Get to know the different types of Jacob's Ladder Flowers and how these popular Finnish ornamentals with their blue and purple blooms can be grown and maintained in your own garden.
Polemonium, commonly known as Jacob’s Ladder, belongs to the family of flowering plants, Polemoniaceae. The genus which Jacob’s Ladder belongs to consists of about 25 to 40 species of flowering plants.
Polemonium is a genus of perennial plants that grow to a height of 10 to 120cm. They have bright-green leaves that are divided into lance-shaped leaflets. Jacob’s Ladder flowers are usually blue in color and bloom in spring and summer.
Table of Contents
- Origin of Jacob’s Ladder
- Types of Jacob’s Ladder Flowers
- 1. Polemonium Caeruleum (Jacob’s Ladder)
- 2. Polemonium Acutiflorum (Tall Jacob’s Ladder)
- 3. Polemonium Reptans (American Greek Valerian)
- 4. Polemonium Boreale (Northern Jacob’s Ladder)
- 5. Polemonium Brandegeei (Brandegee’s Jacob’s Ladder)
- 6. Polemonium californicum (Moving Polemonium)
- 7. Polemonium Carneum (Royal Jacob’s Ladder)
- 8. Polemonium Chartaceum (Mason Jacob’s Ladder)
- 9. Polemonium Elegans (Elegant Jacob’s Ladder).
- 10. Polemonium Eximium (Sky Pilot)
- 11. Polemonium Occidentale (Western Polemonium)
- 12. Polemonium Pectinatum (Washington Jacob’s Ladder)
- Growing Conditions for Jacob’s Ladder
- Planting Jacob’s Ladder
- Taking Care of Jacob’s Ladder
Origin of Jacob’s Ladder
Jacob’s Ladder is a popular ornamental, especially in Finnish gardens. It thrives really well in gardens and grows so well, that it can spread onto roadsides and wastelands. Botanists have thought for a long time that Jacob’s Ladder originated in Finland, but the origin of this flowering plant is actually North Karelia. However, the pollen of this plant has been found in a region that corresponds to the warmer period after the Ice Age, which indicates that this plant spread to Finland before people did.
Jacob’s Ladder flowers are a popular ornamental type because of their beautiful purple and blue color. They are easy to grow and easy to maintain. It got its name, Jacob’s Ladder, from the shape of its leaves. The leaves are packed tightly to form a clump, each containing tiny leaflets. The leaflets rise like a ladder along the stem. The name Jacob’s Ladder comes from a reference to the ladder from Jacob’s Biblical dream.
The first plant to bear the name Jacob’s Ladder was Polemonium caeruleum. The official name, Polemonium, comes from a Greek word, polemonium, that references Polemos of Cappadocia, a Greek philosopher. In Latin, Polemonium means ‘most handsome,’ which is a title this plant has surely earned.
Types of Jacob’s Ladder Flowers
The genus consists of 25 to 40 species. The common ones are listed below:
Native to the temperate regions of Europe, Polemonium caeruleum is a hardy perennial that produces lavender or white-colored flowers. It is found growing in damp woodlands, meadows, grasslands, and rocky areas of Asia and Europe.
It grows to a height of about 45 to 60cm. However, they may occasionally grow to be as tall as 90cm. These types of Jacob’s Ladder flowers are cup-shaped, and fairly broad, about 12 to 15cm in width. They are 5-lobed, with fused lobes. The lobes are ovate and have blunt tips. The throat is hairy, and the calyx has 5 lobes and 5 stamens. The inflorescence consists of numerous, fragrant flowers.
The leaves of Polemonium caeruleum are alternating in their arrangement. The lower leaves have long stalks, and the leaves on the upper side are almost stalk-less. The stalks are grooved, and the edges are hairy.
They prefer growing in soil that is rich in lime and moisture. This variety of Jacob’s Ladder does not require as much sunlight as other plant varieties. They are normally hardy plants, but some varieties, like Blue Pearl, are tender biennials.
The cultivated varieties of Polemonium caeruleum include the Brise d’Anjou, Blue Pearl, White Pearl, and Snow and Sapphires varieties. Some of the most popular varieties of Polemonium caeruleum are listed below:
Snow and Sapphires
They are hardy plants that have a higher resistance to pests. They have variegated leaves. The flowers of this plant are bright blue in color. Snow and Sapphires is a variety that grows to an average height of 24 to 30 inches.
Polemonium caeruleum Album has white-colored flowers that are bell-shaped. They have fairly long, yellow-colored stamens. The foliage is green in color. The blend of white, yellow, and green colors makes this variety a great choice to grow in gardens. The flowers bloom from late spring till early summers.
As the name indicates, the Bambino Blue variety of Polemonium caeruleum has attractive, blue-colored flowers with long, yellow-colored stamens in the center that form a yellow eye. They are an eye-catching site for anyone who passes by. The Bambino Blue is one of the most compact varieties of this species.
Polemonium acutiflorum, or the Tall Jacob’s Ladder, is found in habitats like hedgerows, meadows, riverbanks, stream banks, roadsides, old logging sites, and ruins.
They are perennial herbs that grow to a height of about 25 to 50cm. The flowers are bell-shaped (broadly campanulate). They are blue-purple in color and can be white in color occasionally. The flowers are broad, fused, and deeply lobed (5 lobes), with each lobe having a tapered tip with a fringed margin. They have 5 stamens and a 5-lobed calyx. The inflorescence consists of a raceme that is sparsely-flowered.
Tall Jacob’s Ladder prefers growing in areas that have moist soil that is rich in peaty humus. Tall Jacob’s Ladder can be distinguished from other species by its tall stature and hairless leaves.
Polemonium reptans has many other names by which it is commonly known, like American Greek Valerian, Spreading Jacob’s Ladder, False Jacob’s Ladder, Creeping Jacob’s Ladder, Blue Bells, Sweatroot, and Stairway to Heaven. It is a perennial herb that is native to eastern North America. It is a variety of wildflowers that are considered threatened. For this reason, planting of this variety in gardens is discouraged. It is a way of keeping people from taking cuttings from wild plants.
These plants grow to a height of approximately 50cm. They have pinnate leaves with 5 to 13, 20cm long leaflets. The flowers of American Greek Valerian are produced in panicles. The stems on which the flowers grow are fairly weak. The blooming season is from mid-spring to late spring.
The flowers consist of 5 petals fused together at the base. These fused petals are enclosed in a tubular calyx which has 5 lobes with pointed ends (which is the case in most types of Jacob’s Ladder flowers). The petals are light blue-violet in color.
They grow best in well-drained, moist soil that is rich in humus. This variety can even grow well in full sun in cool summers. It’s important to note that hot temperatures do not suit these plants. When the growing conditions are suitable, they self-seed and thus, grow rapidly. However, they do not creep as its common name suggests.
Stairway to Heaven is one of the most popular varieties of Polemonium reptans. It produces bright-blue colored flowers in clusters that sit on top of variegated leaves. The leaves are blush-pink in color when the weather is cooler. The pink tint is what brings this plant to life. The approximate height that these plants grow to is 12 to 24 inches.
Polemonium boreale, or Northern Jacob’s Ladder, is known by numerous common names such as Boreal Jacob’s Ladder and Heavenly Habit. It is native to the high arctic in Greenland. It can also be found growing in a small area of the east coast. Boreal Jacob’s Ladder is not very common.
This variety makes a splendid addition to any garden, garden edges, garden borders, rock gardens, and containers with its violet-blue colored, starry flowers. It has ferny leaves that are green in color. The flowers are numerous, which make the plant even more beautiful to look at. Each flower has a white eye in its center.
The plant grows to a height of 5 to 10cm, and the whole plant is covered with long and woolly pubescent hair. The leaves at the base are pinnate, alternate, and have numerous leaflets. The flowers are produced in a capitate inflorescence and are bell-shaped. Boreal Jacob’s Ladder has a very unpleasant smell.
This variant of Jacob’s Ladder prefers moist soil and partial shade in regions with warm summers.
5. Polemonium Brandegeei (Brandegee’s Jacob’s Ladder)
Polemonium brandegeei or Brandegee’s Jacob’s Ladder is a perennial plant that flowers quite early. It produces yellow-colored flowers on short stalks, with tubular blooms. The frilly foliage adds to the appearance of Brandegee’s Jacob’s Ladder.
This variety of Polemonium flower produces flowers profusely from mid-summer onwards. They prefer growing in soil that is very well-drained. They thrive in regions that receive part shade.
Yellow-colored flowers make an attractive addition to any garden border, garden edges, lawns, and even for indoor ornamentation.
6. Polemonium californicum (Moving Polemonium)
Polemonium californicum is also known as the Moving Polemonium, Showy Jacob’s Ladder, Low Jacob’s Ladder, or California Jacob’s Ladder. This variety of Polemonium is a native plant of the northwestern United States. It is found growing in regions that are shady and moist, like in mountain woodlands.
Polemonium californicum is a rhizomatous perennial herb that forms clumps of erect stems. It grows to a height of 30 to 50cm. The leaves of these plants are long, growing to a length of up to 20cm. The leaves are made up of numerous pairs of leaflets are oval to lance-shaped. The inflorescence consists of a crowded cluster of bell-shaped flowers, with each flower being about 1.5cm wide. The blue-purple flowers with a yellow center and a tubular throat in a whitish shade make these Jacob’s Ladder flowers breathtakingly beautiful.
7. Polemonium Carneum (Royal Jacob’s Ladder)
Polemonium carneum is more commonly known as Royal Jacob’s Ladder, Apricot Delight, Oregon Polemonium, Great Polemonium, and Salmon Polemonium. It is native to the northwestern United States.
Apricot Delight produces a bunch of flowers that are an apricot pink color. These bunches of flowers are produced on top of tall stems. The foliage is an attractive green color and the blooming season is from late spring till early summer.
This herbaceous perennial plant grows to a height of 30 to 45cm. Apricot Delight grows in any type of soil, provided that it is well-drained. They require an area with partial shade for best growth. It performs well in soil with an alkaline, acidic, and neutral pH.
Apricot Delight is a versatile plant that is a great addition to woodland gardens, rock gardens, garden borders, and woodlands. They are excellent container plants, which means that you can enjoy these ethereally beautiful plants indoors as well.
8. Polemonium Chartaceum (Mason Jacob’s Ladder)
Polemonium chartaceum is a rare, dwarf species of Polemonium. It is known by common names such as Mason’s Sky Pilot and Mason’s Jacob’s Ladder. This type of Polemonium is native to California. It is found growing in areas at high elevations that are exposed, such as rocky mountain slopes.
Mason’s Jacob’s Ladder is a perennial herb that produces small clumps of erect stems. They grow to an approximate height of 20cm. The leaves of this plant are clustered around the base of the stem. The leaves exist as bunches of very small, cylindrical, granular leaflets, each being deeply divided into lobes. The inflorescence consists of a cluster of numerous flowers that is present on the top of a short, stout stem. The flowers have a tubular calyx. The sepals are hairy and lobed (5 lobes) in shades of light-blue. The throat is whitish or yellowish, making these flowers a sight to look at!
Polemonium chartaceum grows best in well-drained, richly moist soil in areas that are part-shaded. They are a great choice for garden borders, edges, and beds.
9. Polemonium Elegans (Elegant Jacob’s Ladder).
Polemonium elegans is more commonly known as Elegant Jacob’s Ladder. It is a fairly rare species and is native to the Cascades and Olympics mountains in Washington. It is found growing in open areas that are at high elevations, such as rocky, mountainous areas.
Elegant Jacob’s Ladder is a low-growing perennial variety that forms a branched base. It grows to a height of about 1.5cm. The leaves of this variety are alternate, basal, pinnate, and have short petioles. They consist of numerous leaflets that are so crowded that they overlap each other. The inflorescence of the Elegant Jacob’s Ladder is compact. It consists of numerous flowers that are blue in color. The calyx is 5-lobed and has pointed edges.
Since they are low-growing, they make beautiful additions to garden beds, borders, and edges.
Polemonium eximium is known by the common names Sky Pilot or Showy Sky Pilot. It is native to California (Sierra Nevada). It grows in areas that are at a high altitude (above 10,000 feet). The most common areas that Sky Pilot is found growing are mountain slopes.
Sky Pilot has an aromatic smell. This perennial plant grows to a height of 4 to 16 inches. It has a woody base from which erect stems grow in clumps. The basal leaves are hairy and glandular, and each leaf is made up of about 20 to 35 leaflets. Each leaflet is subdivided into 3 to 5 lobes.
The inflorescence is attractive and showy. It consists of flower-heads that are composed of numerous flowers. The flowers are a beautiful deep-blue, lavender-pink, or whitish-blue color. The calyx of each flower is tubular. The sepals of these flowers are hairy.
These types of Jacob’s Ladder flowers have great ornamental value, owing to the beautiful colors they are found in. They look splendid in gardens, garden borders, and garden edges.
11. Polemonium Occidentale (Western Polemonium)
Polemonium occidentale, also known as the Western Polemonium or the Western Jacob’s Ladder, is a flowering plant that produces beautiful, bright purple flowers. It is found growing in areas that are moist like wet meadows, along streams, swamps, and in regions at high altitudes.
There are two subspecies of Polemonium occidentale. The first is ssp.occidentale – this is the more common subspecies. It is native to North America. The second, less common subspecies is the ssp.lacustre, which is only found in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
This rhizomatous perennial plant produces erect stems that can grow to a height of 1m. The leaves are divided into lance-shaped leaflets. The inflorescence consists of numerous bell-shaped flowers – each flower is 5-lobed. The bright purple color of these flowers makes this variety of Polemonium one of the prettiest among all of them.
12. Polemonium Pectinatum (Washington Jacob’s Ladder)
Polemonium pectinatum or Washington Jacob’s Ladder is native to Washington. It is a perennial herb that grows from a taproot. It produces a cluster of stems that can grow to a height of about 80cm. The leaves are arranged alternately, and each leaf is made up of several leaflets that are linear-shaped. The inflorescence consists of an open array of lavender-colored or white-colored flowers with 5 lobes.
Washington Jacob’s Ladder is not a very common type of Polemonium variety that is seen growing in gardens, but it is not rare either. The beautiful lavender and white flowers make a splendid addition to any garden.
Growing Conditions for Jacob’s Ladder
The growing conditions for all types of Jacob’s Ladder flowers are similar. Since these plants are woodland perennials, their leaves burn and scorch if they are exposed to direct sunlight. They should be grown in a semi-shady or shady spot where they are protected from the direct rays of the sun. They grow best in soil that is highly rich in organic matter and consistently moist. The soil should be moist but not soggy, as soggy soil can result in the death of the plant. Once the root system of the plant has developed, Jacob’s Ladder becomes resistant to drought.
Jacob’s Ladder is specific about the water and moisture content of the soil but is not specific when it comes to pH. These plants, however, perform best in soil that is rich, with a pH between 6.2 and 7.0.
Planting Jacob’s Ladder
Jacob’s Ladder is easy to grow and easy to maintain. The recommended method for planting them is the plant division method, but they can also grow well from seeds. Jacob’s Ladder should be planted when the danger of the last frost has passed. The seeds are sown directly into the soil.
The soil should be kept moist until the seeds sprout. The seeds of Jacob’s Ladder germinate quite fast. Foliage may be produced during the first year while blooming may not occur until the second year of planting.
Taking Care of Jacob’s Ladder
As mentioned earlier, Jacob’s Ladder is quite easy to maintain. However, like all other plants, they need some basic attention. Some tips to follow have been listed for you below:
- After the blooming, the stems become leggy and need a slight trimming.
- With passing years, you may observe discoloration of the foliage. When that happens, all you need to do is remove these leaves to allow new leaves to grow.
- If you are growing Jacob’s Ladder with the plant division method, you should be careful to carry out the procedure during early spring. The entire plant, including the roots, is dug from the site and re-planted separately.
- Make sure to add organic material to the soil.
- Water the transplanted plants adequately to keep the soil moist.
- Make sure that the area selected for planting Jacob’s Ladder does not receive direct sunlight as it would burn its leaves. They should be planted in an area that is part-shady.
Jacob’s Ladder is surely a valuable addition to any garden. With its mesmerizing and attractive colors, ranging from blue to pink, they add life to any garden and catch the attention of any passerby. With numerous types of Jacob’s Ladder flowers, you can choose the one that you like and enjoy the breathtaking beauty it adds to your landscape.
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