Valerians

Red Valerian Common Valerian Red Valerian Common Valerian

What are they?

The valerians are in some ways rather confusing plants as they have a tendency to be somewhat similar to a number of other plant groups and may require a close look to be truly certain of their identity. For a long time they were placed in their own family, the Valerianaceae, but more recently they have been placed - along with teasels and scabiouses - into an enlarged honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae). Their large heads of small, white (or often pink) flowers are rather similar to those of the shrubby elders and viburnums, but these are herbaceous perennials that die down each autumn and do not produce woody branches (although Red Valerian can eventually become woody right at the very base of the plant). Valerians have opposite leaves and their flowers have tubular bases, opening out to a five-lipped mouth. Their seeds have little 'parachutes' on them (similar to those of dandelions but smaller) which aid wind dispersal after flowering.

Where are they found?

Most likely to be found as non-persistent garden throw-outs or self-sown plants on rough ground or near allotments or gardens.

Identification

Red Valerian is rather different to the other species in many of its features as well as in its habitat choice and should be straightforward to identify. The members of the genus Valeriana are rather more similar, but can easily be told apart from their size and the appearance of their leaves.



Red Valerian      Centranthus ruber

Introduced from southern Europe as a garden ornamental. This species seeds freely and is well naturalised as a plant of coastal habitats, especially around human habitation, as well as in urban environments elsewhere. It grows readily from cracks in walls. Flowers June to August or occasionally later. A perennial to 80cm in height, forming persistent clumps with woody bases. Leaves and stems with a grey-white bloom to them; leaves simple, in opposite pairs.

Red Valerian Red Valerian Red Valerian Red Valerian
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Common Valerian      Valeriana officinalis

Native. A plant of wet places, in fens and herb-rich reed stands as well as on river and ditch banks. Flowers June to August. A many-temmed plant that may grow to 2m in height if among tall vegetation, shorter elsewhere. Leaves ladder-like with neatly arranged leaflets. Flowers pale pink, appearing white from a distance or when past their best; sweetly scented.

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Marsh Valerian      Valeriana dioica

Native. A plant of wet places, being more confined to good quality wetland habitats that are cut or grazed to keep a shorter, open sward. Most frequent in Norfolk and found in both acidic and chalky wetlands. Flowers May to June, earlier than those of Common Valerian. A short plant, typically to less than 50cm in height. Very like a small version of Common Valerian; stem leaves are pinnate but the basal leaves are simple (not pinnate) and can easily be mistaken for those of Grass-of-Parnassus, which grows in the same habitat but is much rarer.

Marsh Valerian Marsh Valerian Marsh Valerian Marsh Valerian
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Pyrenean Valerian      Valeriana pyrenaica

Introduced from southern Europe. Grown as a garden ornamental and becoming widely established in northern Britain, but East Anglia is probably on the dry side for it and currently there is just a single 19th century record from East Suffolk. Flowers June to July Very similar in its flowers and stature to Common Valerian, but easily told by its large, rounded and toothed leaves.

Pyrenean Valerian Pyrenean Valerian Pyrenean Valerian Pyrenean Valerian
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