Dame’s rocket, or Hesperis matronalis, is a member of the mustard family and was introduced to the United States sometime in the 1600’s. It is said to have been Marie Antoinette’s favorite flower. It is now listed as an invasive weed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and while it is not considered a noxious species, it is banned in at least one state. However, some nurseries still use dame’s rocket in their wildflower mixes, and many people thoroughly enjoy its color and scent in the late spring/early summer. The seed-oil of dame’s rocket has been used in perfumes and the young leaves are rich in Vitamin C, so they can be used in salads.
So what is the problem with this wildflower? What I noticed on our property is that it forms dense stands. It will compete with native species for light, nutrients and water. Since it can grow to 4 feet tall, it usually crowds out other plants and forms thick monocultures. It is a champion seed-producer, and it can survive on roadsides, creekbeds, and forests. I noticed that one section of our property has been completely taken over by dame’s rocket this season. While it is a short-lived perennial, it seems that its prolific self-seeding habit will ensure that it’s here to stay.
This plant can be confused with phlox, which looks similar but has five petals. Dame’s rocket, like other members of the mustard family, has only four petals.
The flower below is NOT dame’s rocket. This could be wild violet, which grows close to the ground.