Pulmonaria, or ‘Lungwort’ as it is commonly known, is a genus of flowering plants in the Boraginaceae family, native to Europe and western Asia. Traditionally, Pulmonaria plants have been used in herbal medicine for their purported respiratory and lung related benefits, hence the common name.

These hardy, herbaceous perennials are renowned for their distinctive spotted foliage (though not all varieties have these) and striking, bell-shaped flowers which can range in colour from vibrant shades of pink, purple, blue, and white, many of them bi-coloured. Pulmonaria blooms from late winter throughout spring and offers a great source of pollen and nectar for early emerging bees at a time when food sources may be scarce for actively foraging species, busily building up their colonies. They have a particular association with the solitary hairy-footed flower bee Anthophora plumipes, occurring mainly in more southern parts of the UK. It can often be seen approaching the flowers in a darting flight with its long tongue extended.

Pulmonaria also offers great ornamental value to gardens, and at a time when little else may be in flower. It is relatively low maintenance, tolerant of most soils and thrives in partial to full shade making it an ideal choice for gardens with limited sunlight. Once established, it requires minimal care, apart from a cutback after flowering, this will reward you with a fresh flush of foliage. Pulmonaria is said to be generally resistant to damage by deer and rabbits, another bonus if not all wildlife visiting your garden is welcome!

There are several species of Pulmonaria available, such as P. officinalis, P. angustifolia and P. saccharata. None are native to the UK, although P. officinalis is said to be ‘naturalised’ here, having been introduced to gardens in 1597, and recorded in the wild by 1793 (in Kent). There are many hybrids too featuring different flower colours and leaf patterning, and some with evergreen or semi-evergreen foliage. A couple of popular Pulmonarias include ‘Sissinghurst White’ (pure white flowers) and ‘Blue Ensign’ (bright blue flowers), but all are beautiful and a very valuable addition to any pollinator-friendly garden.