Sun/shade: Full sun to full shade
Soil moisture: Medium
Flowering period: May
Host plant for 3 caterpillar species
Dividing the shadows of the forest floor with clean, sharp lines, the handsome foliage of Jacob’s ladder is a stirring backdrop to the plant’s soft blue blossoms. Comprised of numerous paired leaflets, the foliage persists throughout the growing season, adding a striking textural element to the native shade garden. The plant’s bell-shaped blossoms open in mid-April, offering an early season source of pollen and nectar to many pollinators. In addition to moths and butterflies, the plant attracts bee species such as mason bees. These handsome bees have a metallic sheen and are dark blue or dark green in color. They are famous for their pollination efficiency, with reports that as few as 300 mason bees can pollinate as effectively as 90,000 honey bees. In order to support the full life cycle of mason bees, gardeners should be sure to plant spring blooming plants like Jacob’s ladder as well as provide the materials that the bees need for nesting. A few pieces of old decaying wood will encourage the creation of beetle burrows that may one day serve as mason bee nests.
A native constituent of NE Ohio forests, Jacob’s ladder grows well under conditions of full to partial shade and average to moderately wet soil moisture. In natural settings, Jacob’s ladder may be found growing alongside other spring blooming wildflowers such as foamflower, wild geranium, and golden Alexanders. In the home garden, these plants bring spring color to shady spots and provide important floral resources to mason bees and many other organisms.
Photo by Joshua Mayer.