Dame’s Rocket


Many of you have probably noticed a conspicuous purple wildflower in bloom standing two to three feet tall in a variety of habitats across the state, but particularly around abandoned or perhaps active farmsteads.  Most widely known as Dame’s rocket or perhaps sweet rocket or mother-of-the-evening, this member of the mustard family is known to botanist as Hesperis matronalis. The genus Hesperis is derived from the Latin term hesper, meaning evening, and matronalis is a reference to a wife or matronly.

Dame’s rocket is a two to three foot tall plant with clusters of purple flowers at the tip of the stem with alternate lance shaped leaves that are reduced in size upward on the stem.  The casual observer may sometimes mistake dame’s rocket as a species of wild phlox.  A closer look at the flowers, however, will reveal that this plant has four petals (characteristic of the mustard family) instead of the five petals of phlox species.

Dame’s rocket is a biennial to short lived perennial native to Europe.  It has been cultivated since the fifteen hundreds and was reportedly a favorite flower of Marie Antoinette.  In addition to being visually showy, dame’s rocket is also known for its conspicuous and pleasing scent that is particularly strong during the evening hours.

Like many other interesting European plants, dame’s rocket was introduced into North America as an ornamental likely during the 1600’s.  It has subsequently escaped to become naturalized across much of the United States and Canada.  It may be frequently observed on old farmsteads (no surprise there!), the edges of forests and groves as well as roadsides and other disturbed areas.

Like many introduced species, dame’s rocket is now considered an invasive species in several states, and is being increasingly listed as a noxious weed.  As such, it is becoming increasingly illegal to buy, sell, or in other ways propagate the plant.  It is interesting to note, however, that Dame’s rocket continues to be included in some commercially available wildflower mixes.  Hopefully it does not become a nuisance species or noxious weed here in North Dakota.

Dame's Rocket




Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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