All about Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium) – History, Meaning, Facts, Care & More

Jacob’s ladder is a genus comprising about 25 – 40 flowering plant species, belonging to the Polemoniaceae family. The plant is native to the cold and temperate regions to even the arctic areas of the Northern Hemisphere. One of the species is also found in the southern Andes, South America. One of the reasons Jacob’s ladder is cultivated is because of its dense foliage.

Facts about Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium)

There are two species of the Polemonium, namely the Polemonium reptans and Polemonium caeruleum, which are commonly found in the garden spaces. The first one was originally found in the northeastern quadrant of US and is regarded as a threatened species in some states. This is the reason why gardeners are discouraged from picking up plants from the wild for transplanting. One must grow the other category of Jacob’s ladder instead as it is suitable to be grown in the garden.and is rarely found in the wild. The species spreads by seeding itself and is quite common across the Midwest, Great Lakes, and Appalachian regions.

  • Many of the species of Jacob’s ladder grow at higher altitudes, especially in the mountains.
  • Jacob’s ladder species are ten used as a food plant by the larvae of certain Lepidoptera species, such as the Coleophora polemoniella.
  • The plant prefers shady or semi-shaded regions for growing them. Moreover, it is suitable to grow on moist soils that are rich in organic substances.
  • Jacob’s ladder can tolerate drought once its root system has got hold of the soil firmly.
  • The species is deer resistant as well, and it isn’t vulnerable to insect infections or diseases.
  • Jacob’s ladder is not only quite easy to grow but requires minimal maintenance as well.
  • His herbaceous, perennial flowering plant is widely found in shaded, rich, and moist woods. Although the plant is a spring ephemeral, it still manages to persist well in the summer months.

History of Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium)

The terminology of the plant has a Biblical significance; the name is derived from the Biblical story of the dream that Jacob saw, which is about a ladder ascending directly into heaven. Also, the roots of Jacob’s ladder were used in traditional medicines to treat specific kidney problems.

The Polemonium caeruleum is native to certain temperate zones of Europe and Asia. Moreover, the ancient Greeks used the plant for several medicinal applications for treating conditions, like toothaches, dysentery, and animal bites. It was also found in a handful of European pharmacies during the 19th century. Back then, Jacob’s ladder was used to treat rabies. And today, the plant is not generally used for medicinal purposes.

Characteristic of Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium)

Jacob’s ladder is a perennial plant that grows about 10-120 cm tall and about 11/2 to 2 feet in width. However, there are some rare species, which are annual plants.

  • Leaves: The plant has bright green leaves, which are divided into lance-like leaflets.
  • Flowers: Jacob’s ladders produce blue flowers in the summer and spring. However, certain species are found in white or pink blooms as well. Some rare species do produce white, pink, yellow, or even blue flowers. The blue blooms with bright yellow stamens give a striking contrast and hence, renders elegance to its appearance. Each of the flowers comprises bell-shaped five petals. The stigma extends across the stamens, thus preventing self-pollination. Some of the main pollinating agents of Jacob’s ladder are bees and lepidopterans. The flowers that have fertilized become capsules, which consists of only a few seeds.
  • Stems: The flowering stems of Jacob’s ladder are low to the ground. However, they also tend to droop down to the sides, which gives the plant a sprawling appearance.
  • Fruit: The plant has roundish, brown-colored, capsule-like seeds having three compartments.

Use of Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium)

The plant is useful in the following ways –

  • Even though there are quite a few known cases of medicinal uses of Jacob’s ladder, the Native Americans, nevertheless, would use it to treat coughs, colds, as well as lung ailments. They generally infuse the roots of the plant with wine to serve their medicinal purposes.
  • The plant also has astringent and diaphoretic properties, which were previously used internally to treat a variety of conditions starting from headache to fever and epilepsy.
  • Many people plant this species along the stockade fences, which helps to brighten and enliven the whole area. Also, these sharpen the shadows these plants cast, which further adds structure to the shorter plants that are arranged along the foreground.
  • The plants are also used for ornamental purposes in the rock gardens, woodland gardens, naturalized areas, and native plant gardens.

Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium) Flower Meaning

The name of this species of Polemonium has a Biblical significance. It is so named because of its fern-like leaflets that are compound pinnately, rising along the stem, much like the ladder of Jacob’s dream. The epithet ‘reptans‘ carries the meaning of ‘creeping,’ referring to the creeping habit of Jacob’s ladder. The ladder denotes a ‘bridge’ between the earth and heaven, therefore, symbolizes a connection between God and the Jews.

Coming to the symbolic meaning of the plant, it signified ‘coming down.’ It might also represent the ascending and descending of angels across heaven and earth.

How to Care For Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium)

Nothing is easier than growing and maintaining Jacob’s ladder. After you have selected a suitable spot for plantation, you can follow either of the two propagation methods – by seeds and by plant division.

  • Jacob’s ladder is a low maintenance plant that grows by itself once cultivated. However, it would require some occasional trimming. This species is an excellent addition to the low maintenance garden. These plants will thereafter, rebloom once the flower stems are cut back to the base.
  • Make sure that the soil is kept moist consistently. However, Jacob’s ladders grow the best in well-drained soils.and should be placed in shady areas. The plant cannot withstand soil that is either too wet or too dry or a climate that is too humid or too hot.
  • You can consider deadheading the plant to help it to have a second bloom period.
  • Water your plants regularly to keep it attractive till summer and would also help the plant to bloom longer. Also, regular watering would regain and maintain the moisture levels of the plant and soil. Your plant would require more frequent watering in the dry periods to keep them lush.
  • Give a balanced fertilizer to the plant every spring just as the new growths are emerging. After you have cut back the faded flowers, feed the plant again.
  • You also need to divide the mature plants every 2 to 4 years, to prevent them from dying out. Lift and separate the basal rosettes carefully and replant and water the, well.

Note: Although the plant would require very little maintenance, you can prune certain overgrowths of the foliage. This will encourage new growth and also prevent the plant from appearing tattered.

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