the mosses in the shade provided by large trees, making it a colorful addition where many other flowers would falter and perish from lack of light.
How to Plant Quaker Ladies
Because Quaker ladies are so easy to transplant, and because the flowers are self-seeding, it will be rare that a gardener has the need to grow them from seed. However, these plants are rather easy to grow from seed as well, should you find yourself in that situation.
If you decide to start off with seeds, cover them with vermiculite and place them in a flat container. Drop the flat container into the ground near a wall that faces north, then cover the top of the container with glass or plastic. Keep the soil moist, and check on your Quaker ladies regularly so you’ll see when seedlings have emerged. Germination usually takes about three to four weeks. After the seedlings have started to up, remove the cover from the container. After one year of growth, transplant your Quaker ladies into their permanent home in the spring or autumn, spacing them out at a distance of 12 to 18 inches.
Care for Quaker Ladies
Water Quaker ladies regularly during growing and blooming times in both the spring and the autumn months. Propagate your bluets by division regularly. In warmer areas, you will do your propagating in the fall, while gardeners in cooler areas will divide Quaker ladies in the spring. Trim occasionally to tidy up dead leaves.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Quaker Ladies
There are no known pest or disease issues involving Quaker ladies.
Harvesting Quaker Ladies Flowers
The tiny flowers of Quaker ladies can be dried and used as an ingredient in your own homemade potpourri. Simply dry the petals out on a sunny windowsill, and then store them in a sealed jar or Ziploc bag once all of the moisture has evaporated from their petals.
Videos About Quaker Ladies
This video teaches you how to identify Quaker ladies in the wild:
This video shows a nice little plot of Quaker ladies and features a commentary with interesting facts about these showy little flowers:
This identification video shows a small patch of light blue Quaker ladies blooming in the springtime at the edge of the woods: