This article by Hubert Ling (NPSNJ horticulture) was published in Gardener's News without the photos. He is a regular contributing writer to Gardener's News. Photos by H & M Ling.

Light An' Fluffy

Tall Meadow Rue
This plant can get tall if given the right conditions which are
moist soil, full sun, and slightly acid rich soil.

Tall meadow rue, Thalictrum pubescens, can get tall if given the right conditions which are moist soil, full sun, and slightly acid rich soil. With these conditions plants can shoot up 8'. Generally, however, tall meadow rue is 4-6' tall and makes a nice backdrop for shorter, more colorful plants. Even in medium dry, deep shady areas, the plant will still bloom reliably but it may only be 3' tall. In nature tall meadow rue generally grows along stream banks and in roadside ditches both in the sun and the shade. It is a common plant from Canada down south and west to Mississippi. In NJ it is found in almost all counties.

The plant is generally grown for its delicate, highly dissected leaves. Each leaf is divided up by branching fanlike into several sectors which contain rounded or lobed leaflets strung along the leaf sub-branches. The whole effect produces an uniquely attractive, airy, fern-like foliage. Tall meadow rue also has numerous clusters of small (1/3") white flowers in late June. Flowers are borne on a long branching stems. Initially each flowers hangs drooping downwards enclosed in 4-6 wide sepals. While maturing the flowers turn upwards and the male flowers explode like miniature star bursts each with 50-100 stamens. Numerous flower clusters on long stems adorn the tops of the plants like a light and fluffy snowdrift. If you look carefully at the flowers you will notice they have no petals. The white puffs you see are actually the relatively wide stamen filaments which are so numerous that the white color of the flowers is prominent. Plants are male or female although a few plants may have flowers with both stamens and pistils.

Flowers which are completely female (having no stamens) are smaller and much less conspicuous. They contain 4-20 yellow green swollen ovaries each with a single short, curved white stigma. When mature each ovary will contain just one seed and develops a rich brown color. Even with attractive foliage and flowers tall meadow rue is generally unknown to most home gardeners in the US; however many species of Thalictrum with white or pink flowers are popular in gardens around the world.

Our NJ tall meadow rue is a very easy to grow plant and once established it will be with you for life and beyond. Propagation is by seed or root divisions. Sow seeds as soon as they ripen in the fall. However, the seeds may not germinate until the second year. After the seeds ripen meadow rue leaves turn a pleasing yellow color before the plant retires for the winter. There are generally no severe pests and the plants will probably do well enough to give several away to new homes each year.

The genus name for tall meadow rue is from ancient Greek θάλικτρον or tháliktron translated as meadow rue (a meadow growing plant with leaves divided into many leaflets like rue plants genus Ruta). The leaf stems and flower stems are generally hairy hence the species name pubescens which means hairy. In NJ we have two native species of Thalictrum in addition to tall meadow rue. There is purple or skunk meadow rue which has light purple flowers but also has a very pungent odor and we have early meadow rue a smaller plant very similar to tall meadow rue but much shorter (about 15-20" tall) which blooms in late April. Early meadow rue is also easy to grow and is a valuable addition to your spring garden but you might not want to grow skunk meadow rue although it is probably very deer resistant.

The Iroquois used tall meadow rue externally as a body wash and to stop nose bleeds; the Montagnais people of northern Quebec used the leaves to flavor baked salmon. The flowers are well utilized by bees and butterflies and the plant is reasonably tolerant of moderate rabbit and deer grazing.

If you have room in your garden for a medium or tall fern-like plant, tall meadow will make a great addition to your yard and is available commercially from several sources online.