These mint-family members have the typical square stems and leaves in opposite pairs; foliage ranges from rough textured to furry. Most of the species described here have short-stalked or stalkless leaves. Spikelike clusters of small, usually two- lipped flowers bloom in late spring and summer; blossoms are attractive to bees. All are fairly unfussy about soil type, needing only good drainage. Green-leafed species need some shade where summers are hot. Clumps often die out in center; divide and replant outer sections. Deer usually leave these plants alone.
S. albotomentosa. HIDALGO. Native to Mexico. To 212 ft. tall, sprawling to 56 ft. wide. Green, heavily veined leaves have a felty texture and an elongated heart shape. Stems and leaf undersides are woolly. Flowers are peach to salmon-pink when they open, then age to brick-red. Sometimes listed as S. coccinea 'Hidalgo'.
S. byzantina (S. lanata). LAMB'S EARS. Native to the Caucasus, Iran. To 112 ft. high, spreading freely by surface runners. Dense, ground-hugging rosettes of soft, thick, rather tongue-shaped, woolly white leaves to 46 in. long. Blossom stalks 1112 ft. high bear small purplish flowers; many gardeners feel that these flowering stems detract from the foliage and so cut them off or pull them out. Continued rains can mash plants down and make them mushy, and frost can damage foliage, but recovery is usually strong.
'Silver Carpet' does not produce flower spikes and is somewhat less vigorous than the species. 'Big Ears' ('Countess Helen von Stein') has larger leaves. Flowers of 'Cotton Boll' are like little balls of fluff spaced along the stem. Furry leaves of 'Primrose Heron' are yellow when new, maturing to chartreuse, then gray-green.
Use all forms for contrast with dark green foliage and with leaves of different shapes, such as those of strawberry or some sedums. Good edging for paths, flower beds. Excellent ground cover in high, open shade, such as under tall oaks; space plants 2 ft. apart.
S. coccinea. SCARLET BETONY. Native to southern Texas, New Mexico, Arizona. Forms a clump to 112 ft. high and wide, with wrinkled, heavily veined, medium green foliage. Leaves are elongated ovals to 3 in. long. Bears short spikes of scarlet flowers. 'Hot Spot Coral' has coral-red flowers. For the form sometimes sold as 'Hidalgo', see S. albotomentosa.
S. macrantha. BIG BETONY. Native to the Caucasus, Turkey, Iran. Dense foliage clump to 1 ft. high and wide, with long-stalked, heart-shaped, scallop-edged, dark green leaves to 3 in. across; they are wrinkled and roughly hairy. Showy purplish pink blossoms are held on 112- to 2-ft.-tall stems. 'Robusta' and 'Superba' offer larger flowers; 'Alba' has white blooms.
S. officinalis. BETONY. Similar to S. macrantha, but leaves are elongated (to 5 in. long) and may be hairy or nearly smooth. The purplish or dark red flowers are densely packed into short spikes atop leafy stems. Little grown except by herb fanciers, but white-blooming 'Alba' and pink-blooming 'Rosea Superba' are attractive 2-ft. plants for perennial border or woodland edge. 'Hummelo' is choice, with profuse rosy purple blooms on a compact, uniform plant.