Beach rosemary is a shrubby evergreen perennial that grows anywhere from one to three feet tall. Endemic to the scrub areas of west Florida as well as coastal areas of Alabama and Mississippi, it is a favorite for native and wildlife gardens within its hardiness range. The beach mouse and other small creatures depend on it for habitat, and hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators sip nectar from it during the blooming season.
Known variously as false rosemary, wild rosemary, minty rosemary, beach rosemary, or scrub mint, Conradina canescensis fairly common in areas where it is found. Needlelike, aromatic leaves less than one inch long clothe the plant year-round. Leaves are grayish green as indicated by the specific epithet "canescens," which means "becoming white or grayish." The olive green leaves have grayish undersides and resemble very soft, fine rosemary. Its presence on windblown beaches with constant drift from salt-laden air makes the common name "beach rosemary" particularly apropos. Because of its tolerance to salt, it is frequently chosen for beach restoration projects after hurricanes sweep through.
Although bloom can occur at almost any time from spring to early winter, spring is the time when the whole plant is most often covered with blooms. For most of the year plants are nondescript gray-green shrubs, but in spring everybody notices them as they become covered with clusters of lavender two-lipped flowers typical of the mint family. Rubbing the leaves will release a pleasant scent reminiscent of lavender and oregano, though lighter and more delicate than either.
In the Garden
False rosemary's choice of habitat in nature is a good indication of the best place to plant it in the garden. Poor, sandy soil with perfect drainage and full sun are preferred. Do not amend the soil and do not fertilize. Plant about three to five feet apart for a mass effect or groundcover. Provide a bit of supplemental irrigation until plants are well established, after which time they require very little care. However, just because a plant is very drought tolerant does not mean that it never needs water. Give the Conradina a drink during extended dry periods. Care should be taken to remove competing plants and weeds since beach rosemary is not an aggressive grower.
False rosemary is an excellent choice for homeowners seeking drought-tolerant, low-maintenance plants. Various nurseries offer it for sale, especially those that specialize in native plants. Check out Dave's Garden PlantScout if you are interested in adding this plant to your landscape.
New plants can be started from seeds that are collected and planted while they are fresh and most viable. Plant them in very well-drained soil, but keep it damp until the seeds have germinated. Then water as needed to maintain moisture. Softwood cuttings can be taken during the growing season and rooted in a damp but well-drained propagation mix or sand. Do not allow the cuttings to dry out. As soon as they are rooted, the cuttings can be moved up to larger containers to allow for further growth of the plant and the rootball. Pinch the growing tips to promote branching and encourage a well-shaped specimen. Rooted plants can be planted in the landscape when they have grown six to eight inches tall.
Other Kinds of Conradina
In all six species of Conradina have been identified. Some authorities consider C. canescens and C. brevifolia as variants of the same species, but the APG II group lists them separately. Besides these two, the GRIN website lists C. etonia (Etonia rosemary), C. glabra (Apalachicola rosemary), C. verticillata(Cumberland rosemary), andC. grandiflora(large-flowered rosemary). These species will be the topic of another article.
At a Glance
Scientific name: Conradina canescens
Say: kon-ruh-DEE-nuh kan-ESS-enz
Family: Lamiaceae (Mint family)
Common names: Beach rosemary, false rosemary, scrub mint, minty rosemary
Origin: West Florida and coastal Alabama and Mississippi
Light: Full to part sun
Water use zone: Low after establishment
Size: 1 to 3 feet tall and wide
Soil: Dry, well-drained, sandy
Salt tolerance: High
About Marie Harrison
Serving as a board member for Valparaiso Garden Club, the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs and the Deep South Region, and National Garden Clubs takes a chunk of my time and attention. Being a Master Flower Show Judge, a Floral Design Instructor, instructor of horticulture for National Garden Clubs, and a University of Florida Master Gardener crowds a bit more into my busy days. In addition to these activities, I contribute regularly to Florida Gardening magazine and other publications. I am author of four gardening books, all published by Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida. Read about them and visit me at www.mariesgardenanddesign.com.