Dame’s Rocket: A Pretty Flower with a Bad Reputation


Dame’s rocket, or Hesperis matronalis, is a member of the Brassicaceae family of plants, which includes arugula, broccoli, and mustard.

Hesperis matronal, or dame's rocket, is a lovely flower with a bad reputation. Learn more: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/flowers/grow-dames-rocket/

Native to Europe, it was originally brought to the United States as an ornamental plant.

As with many introduced varieties, its seed spread beyond garden borders and naturalized in surrounding woodlands and meadows. And, while I enjoy seeing its lovely pink/purple and white blossoms along roads in my region, it is considered invasive in most states.

Ancient Origins

You may know H. matronalis as damask violet, dame’s violet, or gillyflower, a generic name used for several fragrant flowers.

Learn how to grow Dame's Rocket (and how to differentiate it from phlox) with our tips: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/flowers/grow-dames-rocket/

To look at this plant, you’d likely think you were looking at a native phlox plant, Phlox paniculata. To make a certain determination, count the petals. H. matronalis has four, but phlox varieties have five.

Dame’s rocket is a biennial, meaning it blooms in the second year. However, it is a self-sower. If it’s allowed to drop seed, you’ll soon enjoy a continuous yearly bloom, as with a perennial plant.

Did you know that the leaves and seeds of dame’s rocket are edible, used for medicinal purposes, and purported to be endowed with aphrodisiac properties?

White dame's rocket blossoms. | GardenersPath.com

Another unique characteristic of this plant is that it bears blossoms and seed pods simultaneously. Its names are interesting as well.

The Latin word hesperis refers to evening, the time when the flowers emit a fragrance that’s a cross between cloves and violets. And matronalis comes from the Roman Matronalia, a celebration of Juno, the goddess of motherhood and childbirth.

As for its common name, “dame” is no surprise, given its feminine origins. But, where does the rocket come from?

It’s probably derived from the plant’s edible leaves. You see, in Europe, its cousin arugula is called “rocket.”

You’ll find a delicious recipe for arugula on our sister site, Foodal. You may like to try with the pungent young leaves of dame’s rocket instead.

Hesperis matronalis Plant Facts

  • Average, well-drained soil
  • Biennial/perennial
  • Blooms May through August
  • Colors include various shades of pink and purple, and white
  • Easy to grow
  • Edible leaves and seeds, with culinary and medicinal applications
  • Fragrant flowers
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Introduced and considered invasive in most states
  • May reach three feet in height
  • Self-sows
  • Zones 3 to 8

Where to Buy

Packages containing 100 dame’s rocket seeds are available from the Dirty Gardener on Amazon.

Heirloom Gilliflower Seeds

Packages containing 500 seeds are also available.

Contain and Enjoy

H. matronalis offers robust color, fragrance, and use in culinary and medicinal applications.

Dame's rocket | GardenersPath.com

However, its invasive nature must not be ignored.

Like the bachelor’s button cornflower, it has become a country classic, bordering highways and dotting meadows across our nation. However, it also contributes nothing to the habitat of local bees, birds, and butterflies.

Mindful of this information, if you choose to cultivate H. matronalis, you may want to contain it as the European ornamental it once was. And remove the seed pods for home use or reseeding next spring, rather than letting them scatter into the environment.

Our article Gardening in Small Spaces has some great container ideas to help you keep this plant in check.

What are your thoughts about dame’s rocket? Do you grow it? Serve it in salad? Let us know in the comments section below.

Don’t forget to Pin It!

Dame’s rocket has naturalized in almost every state. This pretty phlox-like flower that grows along highways and in meadows is considered invasive. However, its leaves and seeds have culinary and medicinal applications. Should you grow it in your yard? Decide with us, right here on Gardener’s Path.

Product photo via The Dirty Gardener. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.

About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

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Chassi (@guest_4180)
1 year ago

You’re certainly right about the fragrance; it’s intoxicating in the evening! The flowers are also so bright and cheerful that they want to make you smile; however with that being said, I haven’t noticed any of our area’s pollinators really interested in the blossoms. Bees and others were crazy about the lilacs and phlox, but not these beauties. There’s a huge clump growing where last year’s native Jewelweed grew, so now I’m pretty worried. The land I’m currently living on has been neglected for years, so it needs all the help it can get. Thank you so much for the… Read more »

Beth Lueck
Beth Lueck (@guest_4187)
1 year ago

Am extremely disappointed the author is promoting a plant she admits is a non native, invasive. The author irresponsibly even goes so far as to give sources for seeds.
I’d like to invite the writer to my home state of Wisconsin, where, like many other similar states, we are being overtaken by invasives, displacing native plants and spreading in the wild unchecked. It’s not ok to promote such plants, even if they look and smell pretty and are edible. What’s next? Advocating garlic mustard?

Mike Quinn
Mike Quinn (@mike20)
Active Member
Reply to  Beth Lueck
1 year ago

Beth Lueck You obviously landed on this page via Google (most likely) or Bing or via a Pinterest pin so you had enough interest in this flower to be researching it. Would you rather land on our result where Nan gives a whole lot of warnings about it being invasive (and methods to minimize this) or click on a half-baked gardening site where this is not done? Somebody has to be in the top 3 of Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, etc. Would you rather it be a site that doesn’t care enough to state repeatedly that it can be… Read more »

jo meyer husby
jo meyer husby (@guest_4385)
11 months ago

i love that flower. i brought it back from Minnesota. It is called russian lilac there and were all purple. It is common in england. My only problem is that i want it to resseed or i need the seeds but it is ugly while making seed and keeping the seed. I hate to keep it that way until fall. I was glad to find your post. I was looking to see if it will rebloom if i cut it down. Any one know? i dont think it is a problem. gives deer alternative flowers and i think bees do… Read more »

Susan Wearne
Susan Wearne (@guest_4483)
10 months ago

I love the fragrance of Dame’s Rocket, and miss it in my garden. I first discovered H. matronalis when we lived alongside a creek in the Sierra foothills. It grew in profusion, and the Tiger Swallowtail butterflies loved it. I think the hummingbirds did as well. I dug up a clump when we moved, but all these years of drought plus missing its creekside habitat – she wasted away!

M H (@guest_6096)
1 month ago

We have grown Dames Rocket at our midwest home for many years.
Contrary to your comment that it is not a benefit to butterflies or bees, we found it to be an early spring bloom that butterflies and bumble bees flocked to all summer, and especially in early spring, when nothing else was blooming except violets.
We have many photos of blue swallowtails and tiger swallowtails on our Dames Rocket plants, probably these butterflies winter over and found our garden and the Dames Rocket flowers!

Jeanne M Henderson
Jeanne M Henderson (@guest_6767)
26 days ago

This plant is an invasive species in Michigan and Wisconsin and some other states. We are trying to get rid of it, not promoting it!

Shari Frank
Shari Frank (@guest_6857)
25 days ago

Isn’t this an invasive that should be banned because it takes over habitats and blocks native plants?

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-schultz)
Noble Member
Reply to  Shari Frank
18 days ago

Dame’s rocket can be invasive in certain climates, and it is on the invasive plants list in some parts of the Northeast, Midwest, and Western parts of the country. But this is not the case in every growing zone in the US.