Jacob's Ladder

'Snow & Sapphire'
Variegated Jacob's Ladder

"Happy the heart that keeps its twilight hour,
And, in the depths of heavenly peace reclined,
Loves to commune with thoughts of tender power;
Thoughts that ascend, like angels beautiful,
A shining Jacob's ladder of the mind."

-Paul Hamilton Hayne


Polemonium caeruleum is native to North America. The cultivated variety 'Snow & Sapphires' was obtained early February (2003) when the plant was only an inch or two high of fresh growth in a gallon pot. I was attracted to the unusually lovely yellowish white-fringed green leaves.

As a relatively new & patented cultivar developed by Terra Nova in Oregon, it was more expensive than most Jacob's Ladder varieties, but I liked it enough to spring for the patent price. It came down in cost a couple of years later.

By early May its first year, as shown in the photo at page-top, it had grown considerably, though nowhere near the two-foot height it was heading toward.

It was developed from a similar cultivar, 'Brise d'Anjou,' & the basic improvement is supposed to be hardier presence in zones 8 & 9, the earlier strain tending to die back in summer.

Jacob's LadderI can't speak to the merits of the earlier cultivar, but 'Snow & Sapphires' does keep its leaves through summer if watered well in a shady location.

It grows to two or two & a half feet height, & at least a foot or so spread, & has pale sapphire-purple flowers, a typical bloom shown on its long sweeping stem in the second photo from June (2006). The appealing cultivar name 'Snow & Sapphires' alludes to the sapphire flowers, & to the "snow" of the white-fringed leaves.

When young this can be delicate in too much sun, but when fully mature likes a bit more sun (bright shade) to bloom its best. Not as ferny-looking as Tanacetums, it is nevertheless a plant that can lend fern-like textures to sunnier locations than ferns can tolerate.

It goes dormant in late summer or early autumn, which is considerably later than the majority of varieties. Every few years the enlarging clump can be divided in late summer after it has stopped flowering & is on the verge of dormancy.

Though it is sensitive to heat, it's extremely cold-hardy, to minus forty degrees F. Jacob's Ladders in general are ideal for USDA zones 3 to 7, but for zones 8 & 9 only a few varieties, including 'Snow & Sapphires,' will certainly succeed.

See also:
A Meditation Upon Jacob's Ladder


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