Rue or Ruta Graveolens is Ideal for Pollinators

Of all the pollinator-friendly plants we grow, Rue or Ruta graveolens, is probably the most popular with insects.  

Rue is a medicinal and culinary herb by reputation, but if you want all manner of pollinators from tiny bees to large butterflies, it is a plant you want. The blue-green leaves have a unique citrus-herb scent and are eaten by butterfly caterpillars.

Ruta graveolens is not meadow rue or goat’s rue, nor is it native. It is a member of the Citrus family from Europe. 

Pliny the Elder mixed rue with poisonous Oleander as an antidote to snake bites and the oil was used to induce abortions.   Its Herb of Grace name came from it being used in Holy Water in Catholic services. Victorians sprinkled it on the floor of courtrooms to prevent the spread of Jail Fever.

If you have ever sampled Grappa brandy such as Poli Ruta, you have had Rue. It’s that bitter taste that led to the saying, “You will Rue the day”. meaning an experience that leaves a bitter taste.  If you put some leaves in your bath water,  it will erase the hexes that have been set upon you. 

In our yard, its uses are confined to pollen and butterfly caterpillar habitat.  

You can start Rue from seed. Look for Rue, Herb-of-Grace, Ruta graveolens, Jackman’s Blue, Blue Mound and Curly Girl.

Sow the seeds in flats and when the seedlings have four or six leaves, transplant them into containers. When they are ready for the garden space them 1 to 2 feet apart. Mature plants require little water, grow to 1 foot wide and 2 feet tall.

 They thrive in full sun and have fewer flowers in part-shade. I’ve noticed that there are as many butterfly caterpillars on the part-shade plants as the full-sun locations.

The sap of this mildly poisonous plant can irritate your skin when it is pruned in the early spring. The mostly-evergreen branches can become woody and shrub like over a few years.


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