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Plant of the Week: Mugwort, Oriental Limelight

Oriental Limelight Mugwort
Latin: Artemisia vulgaris

Picture of an Oriental Limelight Mugwort plant.

Mugwort, Oriental Limelight -- Oriental Limelight mugwort is a variegated roadside weed that gives the garden a rough and tumble look. (Image courtesy Gerald Klingaman)

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Plants are like people in that some are fragile things in need of constant attention while others are rugged, robust things that fend for themselves. Like most gardeners I’ve tried both kinds and all those in between, but over the years have discovered that the only ones that persist in my garden are the tough sorts that fend for themselves. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I kind of like one of the tough ones, Oriental Limelight mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris ‘Jamlin’), because it is nothing more than a variegated roadside weed.

The Artemisias – commonly called wormwoods or mugworts – are widely distributed herbs of the northern hemisphere that belong to the daisy family. Artemisia vulgaris is native to much of Europe but it has closely allied species native to North America, Japan, Korea and China. The European species has long been naturalized in North America and is a common roadside weed here.

Oriental Limelight mugwort is an upright growing rhizomatous herb growing about 16 inches tall that spreads to three feet or more unless confined by a barrier or competition by a more vigorous plant. It has finely dissected leaves to two inches long with lemon yellow variegations splashed with green and gray-green wedges. It is a highly variegated plant, and the variegation is quite stable, so its vigor is much reduced when compared to its non-variegated self.

It flowers in midsummer at the ends of the branches in tiny heads of small, insignificant disc florets. Because the foliage becomes less colorful as the stems elongate for flowering, it is usually best to cut the plants back in early summer to maintain foliage freshness and prevent flowering.

Mugworts have a long and interesting history of medicinal and culinary use throughout the world. The name itself is derived from “mug” – the container used to serve beer – and the Old English “wyrt” (root/herb/plant) which is probably itself derived from the Germanic “wurz” (root). Before the discovery of hops, mugwort was used since the Iron Age as a flavoring for beer. In the kitchen it was primarily used as a seasoning while around the home it was used as an insect repellant.

Medicinally, mugwort was part of the ancient Anglo-Saxon “Nine Herbs Charm” that was finally written down in the 10th century and primarily used to treat poisoning and infected wounds. This old pagan charm predates J.K. Rowling, who referenced several Artemisias including mugwort in her Harry Potter books, by several centuries.

Oriental Limelight mugwort should be planted in a sunny or partially shaded site that has good drainage but not overly rich soil. It is quite drought tolerant. In a shaded site in my garden that receives no direct sunlight but is exposed to reflected sky light, Oriental Limelight has mostly stayed where I planted it, and still makes a discreet showing every spring and summer. In a near full-sun location it has colonized an area up to a sidewalk making a groundcover that is quite showy in the spring and anytime it is cut back during the summer. It can also be used in the mid-section of a mixed perennial border where it is planted with plants of similar size. Propagation is easy by digging the rhizomes at any season.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Retired Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - October 11, 2013