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Devil’s beard, the garden valerian


Devil’s beard, also called garden valerian or red valerian, is a herbaceous perennial that blooms in spring and in summer.

Devil’s beard basic facts

Name – Centranthus ruber
Family Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle family), into which the Valerianaceae family was merged
Type perennial

24 to 40 inches (60 to 100 cm)
Exposure full sun
Soil ordinary, or even poor

Flowering – May to September

Sowing and planting devil’s beard

You can start sowing devil’s beard at the end of winter or transplant seedlings purchased from horticulture stores in spring.

Sowing garden valerian

Garden valerian is sown right at the end of winter with a cover, or in spring directly in the ground, when the last frosts are past.

Devil’s beard needs sun to develop and bloom.

If you sow directly in the ground:

  • Break up the soil to lighten it up.
  • Broadcast sowing
  • Thin as soon as the first leaves appear to keep only the most vigorous seedlings every 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm).
  • Water regularly with a fine drizzle.

Planting devil’s beard

Spring or fall are the recommended planting seasons for devil’s beard. Keep a distance of 12 inches (30 cm) between plants.

If you’re planting devil’s beard in spring, remember to water a bit more at the beginning.

  • No need to add soil mix because devil’s beard only has very limited needs.
  • Devil’s beard literally grows on all kinds of soil, sometimes even a crack in the wall is enough for it to take root.

Propagating devil’s beard

Devil’s beard is a plant that propagates naturally through its seeds, but it is also possible to perform crown division.

Pruning and caring for devil’s beard

Devil’s beard is definitely an extremely easy plant that requires no care at all.

Devil’s beard is even considered an invasive plant, it makes sense to heed the cue and control its growth.

  • Cut back short in fall, once leaves have wilted.
  • No need to water devil’s beard, except perhaps if potted since potted plants are more vulnerable to drought.

Diseases and parasites that attack garden valerian

Very easy to care for, it fears no disease or parasite.

However, if you detect a white layer or frost-like covering of the leaves, most probably powdery mildew is infecting it.

All there is to know about devil’s beard

Red valerian, or Centranthus ruber, owes its name to the botanist De Candolle, who likened its flowers to a red spearhead (kentron means spear in Greek, and anthos means flower and ruber means red).

Native to the Mediterranean area, devil’s beard or garden valerian has the incredible capacity to grow in all types of soil, even the driest ones.

It can be found especially along the Atlantic coast.

Also, devil’s beard is often said to share the sedative properties of its cousin medicinal valerian. But take note that devil’s beard or garden valerian (red valerian) differ from medicinal valerian.

Important note: Garden valerian is related to the Valeriana family. A compound that is present in all of these plants is valproic acid, a soothing agent. It has been shown that ingesting it during pregnancy, especially the first trimester, resulted in more birth defects (1 to 2% more) in the children born. These include spina bifida, atrial septal defect (hole in the heart), hypospadias (an abnormality in the urethra in boys), polydactyly (extra fingers/toes), craniosynostosis and cleft palate. Do not use this herb while pregnant!

Smart tip about devil’s beard

Be aware that devil’s beard multiplies on its own very easily, and sometimes becomes invasive.

Red valerian decorating a green-wire fence

Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
Pixabay: an anonymous photographer, Gabriele Lässer
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  • Jeff Hutjens wrote on 22 July 2022 at 7 h 19 min

    Valerian and Centranthus (Known as JUPITER’S beard) should NEVER be used by women who may become pregnant as it can cause one of the nastiest forms of birth defects, neural tube defects.

    Prescription pharmaceutical extracts such as valproic acid and Depakote come with these same warnings for the same reason.

    Since “All there is to know about devil’s beard” is written here, it should definitely be noted.

    • Gaspard wrote on 28 July 2022 at 5 h 44 min

      Hi Jeff, thanks for calling my attention to this important fact. I updated the articles to include a warning so that women wanting to benefit from the herb might be forewarned.