Some plants provide beauty in the spring and then step back off stage, only to be forgotten until next spring. Others provide beauty in the spring, come back with an encore in the fall, and stay with us all winter long. The silver dollar plant (Lunaria annua) is blooming now in April in the Washington DC area. A member of the cruciferous family (Brassicaceae), these flowers have the typical four-petal cross shape but the petals seem wider and larger than the yellow roadside mustard flowers. The plant is 2 to 3 feet tall and the fragrant flowers are purple butterfly magnets although there is a white variety. Usually there are masses of blooms because the plant self-seeds but the plant looks best this way since the flowers are small.
In the summer, the flowers form green, flat but oval-shape pods with large seeds inside. As the pods mature, the green disappears, the seeds drop, and what is left is the translucent papery thin membrane of each pod. The encore to their pretty spring show of flowers are these shimmery flat pods. The pods dry so well, i.e., hold their shape for so long, they can last the winter in dried flower arrangements and wreaths.
The silver dollar plant has many common names. In England the more popular name is honesty, which refers to the frankness of the plant in displaying its seed in the pods (because some remaining seeds appear in the transparent pods). Other common names are white satin flower since the mature pods are shiny like satin, moonwort because the translucent pods are round like the moon, and money-in-both pockets because the mature pods look like coins.
If you are growing this from seed, you may not get flowers the first year. Technically it is a biennial but once it starts flowering and drops seed, it will just appear every year as if it were a perennial. Treat it like a woodland plant, provide part sun and part shade in well-drained soil. Hardy to zone 5, the silver dollar plant is deer resistant.
A native of Europe, this was one of the first plants brought by the colonists to the New World. The plant is quite common in colonial gardens. Most local nurseries sell the plant or seed.
In the language of flowers, the plant represents honesty, money, and sincerity. In witchcraft, the silver dollar plant is protective, known for keeping away monsters. The plant also is used in spells for prosperity – the mature seed pods resemble coins and promises of wealth. Either way, having a basket of silvery coins has got to be good for you. Grow some honesty, money, and sincerity and share the wealth.
This had been such a delightful weed at work for many years, but is a bit less common each year. Someone who worked there but left a few years ago would collect seed, and then throw it out in spots where he thought they would look good. It seemed like they would naturalize, but they are not lasting forever. Now, someone who tends to the trails wants to continue the tradition in the semi-landscaped areas. (He does not want to tamper with the areas that are actually landscaped, or the wild areas.) Now that I know they will not naturalize and become invasive, I think that it would be a nice tradition.