Most books and descriptions of Phlox divaricata indicate that it is a slightly fragrant wildflower, but my nose knows before I actually see the blooms of this woodland treasure every time. In late spring or early summer, the scent wafts up from the creek banks and forest edges here in west Kentucky and in some areas, it is even strong enough to smell when driving down the road.
Native to eastern North America from Canada to Florida, it is a delicate but hardy plant. When undisturbed in its native habitat, Woodland Phlox can form large colonies of plants that thrive in semi-shady conditions. In my neighborhood, old growth, open woods with dappled sun is the most likely place to find this plant. If a stream or creek runs nearby, chances are pretty good that there will be a few in the area. The lavender to pinkish colored blooms are held in loose clusters on stems that grow between a foot and eighteen inches tall. They spread by underground runners or stolons, but seed is also produced when the flowers fade.
There are many commercial hybrids of this tough little wildflower and most nurseries that sell perennials will offer at least one. I've even seen containers of the 'Blue Moon' cultivar offered at my local big box store. Other well-known names are 'Chattahoochee', 'Louisiana Purple', 'London Grove Blue' and 'May Breeze'. The hybrids offer larger and more numerous blooms and are quite popular. We have a large number of our participating PlantScout vendors listing both the species and hybrid cultivars as well, so it is very easy for most gardeners to obtain. Its wide range of climate adaptability makes it popular for vendors because it can be shipped virtually everywhere.
Phlox divaricata makes a dainty splash of color in a normally all-green woodland palate, so is a good choice for gardeners who like a little diversity to tuck among their ferns and hostas. The blooms last for about a month, and then the plant becomes inconspicuous until the next spring when it sends up its blooming stalks.
While it may be tempting to dig some ‘free plants' in the woods, please think before you do. Over harvesting has decimated much of the world's wildflower treasures and it is better to purchase your plants from a nursery that responsibly propagates their own. Our declining wildflowers take a toll not only on rare and endangered species, but many animals and insects depend on them too. Often the plants do not survive the move and then they're lost forever. The only time you should consider taking a plant from the wild is if the habitat is in danger of being destroyed due to construction, and then check with the property owners before digging.