Jupiter’s Beard or Keys to Heaven is easy to grow

June 7, 2017

Even in heaven, there can be turmoil. In Roman mythology, after the overthrow of the god Saturn and the Titans, the god Jupiter became the king of the heavens, the earth and all other gods. 

So this honorable god is honored in the garden by the bushy plant with sweet-scented red flowers, Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber coccineus). Also known as Keys to Heaven plant, these easy-to-care-for perennials grow up to three feet tall and spread two feet across. The scarlet star-shaped flowers bloom in dense clusters at the ends of the stems. If you cut back or deadhead the flowers after they die, you can encourage these plants to bloom all summer long.

Unless you cut off or deadhead the dying flowers, they will form light seed balls similar to dandelions. These seeds are readily scattered by the wind and birds. Because it self-seeds so easily, you might find volunteer plants popping up between rocks or along paths where they will attract butterflies and hummingbirds. They can naturalize and come back for years with no additional care. Best of all, they make great cut flowers. In addition to the common red variety, there are cultivars that bloom in white or pink. As a native Mediterranean wildflower, Jupiter's Beard makes a great plant for spots in the garden that are hot and dry with poor soil. 

Plant Keys to Heaven or Jupiter's Beard in average well-drained soils in a sunny spot. They can tolerate a bit of shade. While they seem to put up with poor soil, they do best in slightly alkaline soil. 

If your soil is too acidic, add crushed limestone to sweeten it. There really are no serious problems with disease or insect damage. If you plant them in wet areas they can develop crown rot. 

Jupiter's Beard is a natural for informal cottage gardens or informal borders. It can be used to control erosion on steep slopes and even make a nice ground cover. For a real show-stopper combine Jupiter's Beard with Blue Catmint (Nepeta mussinii). 

To keep established clumps blooming, you may want to lift them and divide them every few years, though most gardeners simply let them go natural. You can propagate Jupiter's Beard plant from cuttings taken in summer or by seed. If you plant the seeds early enough they will bloom the same year. It is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8. 

While this member of the Valerian family has no medicinal value, you can eat both the leaves and the roots. Try adding fresh leaves to salads or lightly steam them and serve with butter. Boil the roots in stews or soups. 

Plant Jupiter's Beard or Keys to Heaven and you will have easy-to-grow flowers that come back for years, an endless source of cut flowers for the vase and even makings of a salad or soup. Now that is truly heavenly, and you don't even have to fight the gods.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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