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Dame’s rocket, scientifically known as Hesperis matronalis, is a short-lived perennial herb that grows in bunches and belongs to the Brassicaceae, or mustard, family. This plant goes by various common names, including dame’s violet, sweet rocket, and mother of the evening. Growing up to 3 feet (0.9 m) tall with a spread of about 2 feet (0.6 m), its sturdy stems bear brightly colored and fragrant flowers. The name Hesperis comes from the Greek word for evening, which denotes the time of day when the scent of its flowers is most intense.
Measuring around 1 inch (2.5 cm) across, the flowers bloom in loose clusters in spring to mid-summer. They usually have a deep purple or lavender color and are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Dame’s rocket has green leaves that are 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) long. These leaves are narrow with tiny hairs and are arranged alternately. During the months of May and July, an average of 296,000 seeds are produced per pound of the plant.
Endemic to Europe, dame’s rocket was introduced to North America in the 1600s. Since then, it has spread into North America and grows in floodplains, abandoned fields, and woodlands. This plant also grows in other parts of the world, such as southwest Asia, northern Africa, and South America. Under cultivation, the plant is grown for ornamental uses in gardens, as well as to define borders along fences, ditches, and roadsides. Its young leaves and flowers may be mixed with salads.
Propagation of dame's rocket is done by seed. The plant grows well in medium-textured soils that are well drained and moist. It also prefers full exposure to sunlight and soils that are neutral to alkaline. This plant’s watering needs are low, and it can tolerate periods of drought once established. Known pests that attack its leaves and flowers include slugs and snails.
Regardless of pest problems, dame’s rocket is a fast and aggressive grower. In fact, it is listed as noxious and invasive in the Colorado, Connecticut, and Massachusetts regions of the United States. Once it escapes cultivation, it is easily naturalized and can be invasive in grassland sites and forests. Aside from its prolific seed production, some reports credit its inclusion in wildflower seed mixes as another reason for its widespread distribution. The spread of dame's rocket can be controlled by applying a herbicide such as glyphosate, pulling the whole plant, or burning when permissible.
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