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Phlox subulata

Previously known as:

  • Phlox brittonii
  • Phlox setacea
Phonetic Spelling
FLOCKS sub-yoo-LAH-tah
Description

Moss phlox is a spring-blooming herbaceous perennial that has a dense, spreading, mat-like forming habit. It grows up to 6 inches tall and up to 2 to 3 feet wide. The leaves are green, linear to awl-shaped, and needle-like. The blooms appear in loose clusters of tubular 3/4 inch flowers in shades of pink, lavender, reddish-purple, and occasionally white.  It is noted for its creeping habit and the profuse carpet of flowers that bloom early to mid-spring and then sparsely until frost. The foliage mats are cushion-like, resembling moss, hence the common name of moss phlox.

It is native to the central and eastern portions of Canada and the United States. Moss phlox is found in dry rocky, or sandy areas, savannas, rocky ledges, slopes, clearings, and open woodlands. It is native mainly to the Appalachian Mountains. 

The genus name, Phlox, is from the Greek word phlox and means "flame." This refers to the vibrant flower color of some of the varieties. The specific epithet, subulata, translates as "awl-shaped" which references the leaves.

Moss phlox prefers moist, well-drained, humus soils, and full sun. It flowers best in full sun but in hot humid summers, the plant appreciates some dappled sun. They like sandy and gravely soil and can tolerate hot and dry conditions better than other species of phlox. It is good practice to cut back the stems by 1/2  when flowering is completed to help maintain their shape and encourage dense growth. It is tolerant of deer, erosion, drought, and air pollution.

The stems of moss phlox are green when young, becoming tan and woody with age. Older plantings thin out as new growth spreads away from the center of the plant. It has many cultivars with vibrant pink, red, lavender, blue-purple, or white flowers that cover the plant from late April to early May. 

Garden uses include rock gardens, edgings, foundation plantings, or ground covers in sunny areas of woodland gardens, slopes, native plant gardens, or naturalized areas. It may also be used to drape slightly over a  low rock wall. 

Seasons of Interest:

Blooms:  Spring     Foliage:  Spring, Summer, and Fall

Quick ID Hints:

  • creeping, dense, mat-like herbaceous perennial, up to 6 inches tall and 2 to 3 feet wide
  • opposite, linear to awl-shaped, needle-like green foliage up to 1-inch long
  • loose clusters of tubular flowers, 3/4-inch wide, five flat notched petals of lavender, pink, white, or red

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  Moss phlox is relatively pest and disease-free and has moderate drought tolerance. It is resistant to powdery mildew, unlike most other species of phlox. Spider mites can be a problem in hot, dry conditions, and nematodes can cause damage to the leaves in wet and humid conditions. Rabbits may feed on the foliage but it is less palatable to deer.

VIDEO created by Andy Pulte for “Landscape Plant Identification, Taxonomy, and Morphology” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Tennessee.

 

 

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscapes:
Rock & Water Garden Entryway Garden, Cabarrus County Extension Office Entrance Statement, Fescue Grass
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Alba'
  • 'Red Wing'
  • 'Vivian White Blanket'
'Alba', 'Red Wing', 'Vivian White Blanket'
Tags:
#purple#hummingbirds#evergreen#showy flowers#full sun tolerant#drought tolerant#perennials#white flowers#wildlife plant#purple flowers#pink flowers#red flowers#cpp#edging#fire low flammability#NC native#neutral ph#herb garden culinary#deer resistant#lavender flowers#foundation planting#native garden#groundcover#naturalizes#rock garden#spring interest#alkaline soils tolerant#pollinator plant#native wildflower#wildflower garden#fantz#poor soils tolerant#food source summer#border front#food source herbage#food source nectar#food source pollen#sandy soils tolerant#rocky soils tolerant#garden walls#butterfly friendly#HS302#bee friendly#non-toxic for horses#non-toxic for dogs#non-toxic for cats#Audubon#woodland garden#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Alba'
  • 'Red Wing'
  • 'Vivian White Blanket'
'Alba', 'Red Wing', 'Vivian White Blanket'
Tags:
#purple#hummingbirds#evergreen#showy flowers#full sun tolerant#drought tolerant#perennials#white flowers#wildlife plant#purple flowers#pink flowers#red flowers#cpp#edging#fire low flammability#NC native#neutral ph#herb garden culinary#deer resistant#lavender flowers#foundation planting#native garden#groundcover#naturalizes#rock garden#spring interest#alkaline soils tolerant#pollinator plant#native wildflower#wildflower garden#fantz#poor soils tolerant#food source summer#border front#food source herbage#food source nectar#food source pollen#sandy soils tolerant#rocky soils tolerant#garden walls#butterfly friendly#HS302#bee friendly#non-toxic for horses#non-toxic for dogs#non-toxic for cats#Audubon#woodland garden#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Phlox
    Species:
    subulata
    Family:
    Polemoniaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Root Cutting
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Central and Eastern Canada and Central and Eastern United States
    Distribution:
    Native: United States--AR, CT, DE, GA, IN, IA, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, RI, TN, UT, VT, VA, WV, and WI; Canada--Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec. Introduced: Austria, Czechoslovakia, Uzbekistan, and United States--AL and IL.
    Fire Risk Rating:
    low flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    Flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, skippers, and bees. Rabbits eat the foliage.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Attracts Pollinators
    Colorful
    Defines Paths
    Wildlife Food Source
    Dimensions:
    Height: 0 ft. 4 in. - 0 ft. 6 in.
    Width: 2 ft. 0 in. - 3 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Ground Cover
    Herbaceous Perennial
    Native Plant
    Perennial
    Wildflower
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Semi-evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Creeping
    Dense
    Horizontal
    Prostrate
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Fine
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Dappled Sunlight (Shade through upper canopy all day)
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Soil Texture:
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Shallow Rocky
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    12 inches-3 feet
    3 feet-6 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
  • Fruit:
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The flowers are replaced by an inconspicuous oval seed capsule. The seed capsule is 3-valved, 4 mm long, and contains 3 or more seeds. It spreads by reseeding.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Blue
    Pink
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Cyme
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Shape:
    Tubular
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    Moss phlox has loose, terminal, flattened clusters or cymes of 2 to 8, fragrant, tubular flowers that are up to 3/4 inches wide and bloom in April-May. The flowers are red-purple to bluish-purple, pink, or infrequently white. Each flower has five, flat, petal-like, rounded, notched lobes. The calyx is 5-lobed, and green, and the lobes are awl-shaped, tapering to a point The corolla is slender, tubular with the 5 lobes spreading at right angles to the tube and less than an inch in size. Inside the tube are five stamens and a pistil with a 3-parted style. The sepals and flower stalks are hairy, green, or purplish.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Semi-evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Prickly
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Opposite
    Leaf Shape:
    Linear
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Width:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Description:
    Leaves are opposite, 1/4 to 3/4-inch long, 1-2 mm wide, linear to awl-shaped, and have a sharply pointed tip. The leaves are semi-evergreen, small, simple, acute, entire, semi-rigid, green, and awl-shaped. They are stalkless and densely arranged. White hairs are fringed along the edges.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are light green to reddish-purple, woody, hairy, branched, pubescent, sprawling, and prostrate. They root at the nodes and form dense mats. Older growth is knotty, semi-woody, and loses most of its foliage.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Container
    Meadow
    Naturalized Area
    Rock Wall
    Slope/Bank
    Small Space
    Walkways
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Cottage Garden
    Drought Tolerant Garden
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Rock Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Foundation Planting
    Mass Planting
    Small groups
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Butterflies
    Hummingbirds
    Pollinators
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Dry Soil
    Erosion
    Fire
    Pollution
    Poor Soil
    Salt