|Official Plant Name||Lunaria|
|Common Name(s)||Honesty Plant|
|Plant Type||Annual / Perennial Flower|
|Native Area||Europe, North America|
|Flowers||Purple 4-petalled flowers, followed by silvery seed cases|
|When To Sow||March, April, May, June, September, October|
|Flowering Months||May, June|
Full Sun / Partial Shade
Exposed or Sheltered
0.5 – 1M
0.1 – 0.5M
Chalk, Loam, Sand
Moist but well drained
Lunaria is a flowering plant that in the language of flowers represents honesty, sincerity and prosperity.
Honesty is a useful and interesting plant that can find a place in many gardens. There are actually two different plants called honesty. One is annual (or biennial) honesty, Lunaria annua. And the other is perennial honesty, Lunaria rediviva.
In this guide, we will discuss both of these plants. We’ll introduce you to them and explore their characteristics, and explain why you might want to grow them in your garden. Then we will go on to talk in detail about how to sow, plant and care for them.
By the end of this guide, you should have a much better idea about which, if either, of these useful and attractive plants might be a good choice for your garden.
What is Lunaria?
Lunaria is a genus of flowering plants that are actually in the Brassicaceae family – this is the family that also includes the edible brassicas that we might find in a vegetable garden, such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, turnips, mustard etc..
This genus actually includes four species, two of which are interesting for UK gardeners. The other two, that we will not be covering in this guide, are Lunaria elongata and the rare Balkan species Lunaria telekiana.
Lunaria means ‘like the moon’ – a name which refers to the decorative seed pods of these plants. The disc shaped, silvery pods also explain many other common names for the plants, and its association with silver coins, or money.
These plants are native to central and southern Europe and North America. But they are widely grown as ornamental plants in gardens, and have become naturalised in many temperate climate zones outside their native range.
Common Types of Lunaria
Lunaria Annua – ‘Annual Honesty’
Annual or biennial honesty is an attractive garden plant that grows up to around 90cm tall with a spread of around 30cm. It has coarse, pointed oval shaped, hairy leaves with marked serrations along the edges.
In the spring and summer, the plants bear racemes of white or violet flowers which are followed by showy green-light brown translucent disc-shaped silicles (not botanically speaking seedpods though they are often referred to as such.) Once ripe and dry, seeds fall from these silicles leaving a silvery membrane that can sometimes persist on the plants throughout the winter.
The name ‘honesty’ emerged in the 16th Century and it is believed to relate to the translucence of the silicle membranes. In the US it is commonly called ‘silver dollars’. In French, ‘monnaie du pape’ (‘Pope’s money) and in Denmark and Dutch speaking countries as ‘coins of Judas’ – an illusion to the 30 pieces of silver Judas Escariot was paid for betraying Jesus Christ.
Lunaria Rediviva – ‘Perennial Honesty’
Perennial honesty is another popular garden plant. It grows up to 1m in height and has large, pointed oval shaped leaves with marked serrations, similar to the above. It has clusters of fragrant, pale pink flowers that are borne in the spring.
Rather than having circular silicles, this plant has longer pods that taper to points at both ends. But these pods, like those of the above, have a bright whitish-silver appearance that can have great ornamental appeal.
Like other perennial plants, Lunaria rediviva is a great option for those who want to create long lasting gardens that won’t require a lot of work, since it will come back and flower over a number of years.
Why Grow Lunaria in Your Garden?
Lunaria annua and Lunaria rediviva are both very useful wildlife-friendly plants and are considered to be excellent choices for wildflower meadow type planting schemes and wildlife gardens. This not only has ecological benefits, but can also aid those trying to grow their own. Since increasing biodiversity helps keep the ecosystem in balance and aids in organic pest control. These are great plants for attracting lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and other pollinators. It is caterpillar food for the caterpillars of the orange tip butterfly, for example.
The plants are both also great ornamental choices. They add interest not only during the flowering period but also beyond, as the attractive silicles form. What is more, the dried seed pods are also very attractive in floral arrangements, and are often used in cut flower displays. So they could also be good choices to add to a cut flower garden.
L. annua can also be interesting for those cultivating an edible garden. The seeds have a strong and pungent flavour and are used as a mustard substitute. The root of the plant is sometimes also cultivated and eaten.
L. rediviva is a tough perennial, and a great choice for low maintenance gardens. Like other perennial plants, it can be a good choice for low maintenance wildflower meadows or perennial beds or borders, and can be suitable for areas of a garden where other forms of ground cover may be difficult to establish.
Another thing to consider is that, as members of the Brassicaceae family, these plants may be beneficial in an organic garden as trap crops – distracting pests that prey on edible brassicas and thereby providing a distraction to help in keeping culinary crops safe.
Unless seeds are collected, both of these plants will often self-seed readily.
Where to Grow
Lunaria, both annual/ biennial and perennial, will grow well in partial or dappled shade but can also do well in full sun. It will prefer a moist yet well-drained sandy, chalky or loamy soil. It can cope with a wide range of pH levels but will not thrive in acid soils. One other thing to note is that once established, these plants can tolerate drought. These can find a place in many gardens, even in colder regions, and are hardy down to about minus 15 degrees.
The plants can cope with a more exposed location, but if you want to retain the attractive silvery membranes on the plants for as long as possible then they are best grown in a more sheltered spot.
One thing to note if you plan to incorporate this plant into a kitchen garden is that it should not be grown in the same bed as brassicas, and annual brassicas should be rotated in a crop rotation scheme. Since like common edible brassicas, this plant can be affected by club root.
Honesty works well in a spring woodland border and can be great when grown alongside tulips or other spring flowering bulbs. They also work well alongside Alliums, geraniums and forget-me-nots, for example. It can also look good amongst naturalistic meadow planting schemes with grasses and native wildflowers.
Sow perennial Lunaria between March and May. Sow the seeds into a seed tray and cover them lightly. The seeds will usually germinate readily. Remember, since these are perennial, they will remain in your garden for a number of years and you will not need to sow seeds (or rely on self seeding) for more plants.
Sow biennial Lunaria in early summer (June) to flower the following spring. Again, sow the seeds into a seed tray and cover them lightly. These seeds too germinate readily. Remember that if you want flowers every year, and since most Lunaria are biennials, you will need to sow two years in a row. But after this, since they tend to self seed reliably, you should be able to continue to enjoy them in your garden for years to come. If you do not want to rely on self-seeding, however, you should collect the seeds.
Remember, you can save seeds from existing Lunaria plants as soon as these mature in the autumn, to sow the following year.
Seeds sown at home should be transplanted into larger pots as soon as the plants are large enough to handle. These should then be hardened off and planted out into their final growing positions in the autumn (September to November). Since honesty has a large tap root, it is best planted out when it is young. And larger plants will not tend to establish as well as younger, smaller ones.
Lunaria can also be grown from young plants that are purchased in the autumn. Perennial Lunaria can also be divided to create new plants from established examples in spring (March-April) or Late summer-early autumn (August-September).
Lunaria are great low maintenance plants and really do require very little care. Give them a little water if the weather it particularly dry. But generally, you can leave them to get on with things and focus on more fussy plants. The one thing to make sure of is that the Lunaria do not have ‘wet feet’ – waterlogging is one problem that they cannot abide.
Other that that, they will not usually encounter many problems. In fact, they can be so low maintenance that in some areas, they can even start to be considered as a weed!
Generally untroubled by pests, you will find that both types of Lunaria can be very useful and attractive additions to your garden. And the dried seed pods might even add to the visual appeal inside your home. So if you do not already grow Lunaria in your garden, it is certainly a good option to consider.
So why not consider growing honesty in your garden? It could enrich your environment over the coming years. Honesty is something to cultivate in all areas of life – including in your garden!
A permaculture garden designer, sustainability consultant and freelance writer, Elizabeth works as an advocate for positive change. She aims to inspire others to reconnect with nature and live in a more eco-friendly way. She also tries to practice what she preaches as she tends her own forest garden, polyculture beds and polytunnel. See her personal website here.