The money plant (Lunaria annua) gets its name from the racemes of round silvery membranes left on the plant after the seedpods have shed their coats and seeds. Those discs resemble coins—or the full moons implied by the genus name. The plant also is called "honesty," perhaps because those membranes are transparent. But it has stood for the ultimate betrayal as well, being dubbed “the coins of Judas” in some countries due to the color of its money.
Whatever it is called, this plant is one of the first to pop up in my garden every spring. Despite the annua in its name, it actually is a biennial and often seems perennial because it self-sows freely. Though originally native only to parts of Europe and Asia, it has naturalized in many places where it has been taken, including here in the U. S. Its four-petal, lightly fragrant violet or white flowers are reminiscent of others in the cabbage family because it is part of the Brassicaceae clan.
The type which has persisted the longest for me is the variegated Lunaria annua ‘Variegata Alba’ pictured in the banner. Its combination of white flowers with serrated white-edged leaves makes it lovely in bouquets along with other spring-bloomers such as tulips and daffodils. Lunaria annua ‘Variegata’ also has white variegation but its flowers are a contrasting violet.
I’ve grown the cultivar called ‘Rosemary Verey’ pictured above too. Named after a now deceased but still highly popular British garden designer and writer, it boasts purplish foliage and stems and darker veining in its violet flowers than the common variety does. But it didn’t persist for long in my garden. Another cultivar called ‘Chedglow’ looks Verey similar!
Honesty grows about 2 feet tall here and usually blooms in late April in our part of Pennsylvania. It is hardy from USDA zones 5 through 9 but, as with most biennials, will only flower once in its second year before setting seed and dying.
When you know it is biennial, you can yank it out after it has bloomed—if necessary—to make room for tender annuals. If you leave the plant in place, however, the brown skins eventually will fall off of the seedpods to reveal their “silver lining.” Those stalks of “coins,” shown close-up in the photo below, look good in late summer and autumn bouquets as long as they haven’t become tattered by that time.
The money plant isn’t picky but prefers rich, moist soil in full sun or partial shade. If you sow its seeds about 1/8 inch deep and keep their container warm, they should sprout in 11 or 12 days. Don’t be discouraged if your supposed-to-be variegated seedlings aren’t, since the variegation often doesn’t show up until the plant’s second year.
There also is a perennial honesty (Lunaria rediviva) which is supposed to be hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8. It reportedly grows larger than the biennial type, but has smaller lilac-white flowers, a stronger fragrance, and oval rather than round membranes. It can be more difficult to start from seed.
"Difficult" is not a description usually applied to biennial honesty, though! Although we might call it ambitious due to all that self-sowing, it isn’t pushy, being easy to remove from where it isn’t wanted. And its somewhat stiff stance gives it so much bashful charm that you might be tempted to leave it all there to get your money’s worth!
Photos: The photos in the article are my own.