* Botanical name: Pulmonaria
Family: Boraginaceae (Borage)
Display period: Spring to frost
Height: 6 to 18 inches
Environment: Shade Hardly a name to call forth visions of glorious floral beauty, lungwort, despite the image it conveys, is a plant to fall in love with the first time you see it. The markings on the leaves, which resemble spots on diseased lungs, as well as the curative powers the plants were thought to contain and their use in the treatment of bronchial infections, explain the plant's botanical name, Pulmonaria. In Latin, pulmo means lung.
There is one pulmonaria, however -- P. saccharata Mrs. Moon -- that is not spoiled by such an association. It was one of the delights of my garden for its leaves, which appear to be splashed with silver moonbeams.
For whom the plant was named has remained a mystery, says Frederick McGourty, author of two acclaimed books on perennials and whose Hillside Gardens Nursery in Norfolk, Conn., was the source of my plants. The plant originated in England, he says, and has been cultivated in this country at least since the 1920s.
Mrs. Moon is among the first true perennials (not including bulbs) to bloom in the spring. Her flowers, a showy gentian blue developing from pink flower buds, last several weeks.
In its spread, Mrs. Moon makes a wonderful ground cover for the 6 months or so that it lasts. Its mottled foliage, brighter than any other pulmonaria's, lights up dark areas. If in response to summer heat and drought Mrs. Moon -- despite being rooted in the rich, moist soil it prefers -- appears to have expired, don't be too quick to write it off. Cooler weather and rain may bring it back to life. As for shade, the lungworts can stand more than most perennials.