FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Phlox carolina is an upright perennial wildflower with bright green oval leathery leaves. In late spring, foliage is topped by loose clusters of showy lavender to pink flowers. Carolina phlox thrives in sunny or brightly shaded gardens with moist well drained soil.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Phlox carolina occurs in the eastern United States from North Carolina west to Illinois and south to the Gulf of Mexico.
This species is indigenous to open deciduous woods, woodland edges and clearings, savannas, moist mountain meadows and roadsides.
Plants are hardy from USDA Zones 3-8.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Phlox carolina is an erect perennial with attractive evergreen rosettes.
The slender stems are smooth or downy with green and red streaks. They are clothed in narrowly ovate or lance shaped leaves.
Blades are 2-4” long and glossy with smooth edges and blunt or pointed tips. They are rounded at the base and have no petioles. The leaves are opposite in widely spaced pairs along the stems.
Stems terminate in loose dome shaped flower panicles. The florets have 5 flat rounded, bright pink to rosy-lavender petals and exserted styles. The lower part of the corolla is fused into a narrow tube.
Blooming occurs in early to mid-summer. If the weather is conducive, plants can bloom intermittently until frost. Florets are followed by small inconspicuous oval capsules.
Plants grow 2-3’ tall with a 1-2’ spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Phlox carolina flourishes in sun or part shade with moist or wet rich well drained acid soil. Plants tolerate clay loam, sand, alkaline pH and heat.
This phlox is very resistant to powdery mildew but the resistance is enhanced if plants are provided with good air circulation.
LANDSCAPE USES: Phlox carolina is a good choice for a Wildlife Garden or Shade Garden. Plants are also used as Butterfly Nectar Plants or as part of a Grouping or Mass Planting. In mild climates attractive rosettes provide Winter Interest. Plants have Showy Blooms and are appropriate for Cottage Gardens, Low Maintenance Plantings and Perennial Borders.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing Phlox carolina with Aster laevis, Amsonia tabernaemontana, Carex flaccosperma, Echinacea purpurea, Penstemon digitalis or Sorghastrum nutans.
Phlox maculata has similar appearance and culture and would be a worthy replacement in some situations. In garden settings, the spreading lower growing Phlox glaberrima ‘Morris Berd’ could be substituted.
TRIVIA: Phlox carolina flowers provide nectar for swallowtail butterflies, day flying sphinx moths (like hummingbird moths and clearwing moths) and hummingbirds. Successful pollinators must have a long proboscis to navigate the slender corolla tube. The leaves and stems are sometimes nibbled by deer, rabbits and other herbivores.
Phlox spp. belong to the Polemoniaceae (Jacob's-ladder or Phlox) Family.
This species is very similar in appearance to Phlox glaberrima. The bloom period for Phlox carolina is later and the bloom period longer. P. carolina is usually found in acidic soil and P. glaberrima in basic soil.
Phlox carolina is sometimes commonly called thickleaf phlox due to the leathery dense foliage.
Phlox carolina often occurs in association with unique Blue Ridge Mountain plant communities called Pink Beds. This phlox is usually found in damp meadows at the edge of shrub thickets populated with pink flowering mountain laurel and upland bogs containing swamp pink (Helonias bullata).
For more information on this plant, visit the USDA PLANTS Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=PHCA19