This herbaceous perennial plant is 1½-4' tall and sparingly branched.
Both basal and cauline leaves are produced that are similar in
appearance. The central stem of each plant is light green (less often
dark red), stout,
terete, finely ribbed, and either glabrous or pubescent; the
interior of this stem is hollow. Pairs
of opposite leaves occur primarily along the lower one-half of each
stem; they are widely spreading. These leaves are odd-pinnate with 4-9
pairs of sessile leaflets and a terminal leaflet (alternately, the
leaves could be described as pinnatifid with 4-9 pairs of deep lobes
and a terminal lobe); the leaves are up to 8" long. The leaflets are
linear-lanceolate to lanceolate-oblong in shape with margins that are
either smooth or sparingly dentate toward their tips. The upper leaflet
surface is medium to dark green and glabrous, while the lower surface
is more pale and either glabrous or slightly hairy. The rachis (central
stalk) of each leaf is primarily white with winged margins that are
green. The lower and basal leaves have longer petioles than
the upper leaves; the latter are sometimes sessile.
The central stem
terminates in one or more flat-topped panicles of flowers about 2-5"
across. On a robust plant, stalks of smaller flat-topped panicles may
be produced from the axils of 1-2 pairs of upper leaves. The peduncles
and pedicels of these panicles are light green (less often dark red)
and either glabrous or pubescent. Individual trumpet-shaped flowers are
about 4 mm. (3/16" ) long, consisting of a light pink or
white corolla with 5 spreading lobes, a short green calyx with
5 teeth, 3 stamens, and a pistil with a style that is tripartite at its
tip. The blooming period occurs during the summer for a month or two;
the flowers are fragrant. Afterwards, the flowers are replaced by
achenes with feathery hairs. The achenes are about 4 mm. (3/16") long,
lanceoloid in shape, and slightly flattened; they are distributed by
the wind. The root system is fibrous and rhizomatous. Colonies of
clonal plants are sometimes produced by the rhizomes.
The preference is full sun, consistently moist conditions, and soil
consisting of fertile loam. However, this plant can adapt to less ideal
circumstances. There are very few problems with disease organisms or
The non-native Garden Valerian has
naturalized in NE Illinois, where it is uncommon (see Distribution
). It was introduced into North America from Europe as an
and medicinal plant. Habitats consist of soggy thickets and meadows,
fens, and roadside ditches. So far, Garden Valerian has not been a
problem in Illinois, although in the northeastern states it appears to
be more abundant and aggressive, possibly because of the cooler climate
and more abundant rainfall in these states.
According to Müller (1873/1883), the nectar
and pollen of the flowers attract honeybees, bumblebees, Halictid bees,
Dance flies (Empididae), flower flies (Syrphidae), Muscid flies, blow
flies (Calliphoridae), flesh flies (Sarcophagidae), and thick-headed
flies (Conopidae). The flowers also attract skippers and butterflies
during the day (personal observation), and perhaps moths at night.
Because of its bitter taste and other properties, the foliage of Garden
Valerian is not attractive to mammalian herbivores.
A flower garden at the Arboretum of the
University of Illinois in Urbana, Illinois.
This interesting plant has attractive foliage and flowers, therefore it
is no surprise that it is occasionally cultivated in flower gardens; it
is also cultivated in medicinal herb gardens. When the pulverized roots
of Garden Valerian are consumed, they exert hypnotic, sedative, and
anti-spasmodic effects in the human body. It is thought that
neurologically active chemicals in the roots affect the GABA
neurotransmitter system and possibly other neurotransmitter systems
within the brain to produce these effects. Unlike native Valeriana spp.
species), Garden Valerian has odd-pinnate leaves (or deeply pinnatifid
leaves) from top to bottom. The lower leaves of native Valerian species
are either undivided or less so.