FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Chelone lyonii is an upright perennial with red stems and shiny deep green leaves. In late summer and fall, stems are topped by lovely clusters of pink snapdragon like flowers. The individual blooms are about an inch long and are elongated with 2 lips. The unique flower shape resembles the head of a turtle. Plants thrive in sunny moist or boggy sites, moist partly shaded woodlands or in frequently irrigated gardens.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Chelone lyonii is indigenous to eastern North America. Plant range extends into some states along the east coast and into parts of the southeastern United States as far south as Georgia and Mississippi. This species has been introduced into New England.
In the wild, Chelone lyonii occurs in margins of sandy or non-sandy wetlands, along stream banks, in rich wooded coves, wet open woods and spruce-fir forests.
The cultivar ‘Hot Lips’ was introduced to the nursery trade by North Creek Nursery.
Plants are hardy from USDA Zones 4-7.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’ is an upright perennial with attractive bronze new growth.
Mature leaves are glossy and dark green with an oblong shape. Leaves are opposite and serrate.
Floral displays begin in late summer and continue into autumn. The dense terminal flower spikes are rosy pink and quite showy.
Individual florets are tubular with two lips. The upper lip serves as a protective hood and the lower lip is a landing strip for pollinators. The unique shape and hooded upper lip causes blooms to resemble a tortoise or turtle head.
Plants grow 2-3’ tall with 1’ spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Chelone glabra grows best in sun or part shade. Plants thrive in rich moist or wet soil high in organic matter but are drought tolerant after establishment.
This lovely plant will flourish in garden situations if irrigated. It can also be planted in a water garden or moist perennial border.
Plants can be pruned or pinched back in spring to encourage growth of a shorter sturdier plant. This is usually not necessary unless plants are growing in excessive shade.
This wildflower is relatively pest resistant and fairly unpalatable to deer and other mammals.
LANDSCAPE USES: This is a good choice for a Water Garden or Bog Garden. Plants are also used as an Accent, Butterfly Nectar Plant or as part of a Grouping or Mass Planting. Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’ has Showy Blooms and can be used in Cottage Gardens, Deer Resistant Plantings, Perennial Borders, Rain Gardens, Low Maintenance Plantings, Shade Gardens, Wet Meadows and Wildlife Gardens.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing with Eupatorium colestinum, Iris virginica, Lobelia siphilitica, or Osmunda cinnamomea.
Chelone glabra is a similar white flowering species that can be substituted if needed.
TRIVIA: ‘Hot Lips’ was selected by North Creek Nursery because its red stems, darker foliage and deeper pink flowers were more appealing than the species.
Due to DNA sequencing, taxonomists recently moved Chelone spp. from Scrophulariaceae (the Figwort family) to Plantaginaceae (the Plantain family).
Blooms of Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’ are a visited by bumblebees, butterflies and ruby throated hummingbirds.